Violence begets violence (and other thoughts)

I was sitting in my office early yesterday afternoon before a dress rehearsal for our church’s Christmas concert. While I waited for the call for our skit, I opened the Globe and Mail website. There were a couple of headlines about various aspects of the school shooting in Connecticut. Those headlines did not stand out out to me. What stood out was something seemingly unrelated: “Warplanes bomb Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus.”

On the face of it, they seem like unrelated stories, but in the broad scheme of things, I don’t think they are. They’re related because they reflect a persistent problem in our world: we solve our problems and disagreements with violence. I shouldn’t make blanket statements I suppose, but I’m reluctant to express a more focussed statement than that. We solve our problems with violence.

We do this over oil and other natural resources, over despots and tyrants. We do it over sports events. We do it over spilled milk, if we’re the angry sort. We do it in our movies, where the good guys defeat the bad guys using the bad guys’ weapons and methods. We solve our problems with violence, whether they’re problems of oil or plot.

I wonder if this is a learned approach? We see how it’s done by our governments, by our international neighbours, by our heroes, by our friends, by our parents. We learn violence as our means for solving our problems, for getting rid of our troubles, for protecting our rights and our property, for protecting us against…violence. And so the cycle goes on and violence begets violence. The ones that grow up to be the “good guys” and “bad guys” learn the same methods of problem solving; the “good guys” and the “bad guys” are distinguished by their cause, not their methods.

We talked a bit about the school shooting in Connecticut in Sunday school on Sunday morning. The issue of gun control came up–how it’s different in Canada. I made the comment that while gun control isn’t the total solution, I nevertheless see no reason for any private citizen owning an assault rifle or a handgun. One of my students replied confidently that there is a reason: “For self-defense.” But that’s precisely it: I need a handgun or assault rifle to defend myself against someone else with a handgun or assault rifle. Violence begets violence.

I want to be careful here that I don’t offer a simple explanation for such a tragic event as a school shooting. I’m not trying to explain the event, I’m just reflecting on an interesting and possibly overlooked relationship that popped out at me as I read yesterday’s headlines. Weak or lack of gun control may be a factor, mental illness may be a factor, the example of problem-solving through violence may be a factor, bullying may be a factor, the media may be a factor, our “good guy” heroes may be a factor, and so on. Any one of these things and a host of others may be part of the problem–singling out any one of them, as I read somewhere online today or yesterday, is little more than a coping method, a way for us to regain some control, some semblance of order, over a chaotic and inexplicable event. But the reality is much more complicated, much more difficult to unravel, because this event and others like it is really the culmination of millennia of human beings turning in on themselves, an infection that has worked its way into (or humans have worked into) every aspect of human culture. And how can we possibly unravel that? Certainly not with simplistic explanations.

It is complicated. So complicated, so overwhelming, in fact, that I feel nothing but helplessness and frustration, to the point of simply giving up. Giving up hope, maybe, or maybe just giving up paying attention to the world, retreating into my own little sphere, just doing what I do, but maybe without passion or care, with a dull look in my eye. Except I no longer have that luxury in my line of work. Thankfully, I tend to be an optimist. There’s always some hope and joy smoldering deep inside me somewhere. You might say that’s because I’m an optimist. Or you might say that I’m an optimist because I have that hope and joy smoldering within.

How can I be optimistic about a school shooting? Well, I can’t. I say I tend towards optimism, but there are some things that are simply dark and inexplicable.

And yet…

We’ve been working our way through I John in Sunday school. “Love” is one of the main themes of that letter, and yesterday I went back to something we had discussed earlier. In chapter 3, John says this, “For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another… This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” We had covered this material already a couple of weeks ago, but I couldn’t help but think of the stories coming out of Connecticut of teachers protecting their students, giving up their own lives to save others. I don’t know whether these teachers were conscious Jesus-followers or not, but what they did was true love, what they did was walking in the way of Jesus.

What does this have to do with that dark, evil event? Only this: that even in the darkest circumstances, we can still find light, we can still find hope, we can still find goodness and love–they won’t be defeated.

At times like these, we rightly ask, “How can this be?” The problem of evil is highlighted in weeks like these, and rightly so. But this same question is rarely, if ever, asked about goodness and light in the world–we never ask, when we hear stories of self-sacrifice, of the giving up of one’s own life for the sake of another, “How can this be?”. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome or understood it.

This in no way is meant to dampen the horror and pain of events such as this school shooting. It is only an observation that light continues to shine in our often dark world, and it will continue to shine. And the darkness will not overcome it.

2 thoughts on “Violence begets violence (and other thoughts)

  1. Nadene

    I am inspired and surprised by stories or conversations about how `light shines in the darkness.
    Your concern that “violence begets violence`is justified. Equally as thoughtful is the idea that love begets love. If you and I are able to shine by simply loving someone extravagantly…watch God’s light will permeate the darkness.

  2. Jeff

    Excellent thoughts.

    Your two main thoughts here complete each other: Violence is cyclical, and self-sacrifice is profoundly Jesusy. They complete each other in the sense that by taking violence into our own bodies, as Jesus did, we break the cycle of violence. We can intercede between the two sides of a conflict, and absorb the damage. Some take this to be the highest calling of the Church: true martyrdom, for the sake of the Other and the glory of God.

    I saw something else today on Facebook that was asking “where was God in this school shooting?” I have no problem answering: he was right there, in those who gave their lives for the sake of others.

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