It happened in a school. A school not unlike the one just a few miles up the street from me; a place where children are suppose to be safe and learn something that will benefit our world. But the wide-eyed, bright futures are sitting ducks, and their young lives are gone at the sound of a gunshot.
Their killer was little more than a child himself. Armed with a weapon of mass destruction, he took life to avenge his own. And while these kids sit together in their classrooms, somehow someone ends up lost or abused. Damaged, forgotten, bullied. How ironic that the system we cry out to protect from assassins with a gun is the very system that raised the assassin.
The weapon is no doubt a part of the problem; a cog in the great wheel of violence. While it might take a good dose of humility for those who appreciate their civil right to bear arms to admit, it does not take a genius to see this. But if we take away the big guns, do mass shootings decline? Should we reform the laws surrounding access to these weapons? Or do we arm teachers and increase school security? What laws are good? Which ones are bad? Is it the person or the weapon that executed the evil? And is it evil if the perpetrator is mentally ill? Who do we blame for the tragedy? Who is the scapegoat? Who is in the wrong?
Round and round we go, our words whizzing by. Our ideas of right and wrong on a sliding scale, each varying to an individual degree, ripping the other side apart word by word. Bullet by bullet. A massacre in it’s own rite.
And for those who follow Jesus, the gun is only a small part of this web of problems.
You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Matt: 5:21-23
John continues on this thought.
…He who does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:14-15
If Jesus condemns the man who utters an unkind word along with the mass murderer, then I am no better than he.
We all see what words can do. Cyber bullying alone has lead thousands to take their own lives. Cain even had words with his brother before murdering him, leaving him to rot, uncovered, in an open field. And so I meet a paradox; do I brush over the wound of my own tongue as less than the wounds of a gunshot? Or do I face the very teachings of the One I claim to live my life for? Do I love God and others by my own definition, or by His?
Because according to Him, if I teach my children that name calling is preferable to mass murder, I have failed them. In doing so I am only teaching them to define good and evil for themselves, just like Cain. I cannot have it both ways; I cannot pledge my allegiance and life to the Creator of the world who died on my behalf and then choose to live by my own rules. I am first a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, and those values are not of this world.
As well intentioned as it may be, the danger in the “Love God, Love Others” movement lies in that it has left out the very definition of love. When Jesus summarized the teachings of the Torah with the Jewish creed called the Shema in Mark 12, He was bringing clarity and simplicity to a warped theology. But in our attempts to simplify Jesus, we have warped His theology. We have reduced the essence of His mission without regard for the divine instruction He was so perfectly illustrating. He instructed that instead of defining the greatest command on our own, that we instead allow the entirety of the teachings to define love for us. Jesus knew that humans do not fair well when the terms of love are up for debate.
But yet the war rages on, us so-called Believers frantically grasping for our weapons to disarm, and in some cases provoke, the other side. Despite the teachings of our Master, we decide for ourselves what is tolerable and what is outrageous and what we just don’t care about. We hurl our words like a well-hewn spear, laughing while we strike the heart of those opposed, provoking more bloodshed in a text bubble. If only we had paused long enough to remember that the person on the other side of the screen is the very image of the God we worship. Would we be so quick to defend our rights? Would we throw the first stone?
And so I wrestle with the hypocrisy in my own life. I go back to the Torah. I go back to Matthew 5. I read and re-read. I study and pray. I meditate on the words of my mouth alongside the practice of my heart. I wait for His word to transform my mind and cut away at the lies. I learn His definitions of love and good, and pray I can somehow make them my own.
Because I am no better. I am truly no better. Jesus, have mercy on my soul.