To what extent do we tolerate violence in our own lives? It’s easy to point fingers at the gun culture in the United States and the problem of gangs in Toronto. But how willing are we to own our part of the terrible problem that everyone is discussing again since the latest tragic shooting spree?
As Christians, we should be troubled by anything that deliberately stirs up violent feelings in us toward other human beings, real or imagined. Unfortunately, many of us are among the insatiable consumers who support the industries that glorify violence.
The Lord certainly has a problem with violence. God was “grieved” in the days of Noah when “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and full of violence.” God’s prophets promoted a peaceful kingdom in which people “beat their swords into plowshares.” And Isaiah makes special mention of the fact that the Messiah was slaughtered even though “he had done no violence.”
Where does violence start? Not in a weapon but in the human heart. Jesus clearly said that anyone who is angry with his brother or sister is a murderer, while the Heidelberg Catechism identifies envy, hatred, anger, and vindictiveness as the root of murder.
A date at the movies earlier this year highlighted the prevalence and acceptability of violence. Marja and I went to see the latest James Bond movie, expecting to see some incredible stunts and a memorable villain. We’d forgotten how much killing there is in a 007 flick!
The worst part of our night out, however, was watching the trailers preceding the movie, especially one promoting Django Unchained, a remake of a bloody Western starring Jamie Foxx as a slave turned bounty hunter who rescues his wife from a brutal plantation owner. In the span of one minute and 25 seconds we were battered by 19 separate killings, a vicious fistfight, and the shocking image of crimson blood splattering on white cotton bolls. At one point, the lead character growls, “I like the way you die, boy.” As Marja pushed her face into my shoulder, the trailer ironically announced that this ultra-violent film was set to premiere on Christmas Day! While the Newtown massacre last December prompted the studio to briefly consider delaying the release of this controversial box office hit, the movie’s director and cast are adamant that there’s no connection between violence in film and violence in real life.
While that debate continues, thoughtful followers of Jesus understand that a violent spirit must not be welcomed into our hearts, since all evil thoughts come from there. When a video game or movie inspires you to think, “Kill him,” or a sporting event makes you scream, “Hit him again. He’s still breathing,” your heart is being turned from plowshares to swords, from peacemaking to war. Isn’t this “anti-Christ?”
A print ad by Henry Repeating Arms featured a man wearing a specially designed holster carrying a Bible on one side and a gun on the other. The ad proclaimed, “There is nothing wrong with clinging to your guns and religion.”
As offensive as this ad is, it doesn’t offend God as much as a heart that smoothly shifts between worshiping the Prince of Peace and participating in mental bloodbaths. If our hearts shift too easily between “no violence” and “violence” and we comfortably go from worshiping Jesus on Sunday morning to playing Grand Theft Auto on Sunday afternoon, we have a serious problem: a divided heart.
The problem of gun violence needs more than a ban on assault weapons. It needs a wholehearted commitment to Christ’s “peace on earth.”
Starting with us.
1. Do you agree that violence starts not with weapons but in the human heart? Explain your answer.
2. Is it wrong to watch violence in movies and on television? Why or why not?
3. What, if any, is the connection between that kind of “virtual” violence and actual violence?
4. How much violence should we tolerate in sports? For example, should a hockey player who, unprovoked, smashes an opposing player with a stick be charged with assault?
5. Slofstra observes that “If our hearts shift too easily between ‘no violence’ and ‘violence’ and we comfortably go from worshiping Jesus on Sunday morning to playing Grand Theft Auto on Sunday afternoon, we have a serious problem: a divided heart.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
6. How does Jesus’ call for us to be peacemakers apply to the problem of gun violence?
About the Author
Peter Slofstra is the pastor of Hope Fellowship CRC in Courtice, Ontario. He has finished the Boston Marathon four times and cycled Sea to Sea across Canada with his wife, Marja, on their tandem bicycle, Big Blue. He’s the author of In Tandem: A Sea to Sea Cycling Odyssey.