Helplessness and Rage

The last two weeks, I have written in my pastoral meditations about the pervasiveness
of violence in our world, the temptation to use violence to combat violence, and my
conviction that for myself, anyway, Jesus’s teachings and example prohibit my giving in
to that temptation.
Then something happens like what happened in Orlando Sunday morning.
I can hear the voices now. How can you maintain a stance of nonviolence in the face of
such evil? How can you argue against Christians’ using violence to protect themselves
and other vulnerable people when you see time and again what happens when they go
unprotected? Is it not cowardice rather than conviction that leads you to champion
nonviolence in such circumstances? Don’t we have a moral obligation to struggle
against evil, using whatever weapons we have available to us to do so? How can you
suggest we sit still in the face of this virulent hate?
I can hear these voices because many of them are asking these questions and others
like them inside my own head.
I too feel the helplessness and rage when I consider not only that fifty innocent people
were gunned down, but also that it appears the shooter specifically targeted them
because they belonged to the LGBTQ community. I feel this helplessness and rage
when I consider that they were killed inside a gay bar, which for many LGBTQ people
has long been the closest thing they have to a safe place. I feel it when I consider the
quick opportunism of the despicable leaders of the despicable ISIS, jumping in almost
immediately to claim responsibility for the attack, even though investigators have found
no credible evidence that that there was any connection at all between the shooter and
ISIS besides his “pledge of allegiance” on a 911 call in the middle of the massacre. I feel
it when I consider that this act will only intensify the hate- and war-mongering of a
significant chunk of our populace and our so-called leaders. I feel it when I consider how
quickly the real lives of the persons killed and wounded in the Pulse attack will be
forgotten in those leaders' rush to make whatever political hay falls in line with their
particular ideologies.
I feel all this, and in the heat of the moment, in sorrow and sympathy and anger, I am
tempted to join my voice with those calling for retribution. I am tempted to believe that
hate is stronger than love and that vengeance is the same thing as justice. I am tempted
try to lay my hands on a rocket launcher of my own.
But if I wait, that moment passes, and I remember the words and experience of Jesus. I
remember his experience in the wilderness. When he was tempted to use the power at
his command to seize worldly power and riches, to fulfill the hopes of his people by
leading them to throw off the yoke of their oppressors by military means, he said no. I
remember his words in his sermon on the mount, "Love your enemies and do good to
those who hate you." I remember his words on the night of his arrest, "All who take the
sword will perish by the sword." I remember his words on the cross, "Father, forgive
them, for they know not what they do."
When I call these things to remembrance, I can see the claims of the equivalence of
revenge and justice and the superiority of hate over love for the lies that they are. I can
see through the lie that taking up the sword will bring victory, or closure, or emotional
satisfaction. I think of the dismal ending of the movie Seven, and the long road of
sorrow, recrimination, and punishment that stretches before Brad Pitt's character
because he surrendered to the voice of the tempter—Kevin Spacey's character telling
him, "Give in to your anger. Become wrath!" His act of death-dealing does not bring the
satisfaction he had hoped it would; it only brings more death.
So I'm sticking with my story. While I cannot and do not wish to control anyone else's
conscience, for my part I stand by what I have said before about the incompatibility of
violence and Christian discipleship. I will hold firm as best I can to my conviction that
love is infinitely more powerful than hate, that prayer and faith are more effective than
bullets and bombs, and that, in the words of Frederick Buechner's greatest literary
character, Godric, "All the death that's ever been, set next to life, would scarcely fill a
cup."

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