A universal human tragedy is being played out on a tiny stage in the Middle East.
The war between Israel and the Palestinians is more than just a regional dispute. The conflict is part of our ongoing inability as members of the human community to live together in peace.
Their conflict mirrors what goes on between human beings everywhere.
We search in vain for any logic to the animosity that exists between us and our neighbors. Why do they hate us, and us them?
The Bible offers the story of Cain and Abel, blaming the whole debacle on the sin of jealousy. Is that what all this is about? Jealousy?
Regardless of the causes of hate, the results are obvious. We have fought for so long against each other that warfare has become our natural state.
It is a terrible, viscous cycle. They hit us, so we hit them back. They hit us harder, so we hit them harder. It is the working out of the creed “an eye for an eye.”
But as Ghandi noted, if we practice an eye for an eye long enough, we make the whole world blind.
Of course, Jesus questioned an eye for an eye in the Sermon on the Mount, centuries before Ghandi. His words were, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evil person.”
Did Jesus mean for us to lie down like doormats and let evil run over us? No, of course not.
The key to Jesus’ meaning is in the word “resist.” In Jesus’ day this word carried with it overtones of violent conflict. Jesus was offering us a way to confront evil, but with nonviolent means.
The Apostle Paul certainly understood this. He wrote, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Even though this wisdom is embedded in Jesus’ teaching and in the rest of the New Testament, it is rejected for the most part.
Living as we do in a constant state of fear, we simply cannot allow ourselves to surrender our commitment to violence. Deep in our guts, we believe violence is necessary, that it is the only thing that will save us from evil.
In doing this, we endow violence with a sort of sacred status. We believe in violence. We trust it. We look to violence to save us. We depend on violence to drive out evil and usher in what is good.
So far, it has not worked. Throughout all of human history, violence has not brought about anything good. Violence only begets more violence.
This is not a pitch for everyone to become Christian. Even though we might expect Christians to be committed to Jesus’ wisdom more than anyone, our history demonstrates otherwise.
No, Jesus’ insight about nonviolence is not a religious tenet. It is not a spiritual discipline like prayer or fasting. Jesus’ call for nonviolent resistance to evil is a way for us to become genuinely human.
Our alternative is to continue down a road we know only leads to more death and more suffering. Maybe, before we make the whole world blind, we should think about trying his way.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).