Hope in the Midst of Violence

Violence sickens me. We are living in a cultural moment that has become saturated in violence.

Warfare in Syria. 

Church bombings in Egypt.

School shootings in San Bernardino. 

My reaction when someone cuts me off in traffic. 

How do we respond in the face of this news which is, to many of us, half a world away? How do we grapple with the fact that people are living in the reality of this assault on humanity day in and day out? Many of us don’t.

Attacks, bombings, riots, the refugee crises, systemic racism, police brutality, ISIS and a turbulent political season have numbed the collective psyche of Americans in the past year.

This year wasn’t the beginning of violence; rather, it marked a distinct upswing in our perceived climate of violence. As our collective awareness in the midst of a 24-hours news cycle and hashtag activism increased, our capacity to respond with compassion has, in many ways, decreased.

The fascinating thing about violence is that it, like anger, isn't a primary emotion or action; it only comes as a result of being afraid or in pain. 

One of the core questions of humanity is, “Why do bad things happen in the world?” Why is there pain, suffering, loss … and what do we do about it?

The thing is that this isn’t a new question. This is a human question. We’ve been asking this for a very long time.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Habakkuk pleaded with God:

How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere!’ I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery?
Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

Habakkuk is essentially questioning God, “Why is there pain in the world?! How much longer do I have to witness this?"

I identify with Habakkuk. The weight of this year and the loss of human life that it has marked, both domestically and abroad, has been devastating.

We have to ask the question: In 2017, and in the face of relentless violence, how do we labor for peace in a world addicted to chaos?

I'm a positive person. This is not a shocking statement for those that know me. But lately I've been finding myself in a state of numb apathy when I look globally and locally. 

This week, in the midst of violence, I'm choosing hope. I'm choosing hope because of the transforming mystery of Easter. Jesus, the embodiment of restorative peace, stepped into violence; taking the full measure upon himself. 

In Jesus, the Kingdom of God was announced and inaugurated on earth. There's a vital piece to Easter that if we aren't careful we miss in our celebration of the resurrection. Because of Jesus' sacrifice we are invited to live differently. It's not enough to celebrate the resurrection by singing songs and listening to a message. Because of Easter we are invited into a cross-shaped, sacrificial, neighbor-loving participation in the kingdom of God on earth. 

We are invited to choose a new response to violence in the world and in ourselves. 

When 1999 was ending and 2000 was about to begin, there were a lot of people who thought the world was going to end. A primitive theory scared people into believing computers wouldn’t be able to turn over into the new millennium and this would cause destruction to everything we knew.

So what did people do? They prepared for the worst.

I remember neighbors who built bomb shelters in their basements, stockpiled barley and grain, and took other steps they felt would prolong their life in a post-apocalyptic new-millennium as long as possible. 1999 came and went. The computers didn’t crash. We’re still here. And their bomb shelters still exist.

If we are to follow Jesus in 2017, we can’t live with this kind of mentality. The kind that preserves only our own life and our own interests. The kind that isolates itself from the reality of the world into bunkers of our own distractions or consumption.

This cannot be our reality.

The Kingdom of God that we are to be part of establishing isn’t a place we will go to “someday,” or checking out of the world as it is but rather, it’s part of transforming and healing the world we are in now.

Our lives must be shaped by the truth that we have a role to play in God’s healing work in the world. And in that, we accept our responsibility to engage.

The world doesn’t just need to hear that Jesus loves them—although that’s very true, the world needs to see that love in action. The world needs to see God’s shalom lived out.

Laboring for peace in a world as broken as ours rejects our most basic temptation as humans to look out only for ourselves and our interests. It partners with Christ in the restoration of all things to himself. The path to this kind of peace, peace that is whole and perfect, remains engaged. It seeks God’s heart for those affected by violence and then it moves to action. When it’s inconvenient, when it’s costly and most of all, when it’s easiest not to.

The hope of Easter isn't the resolution to the story. Hope is choosing to believe in the midst of tension. This year I have irrational levels of hope in the midst of violence because the tomb is empty. 

What do you need to be transformed? How can you choose hope in the midst of violence?