Every American community whether in Connecticut or New Mexico, New York or Hawaii has been stunned by the incredible acts of violence that have filled the end days of 2012. Perhaps some have even become numb to the repeated acts of senseless hatred. It should be known to all that the second sin that appears in the Bible, right after disobeying God, is murder.
Human violence has been part of our condition since the beginning. Cain slew Abel because the latter had a more perfect gift to offer God, or at least the jealous brother thought so. Even in that act, God refused to allow human punishment of the perpetrator. He stripped the farmer of his right to use the land, therefore making him a hapless wanderer, but he also forbid any human to seek punishment or revenge, and that the killing of Cain would result in sevenfold punishment to the offender. (Genesis 4:1-16)
Genesis also tells the story of Joseph, he of the amazing colorful coat, who was nearly murdered by his own brothers, not one of which stood up for him, for basically the same reason Cain killed his brother: jealousy. Instead, Joseph was sold into Egyptian slavery but rose to a position of prominence. In one of the earliest acts of human charity, the young man responded by releasing tons of grain from Pharaoh’s private reserve to the masses of starving people under his domain. After toying with his brothers, who did not recognize him, Joseph revealed himself, telling them that it was God who placed him in Egypt, not for revenge, but to feed the hungry and to make sure that his own family received a fair share which they did not deserve. (Genesis 45)
The Pentateuch, also known as the Torah or Jewish ‘teaching,’ continues on to tell the story of the Hebrews from Abraham, the patriarch of three great faiths, through years of slavery and the search for a Jewish homeland known as Canaan. In their search, Moses and those who followed him encountered and responded in kind to many threats of war and violence. It is in those days of exodus that Bible readers first encounter genocide, an attempt to eliminate a particular race or creed of people. In fact, the Old Testament is a saga of incredible violence, torture, and death, but so was the historical world that existed around it.
One incident in the OT that has recently been historically verified involves a Judean king named Amaziah who went to war with the Edomites, a large pagan tribe, and killed ten thousand of them in battle. In addition, the king’s great army was able to take another ten thousand as prisoners of war. He directed his men to take the POWs to the high mountain known as the Sela, where the Edomites worshiped, and all were thrown from the cliffs to their horrible demise. (2 Chronicles 25:11-12)
In the modern era, pugilistic America does not have a monopoly on skilled global warfare. Many modern strategies, even in the technological age, owe their origin to an ancient book by the Chinese general, Sun Tzu, entitled The Art of War. It is a work about competition, combat, and victory. Although it clearly states that ‘supreme excellence’ is gaining victory without going to battle, its pseudo-peaceful content pales next to Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, which came from the same era, indicating that even in the Far East, humankind was always given a choice.
Humans have always considered the choice between good and evil. Choosing violence is not new, but seems to become more horrifying in the way we have learned to perpetrate such crime. The idea of 70,000 Roman soldiers lying dead in the field of battle with the Persian Army may not seem as atrocious to modern people as twenty-six children and adults gunned down in a school room, but the cause is rooted in the very same seed. Not only has the question of the source of evil been tackled by the ancient Greeks, Hebrews, Chinese, and Mesopotamians, it has filtered into other fields of endeavor from psychology and sociology to history, philosophy, and even mathematics. There is a branch of sociology that studies why the German population succumbed to the evil leadership of Adolf Hitler as if they were hypnotized.
This was never God’s plan. Bible readers are told His plan for us was for peace not disaster, for a future full of hope, not struggle. He assured us through a prophet that if we seek the Lord with all of our heart, we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:11-14) Thus, it’s easy to believe that the second sin would never have happened, if the first one had not. This was all about the choices we make every day between right and wrong. We don’t all make a choice to kill people, but we have ways of hurting others and our own futures full of hope. Rather than relishing with humility and praise for the huge gift of creation handed to us (please see Genesis 1), letting God make those choices for us, humans have chosen to beat everything, including our very existence, into submission.
Jesus arrived with a message of love. He told us to turn the other cheek, and He refused to take up a sword against the persecutors of the Jewish people. He touched hearts when no one else around Him understood why. When he was confronted by His enemies’ lawyer and asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus simplified the laws of old. Love God and love one another. (Matthew 22:34-40) He told His followers, not only to love their enemies, but to pray for them (Matthew 5:43-45), and that peacemakers are the children of God. (Matthew 5:9) If it isn’t clear enough in these statements, Jesus’ loving message is repeated over and over again throughout the Gospels, and there has never been a more appropriate time to become acquainted or reacquainted with it. When made captive of persecution, torture, and death, the Son of God, Savior of the world, did not respond in any of the many ways He could have with violence against violence. He prayed the Psalms and forgave those who tormented Him.
Today (December 28), the Church commemorates the Holy Innocents. There is no certain number as to how many male children of the age two or under, who lived in a large area around Bethlehem, were murdered by King Herod the Great in his greed and jealousy to secure his throne. (Matthew 2:16) It doesn’t really matter if they were two or twenty; all life is precious. This memorial has been celebrated by the Church almost since the very beginning of Christian faith.
Perhaps this is the day to re-evaluate our collective consciousness. The Mayans didn’t predict the end of the world; they foresaw that we could not continue as we are. Violence has always been with us. We feed it through the media, through our own thoughts and actions, and because we have stepped away from our connection to God. Pray for the Lord’s peace which the world has yet to understand.