Words from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his masterful trilogy:
A person who is not inwardly prepared for the use of violence against him is always weaker than the person committing the violence.
THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO, Volume One, First Harper Perennial edition, p. 14.
The narrative begins with how you were introduced to this alternate universe. Arrested in the middle of the night… ripped from your life and family… thrown into a place where you wondered: Which circle of Hell is this? And when they grabbed you, all you could say was, “Me? What for?” You weren’t prepared for it, but you should have been.
It wasn’t only Solzhenitsyn’s story… it was the story of millions dragged mercilessly and for the stupidest reasons into the concentration camp system… millions never heard from again… justice never served… reparations never made.
He wrote these words as a warning to guard our souls… even when subjected to the worst treatment imaginable. How would we react to blatant injustice and unspeakably inhumane treatment if we were suddenly steamrolled by them?
The chart below is indicative of current attitudes trending the wrong direction. Increasing numbers of people think resorting to violence might be necessary “in order to save our country.”
The real rub is: Some claiming to follow Jesus fail to follow him when it matters most. The use of violent means will never produce genuine spiritual fruit.
The real irony is: Some who would accept the use of violent means today used to decry the evils of the Marxist maxim, “the end justifies the means.” In the late 70’s, we chimed in together when the same maxim fanned the flames of the Liberation Theology in vogue in Latin America. So prevalent was it that my copy of a book by a Colombian Roman Catholic priest — and promoter of the movement — was confiscated during one of our border crossings. Yes, the cries of the poor and oppressed rang loudly in our ears… and still do! But violent means did not engender solutions — only new sets of oppressors.
The real tragedy is: Wannabe freedom fighters today seem clueless about what a battle for basic human rights looks like… especially in repressive regimes. Gun-toters, anti-maskers, anti-vaxers, defund the police proponents, sexual orientation freedom fighters — pick an issue/pick a side — ought to get a grip on how frivolous their battle lines seem compared to life under full blown despotism.
It all screams of a deeper problem: The utter unpreparedness of the soul to face a cataclysmic loss of everything… instant immersion into imprisonment, abuse, hunger, torture and death… encased in the impossibility of restoration to what was before.
There is no set of circumstances that gives us permission to act like the ungodly, inhumane world surrounding us. In that context the problem becomes: How should we now live? Which battles should we pick? For whose kingdom have we been commissioned as ambassadors? How are we to conduct the affairs of our office?
Remember how John the Baptist was unceremoniously executed at the behest of Herod? It was vicious and so unfair…
And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter. (Mark 6:27-29, ESV)
What ensued presents an interesting study…
Things that didn’t happen following John’s beheading:
John’s cohorts didn’t lawyer up…
No threats against Herod or Herodias…
Jesus didn’t order a hit on Herod and his family…
No “Justice for John” marches…
No seditious storming of the Capitol (that would have gone well)…
No rallying around conspiracy theories…
No paranoid behavior like post-apocalyptic shelters... or panic buying.
Things that did happen following John’s beheading, as seen in Mark chapter 6:
6:29 his disciples gave John’s body a respectable burial
6:13 ministry continued… the apostles cast out lots of demons and healed lots of sick people.
6:14 the apostles’ ministry made Herod wonder if John had risen from the dead.
6:30 when the apostles completed their ministry journey, they reported to Jesus.
6:31 then Jesus told his disciples to “Come away…and rest a while.”
Their reactions seem pretty calm, centered and confident to me. We are too easily caught off guard. We are too instinctively reactive to threatening stimuli in ways that only bring out the stench of our own sinful nature. There’s nothing spiritual in that… there’s nothing in violent behavior that attracts others to the Savior.
Jesus’ call to nonviolence and prayer preempts any supposed justification for violent means in response to injustice and inhumane treatment. His own words in the Sermon on the Mount are their death knell…
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28, ESV)
Once we’re settled about that, we can focus on following in Jesus’ footsteps as he was taken —cruelly and unjustly — to the cross.
When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23, ESV)
The history of religion is written in blood — violently and wrongly spilled — in the name of God. True Christian witness has no part in it. Our ground rules are different. Let’s live as loyal subjects of the only kingdom that really matters — the kingdom of God.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting.” (John 18:36, ESV)