Another mass murder in a place of worship. Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand, at prayer time, an individual shot and killed 49 people in two separate mosques, wounding 20 others, in the name of preserving white european Christian culture. How can we make a relationship to such an event? Where do we stand as people on a Christian path? How can I confront evil in a fruitful way? The following thoughts are part of my personal effort to work with these questions.
To follow Christ is to seek Christ in myself, but also everywhere, in every human being, in every living creature, in every tree, plant, stone. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was a God… All things came into being through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. (Jn. 1) To live in Christ is to seek to live in this life-creating stream, here, now.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, he states: (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)
Christ, the Son of God, the living Logos of the World, descended into the human world through Jesus—lived, walked among us, even unto the Cross and died; then He was resurrected and descended into the earth while ascending also to a new relationship to the Father, to become, as our Creed says: Since that time he is the Lord of the heavenly forces upon earth and lives as the fulfiller of the fatherly deeds of the ground of the world. He did not ascend to leave us, but as He said at the very end of Matthew: “Lo, I am with you all days, even to the end of time.” He is here, “where two or three are gathered” in His name.
What is His name? This open mystery stands before us, and can be interpreted in many ways—through a slight misunderstanding, this “name” can be used to justify great atrocities, to actually work against the name of Christ while proposing to serve it. Fear, anger, confusion, past sufferings and wounds, even manipulation from outer authoritative voices can lead to this misunderstanding, for if what I have suffered or bear in my soul is too overwhelming, then I might seek someone or something outside of myself to blame and act upon. The drowning man will pull down even his rescuers in his panic of self-preservation. And there have certainly been enough literal and militaristic interpretations of “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) What is this sword truly meant to be? For Christ rebukes Peter when he raises a sword against the soldier. Surely it is another kind of sword, one of spirit not metal.
Christ came not to seek revenge on those who had lost their way, nor to punish evildoers, but rather as it says in the oft quoted John 3:16 and the much neglected next sentence 3:17: “16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Not to judge the world, but that it might be saved through Him. Through Christ, through Christ in us, we place ourselves into the service of all that He serves—and thus, we enter into a new relationship with the world—one that can actually begin to save it. Every human being is invited to participate in this salvation—and there are as many paths as there are individual human beings. If I do not believe this, then I do not trust in the divine wisdom of my Lord and God.
To rightly come to an understanding of this holy name in which we can gather—to try summon His presence in any human encounter, we have to come to an understanding of what it means to say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
The Path of following Christ is a path of freely chosen powerlessness; it is the finding of a new, much higher power than the immature, not yet fully developed impulse that leads to violence as a means to any end. Transformation takes great forbearance, great strength; violence is a shortcut that cuts this potential short. It takes immense spiritual fortitude to be able to lay down arms, and to walk into the world and say, Not on my watch. To participate in the world with an open heart and open hands and to allow our feet to be guided “into the way of peace,” as was spoken at the birth of John the Baptist by his father Zechariah (Luke 1:79).
Following Christ, we embark on a journey through death (all the deaths in our lives which lead to our growth and becoming more truly human, more truly ourselves) to resurrection (the capacity to rise anew from the ashes), and to gradually embody the Holy Spirit, the journey described in our Creed:”Through Him, can the Healing Spirit work.”
The true bravery is to cross the bridge He came to build for us: to find the divine Ground of the World by seeking the divine in human beings, in our own divine nature—in our courageous vulnerability—awake and free. If we follow Christ, then we serve ALL of humanity. How can it be otherwise? To follow Christ is not to join an elite club of those who are saved, but rather: “whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35) If we seek Eternal Life, as the rich young ruler did, first we must follow the basic commandments given to humanity through Moses, then, there is, as Jesus told him: “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and give the money to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; then come, follow Me.” (Luke 18:22)
What we are given is the capacity to learn to give ourselves as completely as Christ did and does. I do not see Christ taking the lives of those with whom He disagreed. Nor does He fight evil with violence. He speaks the truth where there is deception; He calls upon His listeners to think about what they claim to believe, to really understand and find the inner truth when they are blinded by outer appearances and things that were true in the past, but may no longer be.
To work with the evil in our world in a truly Christ-centered and productive way, we can begin with ourselves—the place where we can affect the greatest change, and that which is our given responsibility to do. Evil outside of us always has a mirror reflection in our own souls. No free human being is unaffected by the temptations of the adversarial powers. (See Matthew 4 for a description of the essence of these temptations.) We can learn much from Christ’s resistance to temptation.
We can also look to the guidance given to the disciples. None is so profound and future oriented as the Beatitudes. I can recommend the work of Rev. Emil Bock, who worked with the “Nine Beatitudes,” spoken to an emerging humanity, represented in the disciples, who wish to live a renewed creation on “Christ’s earth,” and their correlation found in the “Nine Woes,” those admonitions spoken to the Pharisees, “bearers and leaders of world destruction, of the old moribund creation.” (p. 223, Studies in the Gospels, vol. 1 by Emil Bock, Floris Books, Edinburgh, 2009.)
We have a great calling to learn to work with great evil in our time in a conscious, Christ-centered (read also: love-centered) way. May we find the strength to keep at it, and the courage to stand in solidarity with all human beings seeking to develop a free, truly human culture.
Liza Joy Marcato