Hero of War: “Rise Against” Violence or Lose Your Humanity

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Many of us dream of becoming a hero. To be the one who saves the day. To know what it is to find victory for the sake of the distressed. This quest leads people in all sorts of interesting directions.

As a husband, I want to be the man who rescues my wife. I want to save the day.

As a pastor, I want to be a man who leads people to the only Source that truly saves.

As a friend, I want to help my friends see the potential in their situations and to thereby discover their dreams are becoming reality.

I want to be a hero. And I would guess, so do you.

In our culture, the narrative of heroism, the “hero impulse,” gets manipulated into propaganda such as: “be all that you can be,” “an Army of one,” “the few. the proud,” “honor. courage. commitment,” “Army strong,” and the list goes on.

To be an American hero one commits to military service. The intentions of many to enlist are indeed good motivations. But I often wonder if those who become part of the military system of America are in fact trying to make meaning out of their own “hero impulse?” And if so, what if they are misapplying the reason that God gives us that desire?

Recently, a song by the band Rise Against, powerfully spoke to my own personal reflections on heroism and violence. The music video does a good job of telling the story visually that the song tells through its lyrics. I invite you to watch this video…

A young man leaves home to become a “hero,” but in the process becomes less than the man he was before he enlisted. He engages in killing, bullying, torture, and ultimately murders an innocent child waving a white flag of peace. All dreams of glory become his shame.

Most of the time we focus on how violence injures another person who bears the “image of God.” In other words, the conversation often centers around the victim and not the offender. I invite us to focus our attention on those who commit the acts of violence, even those who we deem “heroes of war.”

Jesus teaches us the pathway of peace. He shows us through the cross that the way of non-retaliation, upside-down enemy love, is the path through which God’s kingdom comes to earth. As 1 Peter 2 reminds us:

Jesus… “suffered on your behalf…” leaving “you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps…. When he suffered, he did not threaten revenge. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He carried in his own body on the cross the sins we committed.”

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Jesus invites us into a life that looks like crucifixion, a life modeled by enemy love and peace. Christ believed that every human being bears God’s own image. To inflict violence against a human is like inflicting violence against God’s own self.

So what about the offender? When we send people into brutal situations, what does it do to them when they commit acts of violence? I’m speaking to all acts of violence, even ones portrayed as “heroic.”

It seems that one of the greatest risks of committing bloodshed towards another person is that in violence the person becomes less and less like the “image of God.” In other words, violence dehumanizes us. We see this clearly illustrated in this music video by Rise Against.

Let’s think about this. If Jesus is (according to Colossians) “the visible image of the invisible God,” and therefore the fully human one, then Jesus shows us what it means to become restored as the image-bearers that we were meant to be in the first place. A life of this sort requires that we forsake violence in all its forms or else we run the risk of self-dehumanization. As New Testament Christians, we run the risk of not being sanctified into the full life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus modeled the way beyond dehumanization when we are threatened with violence. In Matthew 5, Jesus invites us to turn the other cheek as a way of asserting our equality with our oppressor. When enemies backhand us like slaves, we turn the other cheek and invite them to punch us in the face as equals. This gives them an opportunity to experience the destructive nature of their own aggression and helps the victimized to be more fully humanized as they endure just like Jesus.

Violence doesn’t simply injure the victim. Such actions destroy the offender’s humanity, be it a private in the Army fighting for homeland security or a drunken man cowardly striking a woman. When someone executes violence something changes within that person. Subtly but surely, violence stifles the movement of the Spirit to transform us into the likeness of the full image-bearer of God, Jesus the crucified and resurrected Messiah.

As Christians, we’ve done a horrendous job following the biblical teachings on nonviolence. From the days of Constantine to the “War on Terror,” well-meaning Christians applauded fellow believers who choose to take up arms against enemies of the state. Many of these folks return from battle with physical wounds and emotional scars (often PTSD).

“Heroes of war” become victims to their own dehumanizing violence, and if they are Christians, they become less like the Christ to whose image they are called to conform. It’s time to stop this cycle amongst the people of God by waving the white flag of surrender, “the only flag I trust.”

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  • Shari Nyles

    Wow.  Thank you for sharing this Kurt.   Just this morning a friend asked me if the anti-war movement is dead.  Thank God it isn’t.  

    •  @74e132eccd1d0fd47444a1ef3f43ef54:disqus … thanks for this affirming comment!!!!

  • Dale Best

    It’s why I’ve said a few prayers for Sgt. Robert Bales and his family. What he did was atrocious but I believe the system that taught him to kill is as much to blame as he is.

    •  Great connection @google-f10d247a5f7425c7996425db2ddf34eb:disqus … had that in the back of my mind as I wrote.

  • Mike Ward

    “Violence doesn’t simply injure the victim. Such actions destroy the offender’s humanity, be it a private in the Army fighting for homeland security or a drunken man cowardly striking a woman.”

    This is a terrible statement and a lowering of the quality of the rhetoric usually seen in your posts. You should not expect anyone who does not already agree with you to be moved by this kind of degredation of solders basic humanity.

    • Mike, it may surprise you how many soldiers tell similar stories…by no means all, but far more than just a few too. One doesn’t have to be a historic pacifist to be repulsed by what one is commanded to do in the armed forces. A great example of what I’m talking about can be found by googling “Yesh Gvul.”

      •  @dwmtractor:disqus  that is exactly right.  @671e3eae3e90ae08c3a2f1bd39e8dc7d:disqus … If Jesus is our model for become fully human (returning to a full embodyment of the “image of God” as he is the perfect “image of God” or the “new Adam”) then anything we do that looks opposed to the way of Jesus is dehumanizing.  Every time we lust, lie, steal, or resort to violence… we move away from the biblical injunction to grow into the fulness of the “image of Christ.” That is my point, fully rooted in New Testament theology.

        • Mike Ward

          I partially agree with this statement. And the part that I do not agree with is not terrible.

          But you should compare your comment here with your comment I quoted above.

          They may have some similarities, but they are not the same.

          •  @671e3eae3e90ae08c3a2f1bd39e8dc7d:disqus … here’s the quote in context.  Compare the above with the quote from the blog:

            “Violence doesn’t simply injure the victim. Such actions destroy the offender’s humanity, be it a private in the Army fighting for homeland security or a drunken man cowardly striking a woman. When someone executes violence something changes within that person. Subtly but surely, violence
            stifles the movement of the Spirit to transform us into the likeness of
            the full image-bearer of God, Jesus the crucified and resurrected

  • Aaron Strietzel

    Absolutely inspiring…we are in need of more and more people to begin to take a stand, in humility, and ask tough questions and raise concerns such as the violence of war and the way Jesus teaches us to live. I appreciate your perspective and it inspires me. Thanks

    •  @0c6dd87c0e71f48d2892ed3d176e9a97:disqus , thanks for the kind words! Shalom!

  • Kurt, an aspect of this story that really gets underplayed is to think about all the American heroes who do not kill …but who lay their lives on the line anyway. EMS personnel, firefighters, search-and-rescue, and many more risk their lives nonviolent all the time, but they don’t get two annual holidays in their honor, nor standing ovations in church. And what about missionaries who put their lives in jeopardy for the gospel and for the “least of these?”

    There’s nonviolent heroism to be found if we are willing to look.

    •  @dwmtractor:disqus … I couldn’t agree more.  Thanks for this observation!

  • Becky Jo

    I understand what you’re saying, but this subject is complex to the extreme.  I hate violence – I chose not to view the video for that reason of uncertainty.  I have many friends that came back from V. emotionally wounded to this day with difficulty coping with life.  I taught my children NOT to hit back.  This is America and we place high value on our military and so do I.  I think of them as my protector.  If my child was ever in a unsafe situation I would do anything to protect them.  How do we change the focus on “heroism”?  I don’t know what is taught in the military, but I do see whats taught in homes with media, movies, songs, etc. 

  • Barobin

    The Christian witness to the state is destroying us as a church. Time and time again, when I read the works of non-Western thinkers (Gandhi, early twentieth century Muslims, etc.), it is either an equating Christianity with Imperialism, or its pointing out how contradictory Christianity is to the ‘Christian’ Western culture (Gandhi does this repeatedly). It seems odd to me that non-Christian-non-Westerners get the message of Christ (whether they believe the theological aspects or not) more so than those living in ‘Christiandom.’    You are right on in this blog article….the psychological damages are immense, and even to those who seem unaffected by  the combat they’ve seen, still experience deep changes. 

    Side note—What I think is interesting about our ‘patriotic-justification for war,’ is the lack of actual foundational consistency. This should be frightening to anyone, as it shows how easy it would be to slip into a Nazi mindset all for justice. Take Sgt. Robert Bales, if there had been a key ‘enemy’ leader in that house, and it was a drone instead of Bales; even while fully knowing the civilian count in that house. It would have been swept aside as an unfortunate event (even if the leader did not end up being there). 

    –An Afghan-combat-vet-turned-dove

    •  thanks for your comments @a03217e518cdf0d107eb2fd4062d246b:disqus !