The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’
Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Luke 10:36-37, NIV
In the popular media, most problems seem to be solved by some sort of violent act. More often than not some sort of a firearm is used to vanquish the bad guys who are unquestionably evil and therefore deserve to die. Typically an antihero awash in a sea of moral ambiguity is called on to deliver the good but defenseless populace from the depredations of the truly evil. Antiheroes range from the well-known James Bond created by Ian Fleming to zombie-fighting Rick Grimes of the series “The Walking Dead” based on comic books by the same name written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore.
These testosterone-infused struggles spill over into live-action video games as well, often placing the player in the role of the antihero. The goal is the same. The game is not over until the opponent’s viscera are spread over the virtual landscape. We see the results of our inundation with these lessons in immorality in the growing violence in society. With the prolific weaponization of many societies either due to legalized ownership of weapons that have no real purpose beyond the killing of other human beings, or due to the destabilization of societies by armed insurgencies, human life is devalued to little more than an obstacle to obtaining what one wants and has the power to take. In video games, this may be called “leveling up.” In real life it is victimizing others to advance oneself.
Perhaps because of this glorification of violent solutions to problems, some are attracted to potentially violent expressions of Christian faith as well. Some are far more attracted to phrases like “victorious Christian living” than they are to phrases like “total surrender of the will.” These individuals are attracted to images like those of Ephesians 6, where they get to wear armor and wave swords about. Citing phrases like “resist the Devil,” (James 4:7) they see themselves as the hero locked in a titanic struggle against an evil being using powerful, but more-or-less conventional weaponry like fiery darts that can be deflected by a charmed shield. They, like James and John, (Luke 9:54) see themselves like Elijah, raining fire on the heads of their enemies (2 Kings 1). In doing so, they lose sight of the Jesus whose name they profess. (Luke 9:55)
These perspectives have probably not helped the proliferation of Christianity, unless we count conversions at the point of a sword or the barrel of a gun as true conversions. The imagery of Christians fighting the Devil to achieve victory may have brought us such historical high points as The Inquisition and the Salem Witch Trials. They may even be responsible for modern day pogroms that seek to purge the church of “impurities.” Never mind that the parables of Jesus teach against such things, the desire for secular victory, albeit with spiritual nomenclature, is too great to restrain.
Yet, even in the thralls of violent “spiritual” conflict, individuals stand out who are taking a different path that represents victory not for themselves, but others. Such a victory elevates others by alleviating the effects of sin while humbling themselves in the process. One such individual is Albert Schweitzer. Setting aside the importance of theological debate and rhetoric, he found meaning and victory in the surrender of his life in service to others. In reverencing life (Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben) as it appeared in all its forms, he found meaning for his own life. Relieving suffering caused by man’s inhumanity to his fellows, he won victory by subjugating his needs to those that were greater.
Schweitzer could have enjoyed a pastorate in Europe that required little commitment beyond keeping his parishioners happy. Instead, he chose to labor for many years in Africa. He did not go to Africa only to preach but also to heal. Feeling that his theological education was not adequate for the needs of Africa, he also pursued a medical education that he might improve the miserable lot of a people plagued with disease and little modern medicine. Although, culturally, Schweitzer was colored by the imperialistic paternalism of his time, within that patina, he worked tirelessly to relieve suffering for the rest of his life, eventually dying at his beloved mission at the age of 90.
Perhaps giving one’s life to relieve the effects of sin is to truly follow the example of Jesus. This may not involve traveling overseas to a foreign mission. The effects of sin are all around us. The person who takes in foster children in their need is heroic to those children. The person caring for the disabled or chronically ill brings victory to them. The single parent raising and providing for the education of their children free of drugs, alcohol, and abuse is nurturing them to victory. The person who quietly or even anonymously assists anyone struggling with the hurdles that sin throws in our paths is also heroically enabling victory.
Some may want to do a great work that will bring glory to them, but the glory that is enduring is not in our personal victories. It is from the victories we enable in others. We enable those victories by providing what is needed to relieve the effects of sin. This does not mean that we necessarily provide what is wanted. Just as a good parent will normally not allow their children to consume only ice cream for every meal, but will provide a balanced diet, so a Christian would not normally simply give a person all they wanted without regard to their need. They will carefully consider what will bring healing from the effects of sin and provide encouragement and whatever support they are able to provide to mitigate those effects.
Of course the primary foundation for accomplishing this would be a relationship with Jesus. As we claim the victory of Jesus over sin, others will find this powerful in their lives as well. Surely when we acknowledge Jesus’ victory at the cross over sin, we find power to alleviate the suffering caused by sin in our own lives and those of others. This can be our loving place in the plan of salvation. We cannot cure sin itself. Only Jesus can do that. But we can relieve its effects. Those effects might be addiction, disease, disability, poverty, ignorance, prejudice, and a host of other issues. Fortunately, God fills his church with a multitude of gifts to heal them.
While it may be culturally “in” to idolize those who solve problems with violence, both verbal and physical, we should not see ourselves as knights riding into battle swinging a sword to and fro to cut down the enemy, or in a more modern paradigm, striding in with a pair of Mac-10s and mowing down the bad guys in a hail of metal-jacketed bullets. Whether real or virtual, this does not fit with the Christian ethic. Try as I might, I cannot picture God with a sawed-off shot gun and a flack vest. I don’t think He visualizes me with them either.
Instead the picture of a humble foot-washing comes to mind. (John 13:1-17) As the Savior gently washed the dust from the road from the disciples’ feet, one by one, so, perhaps, we should wash the effects of sin from one another’s lives. Perhaps doing this will remove the effects of sin from our own lives as well. Albert Schweitzer modeled this with his life. He also said, “I have always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of misery to an end.” May God grant us the grace to do that.
Scripture marked (NIV) taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide. Used by permission. NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® and NIV® are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Use of either trademark for the offering of goods or services requires the prior written consent of Biblica US, Inc.