Any time we feel personally enraged by acts of violence, we have a tendency to turn towards more violence as a means of restitution or vengeance. You don’t have to wander far on social media to hear the cries for swift and terrible military intervention. This is an understandable and very human response, and I’m not interested in judging those who feel this way. I’ve felt it myself.
But if we’re going to talk about violence, let’s be really honest with ourselves, and clear about what it can and cannot do. Violence will never change someone’s mind. It won’t affect the circumstances that triggered it in the first place. It won’t convert anyone. It won’t make us safe.
What a well executed military campaign can do is remove a concrete and physical threat. Is there a region or territory that is being used to train, develop, and stage guerrilla attacks on cities across the world? Invade that region, control it and pacify it. It will no longer be a staging ground for those attacks. The cost to human life will be extreme and it will not be as simple as it sounds, but if the military campaign is successful, that region will no longer be a threat.
The catch is, of course, that unless every single person who was involved in supporting, training for, planning, or executing those attacks is killed or captured, they will still happen. And really, even if somehow it were possible to make every single person associated with those attacks on every level disappear, the ideology or circumstances that shaped them won’t have been touched.
If what we want is to remove a concrete and physical threat, then we can talk about violence. If what we want is to be safe and live in peace, we better talk about something else.
That something else will actually be harder than violence. It will require self-control and commitment far beyond that required to wield a weapon. For those seeking to follow Christ, it takes the shape of the cross, and means a radical self-giving that is only possible by grace. The cross means practicing compassion and love even when it hurts. It means practicing love even when our hearts cry out for vengeance. For those who choose this path, it may even mean what Jesus said: “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
I can only dare to suggest this because Jesus suggested it first. I can only dare to dream of doing it because Jesus did it first.
There may in very rare circumstances be a need for violent military intervention in this broken world. But precisely because this is a broken world there is always a much deeper need for us to follow Jesus on the way of the cross.