Why the human tendency toward violence?

Published 8:58 am Friday, January 21, 2011

Across the Pastor’s Desk

By the Rev. Tom Biatek, United Methodist Church

“(Jesus said) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” — John 14:27

I state the obvious when I say that we live in a violent world. We live in a world where nations are torn by violent revolution, duly elected governments are rejected by the force of dictators, gangs of thugs raid ships at sea and some, at home and abroad, seek the solution to their perceived problems by firing upon innocents in a crowd. Human beings often chose to solve their problems (and problems only imagined) through violence rather than seeking a more peaceful course. The story is as old as Cain and Abel.

I wonder about our human tendency toward violence and question what deep root within each of us feeds this unwanted weed of our human spirit. I am a pastor and follow a God that my sacred texts characterize as compassionate, loving and filled with grace. The God I know is one that is forgiving, generous and caring. And yet this God I worship is also the God that made man and woman — the great and small, the flawed and the sainted, the good and the bad. We are, my Bible tells me, made in God’s image and we are, our history demonstrates, a much-flawed reflection of our Creator God. I do not blame God for our human tendency toward violence, but I often wonder why we retain such a hunger for the violent solution to our ills.

It is, however, too simplistic to say that God is good and human beings are bad. In Arizona following the horrible shootings, I was deeply moved to see people acting with selfless bravery and strong compassion. Only one ill man acted with horrific violence while tens of thousands have responded to this hate with compassion and love. I have been inspired by the outpouring of decency and care for those whose lives were impacted by this tragedy. I have no answers to explain the actions of the lone gunman except to say that he is ill in a way that I cannot comprehend. I can say that I see what is best about humankind when I see brothers and sisters tapping deep into the true root of all human goodness — the fertile spirit of love embodied in the spirit of our caring creator.

In the end, we must grasp the sad truth that it is painfully easy to tell the story of a violent act. Evil is a blunt and ugly thing. Hate is simple. It lacks depth or character. It is far more complicated to explain an act of love or attempt to give words to a genuine expression of compassion. Beauty is complicated because it embodies what is hopeful and best about our world. The interaction of so many good people working toward a common goal of healing is a tale too beautiful to tell solely with words. Ultimately, to understand love in response to hatred, we must join in its expression with all that we have to offer. Evil taps into the instinctual will to merely survive and cower on the sidelines filled with fear. Love invites us to stand with hope and move boldly to tend to the wounded souls. In acting out of compassion, we begin to reflect the perfection of our creator God and move further from the shadow of hatred that seeks to extinguish our humanity. In love expressed, we are perfected.