With my brother and I, it would always start small. One of us would poke the other. The other would steal a favorite toy. There would be an initial name call and an open-handed slap. That would lead to a push which would bring a shove and then, fists would start flying and furniture would get broken. Our parents would send us to our rooms and we would have time to think about what we had done.
One of the things we would think about would be how our fight started in the first place. Neither of us had been looking for a fight. We just starting poking and then, we did the next thing. We did whatever was required to be done by the previous poke. What had begun as playful and aggravating pokes ended up being an all-out brawl.
I thought about my boyhood brawls this week as I was watching news reports of the growing violence in our culture. Now, in the era of 24 hour news, violence may not worse than it’s ever been, but it seems that way. While I’m don’t know the exact crime figures of past generations, I do know this.
I’m tired of all of the violent tragedies that mar life in our country. No, I’m not going to blame political parties for their use of divisive rhetoric as the cause for these events. Everyone is responsible for their own actions.
Here’s what I do know. Violence starts somewhere. Violence doesn’t just blow into our lives from parts unknown. There’s always a trail. There’s always a beginning point, a poke, that starts the violence. While we may not be responsible for any particular act of violence, all of us are responsible for creating an atmosphere, a world view where violence is an acceptable course of action.
We watch movies where the hero has finally had enough and kills his enemy in the most violent way possible. The bigger the bang, the better the movie. We play games where the object of the game is to become the most violent person in the game. Kill our adversaries with such efficiency we’re given more points to obtain more weapons to be more violently efficient in our killing. This is fun?
Here’s where we need to pay attention to the genius of Jesus’ teaching. Remember when Jesus taught us that if we were angry with our brother we were guilty of murder? That if we harbored lust in our minds for a woman, we were already guilty of adultery?
Now, there have been hundreds of theologians who argued about the correct interpretation of these verses. We all protest that Jesus can’t be saying thinking about killing someone is the same thing as thinking about killing them. Is thinking about sex the same thing as having sex?Obviously not, but that’s not what Jesus is saying. He is saying to us that once you begin to harbor a thought in your mind, our thoughts soon become desires and then, desires become action. Likewise, when we consider a problem and begin to think violence is an answer to that problem, sooner or later, we will act violently in that situation. What we hold in our mind we soon hold in our hearts. What we hold in our hearts, we soon do in our lives.
If we think violently, we’ll soon act violently.
So, in this world where there is so much violence, what can we do? Maybe we can’t do a lot, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something.
Such as? First, we can sanctify our own thinking. We, as followers of Christ, can “capture every thought” and place them under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. If our thoughts do not honor Him or are disobedient to His teachings, we stop thinking them. Yes, you can control your thoughts. Controlling your thoughts takes a little work, a little discipline, but you can do it.
Second, sanctify your social media. Jesus reads our tweets. He knows what we post on Facebook. Social media that celebrates violence is not something a follower of Christ should do. Pay attention to what you “like” and pass on to others. Is what you’re posting something a believer should be condoning? Thinking about? Supporting? If not, don’t post it.
Third, we can call out our friends when they inadvertently support violence. Social media posts that celebrate harming politicians and celebrities who hold a different position than our own are harmful and violent. Remember, violence starts somewhere. Do our friends post “pokes” that end up with “shoves?” Talk to your friends about it.
Fourth, stand up to bullies. Every day I find myself ashamed as a Christ follower because people who call themselves “Christian” can and will post some of the meanest, hateful, bigoted, lies on the internet. The reason murder is wrong is not that a person is killed, but that the Image of God within that person is attacked. The bully’s sin isn’t against another person, but against God Himself. Stand up against these bullies. Truth demands it. Love demands it.
Lastly, as Paul reminded the Philippians:
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8).
What we hold in our thoughts, we soon hold in our hearts. What we hold in our hearts, we soon do in our lives. So, my friends, hold Christ so that we live Christ. The world needs to see a viable alternative to violence. Let them see Christ whose Life is powerful enough to overcome death itself.