Violence, peace and the nature of God

The appalling attacks on innocent people in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka shows us once again that violence is never far away from our modern-day civilisation.

May 03, 2019

By Anil Netto
The appalling attacks on innocent people in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka shows us once again that violence is never far away from our modern-day civilisation.

The fact that it was carried out on Easter Sunday – the day we mark the triumph of Life over Death – makes it even more jarring. The fact that so many children died – the little ones Jesus expressed so much concern about – makes the horror even more tragic.

Imagine not being able to attend religious services or even having a meal outside without having to worry about a terrorist attack. Imagine the times we live in when even places of worship have to think of security measures to ensure the safety of worshippers.

How could God allow such violence, many must have wondered.

Throughout scriptures, there is a tension between a backdrop of violence, even war, and those struggling to work for peace.

That tension can be seen right from Cain’s murder of Abel. Some scholars have speculated this episode may have reflected the tensions arising from the use of resources between farmers (represented by Cain) and shepherds (represented by Abel) in West Asia during the Bronze Age.

Jesus himself lived during a period of war and violence as the Roman Empire conquered territories based on its ideology of peace through military conquest. They crucified rebels, serious criminals and slaves.

In response to the Roman occupation of Judea, religious zealots – especially the Sicarii or ‘dagger-men’ – periodically launched terror attacks. Under the cover of crowds of people, they used their sicae (small daggers), concealed within them, targetting those who collaborated or sympathised with the Romans.

Through their acts of violence, they tried to incite the Jews into rebellion in the bloody wars against the Roman Empire in the late 60s AD, which ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple and mass deaths during the siege of Jerusalem and surrounding areas.

Jesus lived just before this happened at a time when ferment was in the land. What can we tell of the nature of God from his words and deeds?

“Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be recognised as children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

And so, the work of promoting inter-religious dialogue – at all levels – must gather pace despite the many challenges in society.

It is so important to recognise the dangers posed by hate speech, extremist ideologies and those who manipulate religion to further political ends.

The education system needs to be evaluated to gauge whether it is promoting peaceful co-existence or inculcating suspicion and hostility in the long run. Children need to be brought together – to live, learn and play together – and not separated.

Ordinary people have a major role to play in building bridges.

It was highly symbolic when Christians and people of other faiths joined in the solidarity vigil for Christchurch in Kuala Lumpur while Muslims joined Christians in participating in the vigils for Sri Lanka.

What raised eyebrows was when a group of Muslims visited a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple and St Joseph’s Church in Sentul.

All these people of goodwill send out a powerful message that the purveyors of hatred and divisiveness will have to contend with peacemakers of all faiths.

Even if there is this tension between peace and justice on the one hand, and war and violence throughout the pages of Scripture, we can have no doubt about the nature of God himself.

Jesus himself showed us what God is like when he admonished Peter who had drawn out his sword to protect his master in Matthew 26:51-52.

“And suddenly, one of the followers of Jesus grasped his sword and drew it; he struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his ear.

“Jesus then said, ‘Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’”

For his passion in bringing about the kingdom of God, the Prince of Peace suffered the most brutal of deaths – scourging and crucifixion.

But even Death could not hold back his message of new Life in the kingdom of peace and justice that he promised. The Peace that he brings about surpasses all understanding.

“Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” - John 14:27.

In these challenging times, we have to be standard-bearers of the Peace and Love that he so passionately proclaimed.

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