Victory Over Violence
Do an Internet search on the subject of “violence” in the news and the results will be astounding. At this moment the world is in upheaval over the violent aggression of Russian troops in Ukraine. On a typical day you will read of random acts of terror, mass murders by drug lords in Mexico, bloody tribal warfare in Africa, and a whole array of other notable demonstrations of the depravity of mankind. Outside the national news, local reports in any given locale will tell of gang violence, incidents of murder/suicides, and senseless shootings among family and friends.
Our greatest need in the face of overwhelming societal violence is not more gun control, greater political diplomacy, or more security systems. The real issue rests deep in the human heart. Violence is the expression of hearts and minds that have become polluted with the angry, murderous, prideful poison of a life apart from a holy and loving God.
Violence is the expression of hearts and minds that have become polluted with the angry, murderous, prideful poison of a life apart from a holy and loving God.
Granted, some of interpersonal acts of violence are fueled by extreme cases of mental illness. The causes, treatments, and role of mental illness in connection with some of the more extraordinary acts of violence are another discussion for another day. In these paragraphs, let’s focus on issues of the heart.
Early and Enduring Violence
The first family of human history was ripped apart by the jealousy-driven murder of Abel by his brother Cain. As early as Genesis 6:11-13 the Bible says that the earth was filled with violence. Warning of impending judgment, God spoke to Noah explaining that “the end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence….” God’s holy disdain for violence prompted His judgment of the earth through the flood.
Old Testament passages speak often of wickedness, pride, lying, injustice, spiritual unfaithfulness, robbery, greed, and murder – all in connection with violence. We see the heart of God grieved by violence and His judgment coming upon cities and nations because of their character of violence. Describing the spiritual condition of the people of his day, David cried out to God, “For I have seen violence and strife in the city. Day and night they go around it on its walls; iniquity and trouble are also in the midst of it. Destruction is in its midst; oppression and deceit do not depart from its streets.” His words seem as if they could be the headlines in the newspaper of any modern-day city.
Old Testament prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Malachi all decried the violence manifested in the behavior and incubating in the hearts of the godless Jewish people of their times. Even God’s chosen people, recipients of His covenant love and the revelation of His laws, gave place to hateful and destructive behavior that broke God’s heart and led to societal ruin.
Turning From God to Violence
Romans 1:28-32 describes the condition of spiritually darkened hearts when they reject an authentic intimacy with God:
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”
Issues at the Heart of Violence
Why does a husband abuse his wife? Why does a political leader slaughter innocent people? Why does a student viciously bully other children? Why does a wife gun down her husband’s mistress? The complexities and motivations of the human heart are hard for us to accurately diagnose. Of course, God knows the heart and His word gives us understanding about these things. A primary root cause of violent behavior is pride – a self-centered existence. The psalmist wrote, “…pride serves as their necklace; violence covers them like a garment” (Psalm 73:6). Paul warned of “dangerous times” that would come in the last day, evidenced in many ungodly behaviors. Yet, the first heart reality – in a sense the sewer pipe through which all of this vile behavior flows – is that people are “lovers of themselves” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
A primary root cause of violent behavior is pride – a self-centered existence. The psalmist wrote, “…pride serves as their necklace; violence covers them like a garment” (Psalm 73:6).
The man who lives with self as the center of his universe concludes, “I deserve more than I have” or “I have been deprived of what I need”, so he will take from others what he wants, sometimes at any cost. When a prideful heart encounters personal failure, relational difficulties, or obstacles to selfish aspirations, natural emotions become negative, raging passions that result in destructive thoughts and even violent behavior.
When a prideful heart encounters personal failure, relational difficulties, or obstacles to selfish aspirations, natural emotions become negative, raging passions that result in destructive thoughts and even violent behavior.
The guilt of failure can turn into self-loathing and resentment of others who are “better” by comparison. Experiences of criticism, rejection, or interpersonal pain can spark a detrimental anger that becomes more intense over time. The poison of the heart eventually spills into behavior. Jesus made the correlation between the outward act of “murder” and the internal coddling of anger in Matthew 5:21-22.
Our Hope in a Violent World
Thankfully, we can turn from the headlines back to God’s word for hope, lest we become despondent or paranoid in the midst of the pervasive violence. We can trust His providence and protection in this out-of-control world. Like David, who knew the constant threats of King Saul’s murderous assaults, we can say, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; the God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; my Savior, You save me from violence. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies” (1 Samuel 22:1-4).
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. In the shadow of His cross Christ’s redemption has the power to neutralize pride and produce heartfelt humility. Jesus transforms His true disciple from a self-centered, agitated soul to a Christ-centered, grace-giving servant. Paul’s often-repeated blessing in his writings of “grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” is a constant reminder of the possibilities of our experience in the face of disappointment, failure, and relational pain. Anger can be replaced with forgiveness. Revenge can be transformed into blessing.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. In the shadow of His cross Christ’s redemption has the power to neutralize pride and produce heartfelt humility. Jesus transforms His true disciple from a self-centered, agitated soul to a Christ-centered, grace-giving servant.
When we experience an authentic relationship of submission and trust with Christ, we are not overcome by the negative emotions so common in human experience. Rather, as Paul promised, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Copyright © 2022 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.