It seems like violence will never end. Portland. Seattle. Las Vegas. Isla Vista. Almost every day in Chicago. Not to mention Iraq, Boko Haram, the conflict in Ukraine, and the continued war in Afghanistan.
The Huffington Post just reported that “If it’s a school week in America, odds are there will be a shooting.” Since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, the United States has averaged 1.37 school shootings per week.
And our culture is divided on how best to respond. One side declares we need to increase gun regulations. The other side insists we need more guns. The two sides are locked in a bitter political rivalry, using terms like “rights” and “responsibilities” and neither side will budge. One side will win the political battle concerning gun rights, but I fear that no matter who wins the battle it will only perpetuate the war.
I’m feeling despair, and from my Facebook feed, I know many others are feeling the same way. After all, this is so much bigger than guns; it’s about a culture of violence. But please, don’t fall into despair. We have too much work to do.
Besides, those who follow Christ know that no matter how bad it gets, violence doesn’t have the last word. Resurrection has the last word. Death doesn’t have the last word. Life has the last word. If God’s sovereignty means anything it means that in the midst of violence and death, God brings resurrection and life.
Some people are confused by the word “sovereignty.” They think that because God is sovereign, or all powerful, that God somehow plans these kinds of tragedies to punish us for our sins. But that’s false. God is sovereign, but God’s sovereignty does not mean that God punishes us through these violent situations for our sins. If faith in God’s sovereignty means anything, it means that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, nothing can thwart God’s plan to bring resurrection and healing out of violence. Jesus’ resurrection reveals God’s sovereignty in the midst of human violence and it has a particular effect* upon us and our world: it transforms us into people of the resurrection.
This is the part that really matters: We each have an important role to play in participating in the resurrection effect. In the resurrection of Jesus we find the reconciliation of God and the world. All of the violence humans inflicted upon Jesus on the cross was transformed in the resurrection into forgiveness, peace, and love — all without a hint of violence. On the cross and in the resurrection, Jesus reveals the ultimate nonviolent love of God. Instead of responding to violence with violence, the Crucified and Risen One responded with unconditional forgiveness and peace.
Paul said it like this: “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” That’s what God does. God doesn’t count our sins against us. That’s not reconciliation; that’s resentment. God forgives our sins. That’s what the resurrection effect is all about. And that’s our job description as people of the resurrection.
God responds to our violence with forgiveness. In the face of all these shootings, our usual reaction is to seek retribution in the name of justice. But that’s not justice. In the resurrection Jesus reveals that true justice is based on forgiveness, not violence veiled as justice.
People of the resurrection cannot afford to respond to violence with violence or to live in despair. We have to live in the hope of resurrection, and in the way of peace without resorting to violence. In a world that insists on meeting violence with violence, this is a hard task. But we know that God is sovereign, and because of that we know that violence will not have the last word.
Resurrection has the last word.
*The title of this article was inspired by Anthony J. Kelley’s book The Resurrection Effect: Transforming Christian Life and Thought.
Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.
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