EARLY in my life, like everyone is, I was introduced to the inevitable concept of violence, and not only the concept — the myriad manifestation of violation in my life.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t ‘abused’ as a youngster. I ‘suffered’ quite as normal a childhood as any child could be blessed to have experienced; certainly the love of a father and mother doing their best to love each other, and their children.
I use inverted commas above not to annoy you, but to emphasise the fact that, even though it wasn’t abuse I suffered, I did suffer the violence normal to the average human existence.
The concept of sin explains this suffering well.
I do not pretend that there aren’t more horrendous childhoods. There are! I see events in my life, weekly if not daily, where children suffer the ‘normal’ (emotional) violations of their parents, let alone the violations that would rend their parents’ hearts if only they knew their children’s actual perceptive existential experience. We adults tend to forget how vulnerable children are, yet we only need to tap into our inner child and realise how vulnerable we still feel in the presence of violence. And, indeed, there are abominable upbringings where violence in key developmental phases interrupts a child and their life is destroyed before it’s even begun. That destruction leads to further destruction as the ripples of violence tend continually outward through waves of fear.
The distance we are to God explains both our vulnerability and propensity to sin.
We’re surrounded and inculcated and embodied by forces of violence. And until we see our reality for what it is we’re helpless to change it. We need to remain hopeful, but hope only has veracity when we stare the truth in the eyes of life, and wrestle cheerfully with it in the hope of peace — for which we must believe.
Violence is not just about violent husbands and family violence, or unjust judicial structures, or corruption, or child detention. Violence presents itself around us and in us all the time, if only we’re honest. What I’m saying is sin is violence from a relational perspective.
Let us consider some forms of violence that we participate in.
I think of the unintentional violence my two-year-old son brings to me, albeit in the name of love, like running up to me with force into my crutch. It hurts, and in being violated I need to be steady within myself not to violate him through an angry response. He doesn’t understand how his behaviour violates me or others yet. It’s not his fault. Yet, I and other people of the maturity to understand how a two-year-old interacts with the world need to understand him, so as to not violate him by a reptilian reaction we’re all so capable of.
Many benign situations in workplaces, families, communities, and in broader society, become the breeding ground for violence, and I’m not even talking about visible violence. As I sit atop this uncomfortable stool typing these words, the seat violates my backside, and the flow of blood through the back of my legs is interrupted. If I remain here long enough, without shifting position, discomfort propagates disease. Poor design is violence. The rowdy patron in this kindly coffee shop violates may spirit; my soul seeking its heavenly rest. Yet, in his intrinsic joy he has no idea how he violates me. Inner senses of frustration mount when the breeze stops and perspiration develops. Suddenly my soul feels challenged and possibly violated. Uneasiness in a key relationship is a violation — a friend-if-not-family-person, whom I dearly love, comes to mind that I violated through a less than helpful countertransference, although with the intention of helping. I have been forgiven, even in the event itself, but can I forgive myself that violence? If I don’t, I continue a violence against myself, and my core values are challenged. (Oh the catharsis to give words to the inner experience!) Of course, reconciling violence is an intrinsic mantra for me. How could I otherwise continue doing what I do? God has gifted me the maintenance of His grace.
Fear, and the Vital Matter of Awareness
If someone close to me talks with me about something uncertain that impacts me directly, I have to watch the flow of my thoughts henceforth. The enemy finds a way to discourage through overwhelming us in fear. Fear comes cloaked. It stalks, and the Spirit beckons to us, “Be attentive to this! Deal with it.” Awareness is the key.
Yes, I note the role of fear. When I’m fearful I am in the process of becoming violent. If I don’t manage my thoughts in order to make myself feel safe I will move in the direction of violating someone. And when I manage my fear through productive reflection — a personal form of prayer — God comes through every time, restoring to me my hope.
If we hope to be safe, and to be a safe person as we interact with our world, we must become aware, continually, of stimuli to violence because of fear.
Fear undergirds violence. Given our broken nature we’re condemned to interact with violence — as violators and as the violated.
Now, thankfully, fear-producing-violence is not where this ends!
The Prince of Peace comes — this Easter, and every Easter, and eternally ever — to remind us that He bore violence and absorbed it. And look at the fruit borne: salvation for all humankind who accept that salvation.
Having accepted our salvation, our task is to be honest about violence; to absorb and process violations, and to end violence so far as it depends on us.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.