There was a time, when I lived in Wake Forest, NC and was visiting home that I got pulled over by a police officer. I was on an Oklahoma back road so that I could avoid the tolls, going through either Cyril or Apache. The speed limit was 25 miles an hour and I was probably going 40, but I could not see the speed limit signs because it was foggy. The officer was sitting at a gas station in his car when I flew by; he turned his siren on and pulled me over. We went through the regular routine. I put my hands, both of them, on the steering wheel so that he could see them and not feel as though I was dangerous. I had my license, handgun permit, and insurance card ready to hand him. When he came to my car, he was pleased, let me off with a warning and even talked with me for some time about firearms (which we were both enthusiasts). He even asked to see the handgun I had with me just so he could admire it. After a nice conversation, I was able to go on my way. There was no harm done and I received the upmost respect from the officer (who was a different ethnicity than me).
I hear about the things that happen like the shooting of law enforcement officers in Dallas and in Baton Rouge and my heart melts. This is especially true because most of the police officers I know are the most loving and kindhearted people on the planet. To those police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, my heart is with you because you have lost comrades and friends for no other reason than someone has hated. To the families of the fallen and injured, I pray for you every day: that God would give you strength to carry on without returning hate for hate.
In all honesty, this brings me to the root of the problem. Racial tension, the unjust shooting of officers and of civilians, and mass shootings, do not seem to be curable by any amount of gun control (we’ve tried that) or lack thereof, by campaigns that show people doing good things, by economic or job growth, by human resolve, or even by changing the social and political landscape. A new president will not fix this problem. Ending capitalism will not fix this problem. Abolishing the police forces will not fix this problem. Limiting the rights of law-abiding citizens will not fix this problem. A president’s speech, no matter how moving, will not fix this problem; because the problem resides in the hearts of citizens and it seems to have been festering for decades. This problem, plain and simple, is hate.
I remember when American Sniper was released in theaters and every good, patriotic American went to see it. After the movie, so many said that they were inspired to ‘go and kill some Muslims! (Either Muslims of Iraqis)…’ When a police officer uses his/her firearm and instead of letting the mandatory investigation yield its findings, so many people jump to the conclusion that the police officer is hateful. All of the sudden there are displays in the street and police officers are being gunned down. There are people who hate Donald Trump because he comes across as hateful. There are people who hate Hillary Clinton because she comes across as hateful. Homosexuals hate those who do not agree with them and those who do not agree with them hate them because they choose to live a lifestyle that is perceived as wrong. Many hate Muslims and many Muslims hate non-Muslims so much that they commit great acts of terror. We glorify movies and music where hate is used as comedy or is even explicitly encouraged. In our country, we are forced to take positions that require us to hate people who take other positions. Frankly, I grow weary of the hatred and weary of what the hatred this world gives us brings about in this world. I am amazed that, as we examine Scripture, this worldly hatred is addressed just like every other problem we might experience in this life.
Matthew 26:47-56 (HCSB)
While He was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, suddenly arrived. A large mob, with swords and clubs, was with him from the chief priests and elders of the people. His betrayer had given them a sign: “The One I kiss, He’s the One; arrest Him!” So he went right up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.
“Friend,” Jesus asked him, “why have you come?”
Then they came up, took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him. At that moment one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword. He struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear.
Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”
At that time Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs, as if I were a criminal, to capture Me? Every day I used to sit, teaching in the temple complex, and you didn’t arrest Me. But all this has happened so that the prophetic Scriptures would be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted Him and ran away.
Hatred a reality
It is no doubt that Jesus was hated for some of the things that he did. In fact, he was hated so much that the authorities planned to crucify him. Their hatred for him culminated here in this scene. Judas betrayed Jesus and some Jewish authorities went to arrest him. There was hatred on the side of these Jewish authorities. We might notice also that one of the people with Jesus became violent as he lashed out at this group of Jewish authorities. If we read the same story in Luke 22, we can notice that the other disciples were also asking if they should take up arms against the Jewish authorities. While Scripture predicted that the Messiah would die, hatred seems to be the catalyst that brought this specific scene about. There seems to be a great hatred present on both sides.
Jesus, though, who is the image of God and who set the perfect example for us, did not get caught up in the hate. When Judas first came to Jesus with the Jewish authorities behind him, Jesus refers to him as friend: signifying that he did not plan to retaliate. When his disciples asked if they should take up arms against the authorities (one actually cutting of the ear of the High Priest’s slave), Jesus stopped them and gave this teaching, “…all who take up a sword will perish by the sword.” When we read the same story in Luke 22, we also read that Jesus went a step further by showing love to his enemy and restoring his severed ear.
What this teaching is not
When I first read this story, I notice that Christ’s disciples actually have weapons. If Christ not once in the entire three years he spent with his disciples asked them not to carry a weapon, then this conversation cannot be about current day ownership of weapons, gun rights, conceal and carry freedoms and so on… These conversations will be fruitless and have proven to be fruitless over the years, for both hatefulness and unjustified violence exists in our nation and in our world. We must deal with the fact that Christ allowed his followers to carry tools that could be used as weapons.
It was also not a conversation on how to end violence. As much as we would like to believe that unjustified violence will one day be solved in this world, it will not. Christ knew this. He even admitted that it would be possible for him to have a heavenly army come down and defend him. Adding violence to violence does not stop violence, just as adding hatred to hatred cannot cure hatred. I think Jesus knew the only cure to hatred in the world (and all sin for that matter) was his own death and resurrection, so that people might be restored to God and become recipients of the Holy Spirit who grows us in wisdom and in love.
It is not a teaching on social justice or human rights. While Jesus allowed his disciples to carry tools that could be used as weapons, he did not directly condone or condemn the right that people have, or rather the freedom, to bear arms. When this is our conversation, I fear we have missed Christ altogether.
What this teaching is
If this is not a teaching about whether or not it is acceptable to own or carry a tool that can be used as a weapon, then it must be a teaching about the manner in which such a tool is used. In this instance, it is not okay. It is wrong, then, for anyone to repay hate at the end of a rifle or handgun or knife or truck or bomb. This is not the way to address hatred. There may be a time for self-defense, the defense of family and friends, the defense of a nation, and even the defense of property; but it is not right to repay hate with violence because this violence seems to also be a result of hatred. Therefore, anytime violence comes from hatred, that violence is wrong and unjust.
Instead, then, the way that we respond to hatred should be with love as Christ exemplified in this story. Those who take up the sword will also die by the sword. Hatred perpetuates hatred. Unjust violence fuels hatred. The more hatred and unjust violence there is, the more people will lose their lives. We have seen evidence that Jesus was right in the past few weeks.
So, here is my challenge and my plea, though I wish I could do more than write a simple blog post. Please stop the unjust violence. Please stop repaying hatred with hatred. The only way that this is cured is with the love of Jesus Christ. We do not have to perpetuate a system of hate. We do not have to perpetuate a system of violence. We certainly do not have to listen to groups that perpetuate both hate and violence with their unnecessary protests and their inciting violent outbreaks. We do not have to enable racial tensions to continue growing. We do not have to accelerate the hatred some have toward authority. We, now, need Christ as we always have because he died so that we could all be with God and because he set the only perfect example for us in this life. Scripture is still just as relevant for us now as it has always been and pure and holy religion just as beneficial. For those like me who feel helpless to address these problems, my hope is that we will be on our knees praying for this great nation and her people. For those who have any voice at all, my prayer is that we speak out against hatred in a loving way. We must not take up arms against each other in this time, for we must address the problem of hate. Please take the time to share this and show the love of Christ in this dark world.