WHAT IS A BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO VIOLENCE?
If you have seen the video of George Floyd, you have been sickened by his brutal murder. The conduct by the policeman on his neck was inexcusable. The sadness was compounded by some who sought to turn the peaceful protests into riotous looting and violence. Our natural response may be to retaliate, but Martin Luther King taught us that we need not succumb to violence. We do not condone violence, but we learn how to overcome violence. The apostle Paul, who was well acquainted with violence, has some helpful advice for us:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. (Romans 12:18)
Notice that Paul said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you.” You can’t control other people, but you can control your response to their actions. Our responsibility is to respond in a peaceful manner. Paul then gave us a strategy for dealing with others who may have wronged us:
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:19-20)
We are to let God deal with the situation. What’s our response? We are to show kindness. This is not simply difficult – this is impossible unless we are controlled by the Spirit of God. The reference to burning coals in the Old Testament often referred to God’s judgment. Your motive in doing good deeds is not to increase your enemy’s judgment, but to ameliorate the relationship. Solomon, who authored many of the Proverbs, also gave this advice:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
Abraham Lincoln realized that he was able to get rid of his enemies when he made them his friends. The apostle Peter echoed a similar thought:
not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9)
Perhaps Peter was reflecting upon his time with Jesus and His disciples were facing rejection and wanted to take vengeance upon others:
When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54)
Jesus gave them a different perspective:
But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; (Luke 9:55)
Do you know what kind of spirit you are? As Booker Washington said: “I will not allow any man to make me lower myself by hating him.” Paul concluded with this admonition:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
This is a present tense imperative, you are to keep on overcoming. You can either overcome or be overcome – there is no avoiding the conflict. Will you choose, victory or defeat?