By Bishop Gerald Barnes
“The Lord tests the good and the bad, hates those who love violence.”
The 11th Psalm seems to make clear how our God views any acts committed among his children that result in harm or even death. Yet, there are many moments in Scripture that show us the human propensity for violence, not the least of which the passion and death of our Lord.
Our society today is reflecting the human tendency for violence more than ever. Public mass shootings occurring with increasing frequency have many of us on edge, afraid to go out and do things we used to take for granted. It is disheartening and dismaying to see so many lives senselessly taken because every life is precious to God. We offer our prayers for the departed and their loved ones, and yet we hear increasingly that “prayer is not enough.” Perhaps this is true, but as people of faith we begin with prayer, offering ourselves to God in an expression of solidarity, pain and hope.
We are called to more than that, but what?
We might begin by looking at ourselves. Are we living a life of non-violence? It’s not just a question of whether or not we are causing physical harm to others, it’s also about our words. The increasingly uncivil and even hostile rhetoric that we hear in the public square is a kind of verbal violence. Harsh words can hurt and damage just as badly as physical blows. Are we using our words to wound others?
It’s also about what we harbor in our hearts. The Lord Jesus teaches us in Matthew’s Gospel that it is not enough to reject murder, “whoever is angry with his brother is liable to judgement.” (Mt. 5:22.)
The origin of many horrific acts of violence is the anger that can fester in the human heart. And so, the Lord calls us to recognize that in ourselves (and others), and to reconcile ourselves to Him by going to our brother or sister in forgiveness. That is why we count Reconciliation as one of the four core values of the Diocese. In our humanness, we need to recognize our capacity for anger and the terrible paths on which it can lead us – if we do not keep our hearts open to reconciling with those who we have hurt or have hurt us.
It is only after we have looked at our own inventory of anger and violence, and asked God to take that burden from us through forgiveness and reconciliation with Him, that we can begin to make our communities, our society and our world a more peaceful place. There is much more we can do and much more that we have to do but let us begin first with ourselves as we take the next steps in confronting violence in our society.
“From extorsion and violence He frees them, for precious is their blood in His sight.” – Psalm 72:14