And all of these things we encounter really are awful things. But context matters, not to excuse or condone the behavior of others, but to shape us into the kind of people we are called to be. Persecution and unjust murder have been part of our world since Cain took out his jealousy on Abel. John the Baptist had his head cut off in prison and brought to a party on a platter. It is true that technology has made it possible for today'But it is Jesus' gruesome death on a cross that is the ultimate act that provides the context for our understanding of violence. It is that death that ultimately shapes our identity.
In elementary school I was a part of mob violence. I distinctly remember being on the bus and the group around me began to pick on a girl, saying all kinds of awful things to her. A strange thing happened inside me. I found myself almost compelled to enter into their rage with them. The bullying reached a crescendo, and on behalf of the crowd I reached over and slapped her across the face. That immediately brought everything to a halt. She started to cry and the rest of us suddenly came face-to-face with our own propensity for evil. I was ashamed of what I had done. Fortunately, I got in trouble for what I did and was assisted by the principal in doing what I could to make things right with this girl. But I also could never fully repair the damage that had been done.
We are here in this world to correct injustice. But our effectiveness only comes when we lay our outrage at the cross, humbled by our own propensity for violating others in pursuit of our own agenda (and especially when we think our outrage gives us license to work on God's behalf to set things right). Because when we act on that outrage against the sin of others, it is ultimately what will make even greater sinners of us. We lose sight of the humanity of the "other" and no longer look for Christ's love and redemption in the midst of the situation.
Our greatest weapon against sin is our own broken heart that places us fully into a dependence on God. The beatitudes in Matthew 5 begin the Sermon on the Mount as a clear articulation that God's favor rests with those who mourn, who are poor in spirit, who are humble, etc. We want to be triumphant, to have our tribe be on the right side of life. There is an internal satisfaction, even smugness, that feels good. But its effect is to blind us to our own sin, to cause us to overcompensate in our anger, and to mask the internal pain we are carrying.
So the next time you see a video that makes you angry, take a moment to sit for awhile and ask God to reveal ways you have also hurt others. Ask God to help you see His heart for the perpetrators you are angry about. And then, with the radical love of Christ for the all the people of the world, do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
-John M Troyer