Violence and War. These are not new concepts. Ever since the fall of man, these have followed us. What began with Cain and Abel has followed humanity through centuries upon centuries of death and destruction. By looking back at history we can see the negative effects of war. The violence, the death, the families and nations torn apart. And yet, the pattern continues still today.
As human beings, why do we continue along this path? Is it blind oblivion to the pain that such violence causes? Is it ignorance of past grievances? Is it a complete lack of any sort of moral conscience? Perhaps these things may contribute to violent behavior. But I believe at the heart of this is a dark desire for revenge.
A radical branch of religious extremists feels wronged and threatened by the way of life in other civilizations. Not content to let this be, they seek a twisted form of revenge carried out in brutal acts against humanity.
And leaders of nations, appalled by such acts of brutality, vow revenge on the terrorists who carried them out to begin with. In the wake of the recent barbaric killing of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS, a distraught Jordanian politician shouted in an interview “Let’s use the same methods as them! Let’s kill their children! Let’s kill their women!”
And so the cycle continues. Following the killing of the pilot, two al-Qaida prisoners on death row in Jordan were executed for their crimes. But will this help? More than likely the terrorist groups will only seek revenge yet again for the executions of these prisoners. And so it continues on and on.
Many in the world seem content to live by “an eye for an eye.” And how does this help anyone? By murdering someone who has murdered others, by vowing death on the families of those who brought death to others, are we getting any closer to peace? Or are we only falling deeper and deeper into the cycle of violence and war.
There is only one way to break this cycle.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
Instead of living “an eye for an eye” we need to learn to turn the other cheek. Not that we are to turn the other way and ignore the violent acts in our world. Not that we should allow murderers or terrorists to simply go about their lives free of any consequences. No. What our Lord is telling us in these words is that rather than seeking revenge, we need to seek love. Love of the innocent, love of the needy, love of our neighbor, and even love of our enemies.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44)
Love has the power to break the cycle of war. If our end goal is love and peace then we have no room for revenge. We must learn to work to defeat violence and war by working towards love. In our imperfect world, sometimes wars happen. The Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges these circumstances:
“Those who renounce violence and bloodshed and, in order to safeguard human rights, make use of those means of defense available to the weakest, bear witness to evangelical charity, provided they do so without harming the rights and obligations of other men and societies. They bear legitimate witness to the gravity of the physical and moral risks of recourse to violence, with all its destruction and death. (CCC 2306)
“All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war. However, “as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right of lawful self-defense, once all peace efforts have failed.” (CCC 2308)
We live in a world of sin. People do terrible things to one another in acts of anger and revenge. By halting acts of aggression through a desire to spread love and peace rather than the desire to bring revenge on others, we can end this cycle. It is a monumental task; one that us mere humans could never accomplish on our own. But we live in the knowledge and hope of Christ. We know that violence, death, war, destruction and sin do not win. Christ has conquered sin and death! Through Him, we can know peace.
Let us pray that leaders around the world will come together in an effort to bring about true peace and not to seek revenge. That they may work together to protect and preserve life in the name of love. And that the Holy Spirit might enter into the hearts of us all to lead us away from the darkness of anger and revenge and towards the light of the peace and love of Jesus Christ.