A week ago we wept. We wept for the loss of life. For the loss of innocence. Our pain was raw and real and our hearts felt exposed and vulnerable.
Now we’re mad. We want answers. We want solutions. Unfortunately, this is one of the most difficult, complicated and charged issues in our society. Catch phrases and statistics are thrown around with little care of context or clarification. In response to the cries of “it’s too soon” at the end of last week, I started an event on Facebook entitled, “National Day of Discussion: The Gun Issue in America,” with the hopes of creating a groundswell of productive conversation today. What actually happened was a week-long diatribe of both sides of the issue throwing virtual bombs at one another and those looking for compromise and solutions stuck in the crossfire. Some of it has been interesting. But most of it has been so emotionally draining that I had to take a day long break from moderating the mess.
What has been the most shocking/fascinating to me is the response from my Christian friends on the subject. So, this post is my challenge to my brothers and sisters in the faith.
This is the season during which we celebrate the coming of our Saviour into our broken, messed up world. We celebrate the coming of Emmanuel – God coming to dwell with us, to understand our pain and suffering, to identify with the human condition. Jesus understands genocide. He understands the killing of innocents, as he grew up hearing the stories of how he and his family fled a royal order to destroy the lives of every male child under the age of two in Bethlehem. He grew up knowing the pain of a generation of his classmates gone.
He then matured into a rabbi, a teacher of the Scriptures, one who called people to the ways of God. And what were his challenges based on? Loving your neighbor, and your enemy. Where love is understood as a way of sacrifice. Where my enemy’s life is just as valuable as my own. He taught that we were not to fear the one who can kill the body.
My main problem with the response of Christians when talking about gun control or the need for more guns in the public sphere, is that they so often bring up defense of one’s self and one’s family as justification for taking the life of another. Where does that right come from?? That does not seem to be the way of Jesus, who gave up his life for us while we were yet sinners. Who says that the meek or gentle shall be blessed. And that the peacemakers will be called the sons of God. This is the Jesus who rebuked Peter for cutting off the ear of a soldier (in defense of Jesus’ life!) and then proceeded to heal his enemy.
This is the Jesus who did not promise us easy lives. He guaranteed that we would have trouble in this world. He didn’t say to counter it with violence and self-defense. But he said that in him we might have peace, because of knowing that he had overcome the world. He said that loving our enemies was actually evidence of being made perfect like God.
His followers went on to write things like, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires;but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:5-6). And, “don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). The system of the world is death, violence and retribution. As followers of Christ, we are called to another way. A way of love, sacrifice, forgiveness. Knowing that there will be troubles, but that our response to those troubles should not be a continuation of violence, but an extension of the forgiveness that we have received.
This is what faith is: the confidence of what we hope for, even though we can’t quite yet see it. It’s an understanding that, even if it takes longer, or looks like it’s not working, that the ways of Jesus are better than the ways of the world. We talk so much about trusting in God and having the incomprehensible peace of Christ. But then we arm our ushers in our churches, and talk about defending our property to the death. How is that faith in the goodness of the cross? The goodness of sacrifice? That mercy is better than religion? As an American, I defend and understand your desire to carry a weapon in self-protection. But as a Christian, I must call you to the higher way. The way in which we have an understanding that this life is not all there is. That there is something more. That defending this life to the death is a denial of the resurrection.
We don’t have any rights. We gave them up when we chose to follow the way of Jesus. My security is not found in a government. It’s not found in a piece of machinery. It’s in knowing that it is in losing myself that I am found. That dying is actually living. That upside down is actually right side up. It’s in the foolishness of the Gospel. That what looks like utter ridiculousness to the world actually makes perfect sense in the Kingdom.
It’s in this that we find hope. That we see a plan for redemption. The plan of God becoming man and dwelling among us. It is in the truth of God as a baby in a manger – that which is weak and powerless and in need of another human being to live – that is where we find hope.