“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
We live in a world marred by violence. Last week as I read through our local newspapers I noticed that there is a great degree of violence in our community. People of all ages and from all backgrounds are victims of violence: husbands and partners abusing their spouses, parents abusing their children, brother punching sister, people being attacked on the streets. Last Wednesday’s daily local paper reported no less than six separate grave incidents of violence in our local area. Despite what appears to be an increase in acts of violence I don’t think that we can say that our society today is more violent than in the past. Human propensity, or predisposition, to violence is something that is inherent in our nature. Biologists tell us that these aggressive tendencies are part and parcel of our natural instincts for survival which enabled humans to survive and evolve. But they also tell us that evolution has not just shaped humans to be violent but also to develop societies and morals that are based on cooperation and peaceful coexistence.
Walter Wink, an American theologian who died last autumn and is best known for his advocacy of nonviolent resistance, argued that violence permeates and is persistent throughout our culture because we perpetuate knowingly or unknowingly the belief that violence ultimately is just and necessary and is the final answer. He calls this belief the ‘myth of redemptive violence’ where the victory of order over chaos is achieved through the means of violence. This myth is constructed on the belief that human beings are incapable of living naturally in a peaceful coexistence, therefore order has to be imposed from above, men over women, masters over slaves, and so on. Unquestioned obedience is required and order is imposed by force if necessary. We see this method played again and again in our public and political affairs.
The myth of redemptive violence is reinforced through our cultural media too – the most popular characters and the heroes on our TV screens and blockbusters are often those individuals who are victorious through violence. Some of us who read this column will remember that our favourite cartoon characters such as Tom and Jerry, Popeye, Superman, all prevailed over their arch enemies through violence.
The Christian message though is that God is love and that violence is not God’s way of bringing order out of disorder and it is not the way of life. Starting with the first chapter of Genesis, we see the myth of redemptive violence – that was the core story of the ancient religions – being opposed and replaced with a new story, of a God that creates out of love. In the old Babylonian myth (and also Greek mythology) creation happens through violence, the gods fight among themselves and evil precedes good. In the biblical story God creates a good world, and good precedes evil. Neither evil nor violence is part of the creation, but enter later as a result of free decisions and choices made by the creatures.
Throughout the bible we find this myth of redemptive violence being challenged and replaced by a new reality – the way of love. The prophet Isaiah prophesies and dreams of a world where peace will prevail, weapons will be turned into ploughs and people will live in harmony. But the myth of redemptive violence was defeated once and for all in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In the sermon on the mountain Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matthew 5: 38-41).
In Jesus death on the cross God took upon himself the violence of all humanity and through Jesus’ resurrection He has declared the myth of violence, the myth that order which is imposed by force and violence is the order of the day, is defeated. In Jesus’ resurrection a new age has dawned where the power of love triumphs over the power of violence, a new humanity has emerged that is moved by the power of love and sacrifice, which are life giving and life affirming.
Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, when traditionally Christians are invited to prepare for Easter through prayer and fasting. Let us this Lent seek to resist and challenge the myth of redemptive violence that is so prevalent in our cultures, and sometime even in our churches, by seeking to live out the alternative way of Christ in love and self-sacrifice, which is life giving and life affirming. Only then our community will become less violent and more life affirming.
Published in Arbroath Herlad on 15Feb 2013 edition