The Common Good
May 2010

Praise the Lord and Fire Away

by Valerie Elverton Dixon | May 2010

What does holy scripture have to do with weapons of war? Not much.

The U.S. military has 300,000 Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOG), with more on the way, and—as you may have heard—every one of them manufactured before this February had “JN8:12” inscribed at the end of the serial number. The markings, which were put there by the manufacturer, Michigan-based Trijicon Inc., refer to the Bible verse in which Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

According to the Trijicon Web site, the ACOG is made “for use in low light or at night.” The technology includes crosshairs or other aiming grids “using fiber optics which collect ambient light”—thus the scripture references to light. Other Trijicon gunsight models featured references to 2 Corinthians 4:6 (in which God makes “light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God”); Matthew 5:16 (in which Jesus urges all to “let your light shine before people, that they may see your good deeds and praise God in heaven”); and Revelation 21:23 (in which the New Jerusalem “does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp”).
In the Bible, the “light of life” refers to creation and to eternal life. In Genesis, its creation is what brings order from pre-existing chaos. Light also signals an end to oppression; Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who live in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.”
Jesus, the “light of life,” came into the world to bring more abundant life, in contrast to the thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). The “light of life” that Jesus brings is love that loves even our enemies; Jesus came to teach us how to govern our lives through the governance of love, not violent coercion. Jesus came to be the light that helps us to recognize evil. He says, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil” (John 7:7).
There is no work more evil than war. It is despair, chaos, death, and danger. It is the human condition at its nadir. The light that a gunsight gives so that human beings may more precisely kill individuals in God’s creation—a feeble and solitary match flickering for a fraction of a second—has nothing to do with the light of life that is Jesus. The paradoxical logic that war can bring peace is a delusion; war can only bring a brief cessation from conflict while the opposing sides regroup for more war. Peace comes from peacemaking.
Just peace theory understands that true peace comes through truth-telling, respect, and the security that results from sustainable, equitable economic development. It comes from honest government that serves the needs of the people. It understands that the plow and the classroom, not the gun or the battlefield, are the instruments of peace.
The hard, accurate truth is that war is human stupidity. Humankind ought to have the moral integrity to admit that we wage war for the sake of politics and economics; we deceive ourselves by thinking that there is any necessity, glory, or holiness in war. Confusion reigns when we think war performs the will of God.
Despite what the folks at Trijicon might think, the light of God is not found in a gunsight.
Valerie Elverton Dixon, Ph.D., an independent scholar and lecturer who publishes at JustPeaceTheory.com, has taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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