Guns and Fear, Part 4
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay…And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Over the past weeks I outlined why I believe following Jesus requires non-violent responses to the violence in our world. Following Jesus disallows violent responses toward another, even as an act of self-defense. And it disallows violent responses toward another doing violence to others. And it disallows using violent means to accomplish individual or collective objectives no matter how consistent those objectives are with what we believe to be the greater good. In my opinion, the Christian rule of thumb is that if an objective requires violence to accomplish, it is either the wrong objective or the wrong time. Non-violent action is counter to our national culture, but for would-be followers of Jesus it is required. We must be willing to lay down the life we think we are living with acts that establish the line-not-to-be-crossed of non-violent living. Non-violence is a necessary step toward establishing, in time, a non-violent world, which is a necessary step to bringing the kingdom of God to earth. In the words of 20th Century Jesuit contemplative, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, we must learn to “…trust in the slow work of God.” Granted, such trust is difficult to maintain in the face of rampant violence.
If we think security comes from having a gun or other lethal weapon at our disposal, or if we think it is better to perpetuate our earthly life by committing an act of violence in response to the violent threat of another, then our sense of security is built on a false premise. Is it that we believe we can arm ourselves sufficiently to overpower anyone who threatens violent action against us? Or do we want the ability to make anyone who violently injures us pay for their dirty deed with suffering of their own? Our primary motivation to arm ourselves with lethal weapons is fear, in spite of the numerous biblical dictates not to be afraid. We are most often afraid of losing the control we think we have over the life we think we are living. First of all, we do not control nearly as much of our lives as we think; and second, nothing of the earth can harm our greater life. Jesus’s life and teachings remind us that life is infinitely more than our earthly existence and encourages us to strive for greater awareness of the greater life of which we are inseparably a part. Most of us refuse to trust that God keeps us safe within that greater life.
Jesuit peace activist Fr. John Dear writes, “The unveiling of…God’s reign of peace happens, according to the Gospels, through our participation in the cross of Jesus – that is, through our willingness to practice active, non-violent, suffering love for the human family: for justice, disarmament, and creation.” Aspiring Christians should understand that the path of Jesus leads to the cross. We will suffer, but it will be for the greater good. Many of us will die young and of very unnatural causes. It will require many thousands or millions of people committed to non-violence in the face of death and suffering over many generations to bring about the transformation to a non-violent world. The United States, however, as the most violent of all nations, is the necessary place to begin.
Once a critical mass of people ceases to react violently, however, things will change. When guns, ammunition, and gun parts are outlawed for civilian use, the numbers of guns will gradually drop as guns wear out, break, run out of ammunition, or are otherwise removed from circulation. Law enforcement personnel will gradually become less fearful of those they confront being armed, making violent escalations and confrontations less likely. Fewer guns will decrease our perceived need for guns intended for self-defense.
When Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), he affirmed that whatever sense of power and security we gain from possessing and using violent means will only last until someone with greater weapons, greater skill, or greater numbers of violent actors overpowers us. More violence is never a solution, only a delaying tactic that exacerbates the problem. Violence perpetuates violence and cannot lead to a peaceful world. As Jesus hung on the cross he said, “Father, forgive them: for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Perhaps it is time we learned.
This is the 5th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and are not intended to imply the agreement or support of other individuals or organizations. If you wish to respond to my thoughts, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, excerpted from Hearts on Fire.
 Fr. John Dear, Unveiling Jesus. Printed in Oneing, Vol. 10, No. 1, The Center for Action and Contemplation, 2022, p. 32.