What Can the Church Do in Times of Violence?

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It is a strange irony, but in a world drunk on violence, it is only on the cross of violence that there is hope for peace in our world.

Yesterday, in El Paso, TX, a gunman murdered 20 people and injured more than two dozen others. Once again, for the billionth time since the dawn of creation, Cain has risen up against Abel. A man, created in the image of God, has besmirched that image by acting lower than a beast. As the blood of Abel once soaked the soil outside Eden, crying out to God, now blood soaks the streets of this Texas city, crying out its broken prayer to the heavens.

In times of violence, when people are demanding political, cultural, and legal changes, it can seem as if the church is largely irrelevant. Worse yet, the church can make herself seem irrelevant when she embroils herself in political, cultural, and legal changes, and forgets her primary calling: the preaching of Christ and him crucified.

In the heart of the church hangs an icon of violence: the crucifix. On that cross, God cried out and bled out for the life of the world—the very world that killed him. And it is that cross that the church must carry onto the streets of our nation.

It is a strange irony, but in a world drunk on violence, it is only on the cross of violence that there is hope for peace in our world. For on that cross is the God who alone fills the cavernous wounds of humanity with his healing grace. He pulls us away from racism, from bloodlust, from hatred, from white supremacy, from the vortex of evil to carry us into a freedom that is found by dying and rising with him.

The cross does not exist to answer all our questions of Why. It redirects our questions into the only answer who finally gives us peace. God does not tell why this or that evil befell people; he tells us in whom we have hope, no matter what happens. That hope is in his Son, who embodies the love of God.

That hope is in the God who chased after our world as we sprinted into the night. He himself plunged into the darkness we made our home. He sunk himself into our world. He saw violence, suffered violence, and transformed his own violent death into our salvation. And he stands, in our cosmos of night and slavery, as the only pillar of light and freedom we have.

Political, legal, or cultural changes may be enacted. More laws may be passed. But whatever outward changes may come, the undeniable truth remains that our country and all humanity will still be flawed beyond reckoning. The human heart will remain a breeding ground for violence, impervious to law and decrees and political changes. And the church will still have the only message that penetrates the human heart, that conveys true and lasting change and healing—a message that is written not in words but in the scarred hieroglyphics carved with spear and nail into the slain yet living body of Jesus.

Take that healing, dear church, into the blood-soaked streets of our nation. Proclaim that this is the God who bled and died for you, to redeem you from the evil that haunts every human heart, that turns brother against brother, sister against sister, religion against religion, race against race.

This is the God of the cross, the God who gave his all for you, who draws all of you onto his cross. There you discover hope and healing, no matter how deep your wounds, how broken your heart, how violent the world around you and within you may be.

The church may be many things, but it is never irrelevant, not as long as it is preaching Christ and him crucified. This Savior who died a violent death is the life, the only life, of the world.