“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:50b–53 NRSV)
Whenever I hear of acts of violence, many done in the name of religion, I think back to this incident when Jesus was arrested. Clearly His agenda was not to be pursued with weapons of destruction of whatever size. He lets on that He had access to divine troops more than capable of blowing His enemies away. But that was not His way.
What then are the weapons of our warfare (2 Corinthians 10:4)? I can think of a few:
- Truth, including the truth of the gospel, that dismantles the ideologies behind evil and violence.
- Unconditional love that meets human need, love that reveals the heart of God and that warms the hearts of people.
- Prayer that connects the affairs of this world to the reality of God and His purposes.
- Martyrdom — we are not called to kill in the name of Christ but sometimes we may be called to die for Him.
These weapons look weak when compared to bombs, guns, and knives. Then I think of the match-up between the church and the Roman empire. The church started as a ragtag group with no army and little of the resources of this world. The legions of Caesar were legendary, sweeping all before them. It seemed like a horrendously unequal match-up. Indeed many early Christians were martyred. But where is the Roman empire today? And where is the church? Violence may win some battles in the short run but it will lose the war.
I am not arguing for a pacifist position. God has given the state the right to wield the sword if need be, to protect the innocent against the attacks of the evil (Romans 13:3–4). In a fallen world, institutions like the police and the army have the responsibility and the right to bear arms as servants of the public good. I realise that what the public good is is sometimes not clear. (World War 2 seemed clear enough. What about the Vietnam war, etc.?) This ambiguity is also a feature of a fallen world. We do what we can, albeit imperfectly, to restrain evil in a fallen world.
What is clear is that the sword is not a weapon of the church.
So what do we do in the face of growing violence in the world? We must remember that God is on the throne and He will return one day to establish His kingdom of righteousness and love in its fullness. (This seems to be a good time to read books like Revelation and Daniel.) Of course there will be times when we wonder why the heck He is taking so long?
But the stance of the Christian must be one of faith. We must believe that God is in control, and He knows what He is doing and the best time for everything. In the meantime, we trust in the Lord and do good (Psalm 37:3) with the weapons we have been given — truth, love, prayer, and martyrdom. The light shines brightest when it is darkest.
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15–16 NRSV)