Christian Conduct in the Face of Violence
Violence rapidly increases. What course should you take?
THROUGHOUT the world violence of all kinds is on the increase. On an international scale its growth caused United Nations Secretary-General U Thant to say that he feared “we are witnessing the initial phases of World War III.”*
On a national scale violent internal upheavals have toppled many governments in recent years. In some lands opposing factions threaten to engulf the entire nation in bloodshed.
Also, in almost every nation on earth, violence in the form of crime and rioting rapidly mounts. Of the United States, one report stated: “Crime is increasing four or five times as fast as our total population in this country. If there isn’t a change, inevitably it will lead to anarchy.”* And a late report shows that in the first three months of 1967 major crimes skyrocketed 20 percent above the same period the previous year, more than fifteen times the rate of population increase!
Why so much violence throughout the world? Will it continue to increase in the years ahead? What will be the ultimate outcome of it all? And in view of such violence, what course should the Christian follow?
WHY SO MUCH VIOLENCE?
The basic cause of violence is that mankind in general has rejected guidance by God. Man was not created to govern his affairs successfully without God. As long as he followed the standards God gave him, he would be assured of peace and happiness. But sadly for all, our first parents rejected God as their Guide. Instead, wanting independence from God, they rebelled and went their own way. The Almighty God allowed men ample time to pursue their course so that, among other reasons, time would demonstrate that the ways of man apart from God’s rule could never bring peace and happiness.—Gen. 3:17-19.
History has proved this to be the case. Men and nations not ruled by God have adopted their own brands of governments, ideologies and philosophies. Not being guided by the same divine laws and principles, conflict inevitably resulted within human ranks. What has been demonstrated over and over again since man’s rebellion is the truth of these inspired words of Jeremiah: “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jer. 10:23) Jeremiah also wrote: “Look! They have rejected the very word of Jehovah, and what wisdom do they have?” (Jer. 8:9) Rejecting God’s wisdom and choosing to lean on their own, mankind lost peace.
Over the centuries there has been no improvement in man’s relations with his fellowmen. Why not? Because when men left off being submissive to God they could go in only one direction—downward. The longer man stayed away from God, the worse his condition would become. This would happen just as surely as one could predict the course of a rock thrown from a cliff—downward, in harmony with the law of gravity. Departing from God’s laws could result only in a downward trend toward chaos.
In addition to the progressive worsening of man’s affairs or to the long time he has been outside of God’s guidance, there is another factor that has greatly increased violence in our time. The Bible, at Revelation 12:12, states: “Woe for the earth and for the sea, because the Devil has come down to you, having great anger, knowing he has a short period of time.”
Satan the Devil and his demons, spirit creatures who also rebelled against God, are the chief instigators of violence. From the invisible spirit realm they prod willing humans on earth to bring grief to mankind. What is the scope of their influence? The Bible, at 1 John 5:19, says: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” In our century, as the physical facts compared with Bible prophecies verify, Satan and his demons have been cast out of the heavenly realm down to the vicinity of the earth. (Rev. 12:7-9) These invisible forces add to man’s debasement by egging people on to more violence. Why? They know that God’s time for executing all the wicked, including wicked spirit forces, nears. Knowing they will without fail be executed for their gross wickedness, they do their utmost to ruin mankind. “Your adversary, the Devil, walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Pet. 5:8.
Thus, due to man’s long estrangement from God and the influence of wicked spirit forces, the human family grows more calloused in its behavior. How accurately the Bible foretold the very condition we see today when it said: “Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up with pride, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.”—2 Tim. 3:1-4.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Is the violence we now experience going to decrease or increase in the days ahead? Bible prophecy guarantees: “Wicked men . . . will advance from bad to worse.” (2 Tim. 3:13) Also, it says: “The inspired utterance says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons.” (1 Tim. 4:1) And Jesus Christ foretold: “Because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.”—Matt. 24:12.
Violence will thus continue to grow for a little while longer, until these “last days” come to their completion. Then God will bring all violence, and those responsible for it, to their finish.
Without a doubt, “the world is passing away and so is its desire.” (1 John 2:17) In one orgy of violence after another, it speeds to its near end at God’s own hand. Yet, God’s Word also promises that “he that does the will of God remains forever.” Thus, the comforting promise of surviving the end of this violence-filled system is held out to honest-hearted persons everywhere who do God’s will.
However, what is God’s will in connection with the many situations that arise that could lead to violence? Should the Christian share in the violent overthrow of governments that are oppressive? Should he march on city halls, demonstrating for various rights or grievances? If some rough him up, or insult him, should he give them a taste of their own medicine and show them they cannot get away with it?
God’s inspired Word states: “A slave of the Lord does not need to fight, but needs to be gentle toward all, qualified to teach, keeping himself restrained under evil.” (2 Tim. 2:24) The wisdom of this counsel can be seen in whatever circumstance one applies it.
For example, by applying this counsel you, as a Christian, would not work to overthrow a government violently, even if it is oppressive. Many who have done so often find themselves under a worse form of government than the one they overthrew. And in the process, they may lose their lives for a cause that God does not sanction. Jesus told his followers to pray for God’s kingdom, not to fight to overthrow present governments. (Matt. 6:9, 10; John 18:36) He knew that in due time God himself would bring a permanent end to all oppressive governments. Thus, the Christian “does not need to fight,” but needs to wait patiently for Jehovah to bring his own remedy, the only satisfactory one that will benefit all mankind.
Within any nation there is prejudice and discrimination. When recourse through the legal systems of the land fails to bring justice, should you resort to such things as picketing and rioting in the streets? If you, as a Christian, did that, then you would become lawless. Christianity is a law-abiding arrangement, not a license for lawlessness. Lawlessness will never bring justice, but instead brings more oppression and discrimination. The practical wisdom of God tells us: “Let anger alone and leave rage; do not show yourself heated up only to do evil. For evildoers themselves will be cut off.” (Ps. 37:8, 9) And the apostle Paul wrote: “Put them all away from you, wrath, anger, injuriousness, abusive speech.” (Col. 3:8) The Christian waits upon Jehovah for justice, appreciating that, not he, but Jehovah will correct the wrongs of a wicked system of things.
When riots or demonstrations do erupt within one’s community, the Christian does well to exercise great care, not exposing himself to violence. Whenever possible, he retires to a safe place until the violence subsides. This course reflects godly wisdom: “He who meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” Thus the Christian does not participate in riots or demonstrations or try to get close to them even out of curiosity.—Prov. 26:17, RS.
But what should you do if someone jostles you, or insults you, or roughs you up? Should you give back in kind? The Bible warns: “A word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Prov. 15:1) A response in kind will far more likely provoke more anger, perhaps enraging the offender to resort to physical violence, especially today when so many persons are controlled by the demons or under the influence of drugs. No, instead of heating up the situation, the Christian does one of several things. “An answer, when mild, turns away rage,” so he uses a mild reply. And if that does not overcome the situation, then God’s Word counsels: “Before the quarrel has burst forth, take your leave.”—Prov. 17:14.
The Christian also takes steps to avoid being overcome by the violence of the criminal element. In dangerous areas he takes the precaution of not walking alone on dark streets whenever he can avoid it. Even when calling on persons to talk to them about God’s purposes, the Christian does well to take a companion with him in localities where crime is rampant. This does not mean that the Christian seeks to escape harm at all costs. Indeed, he is willing to undergo persecution, even death, where his worship to God is involved. But he will not jeopardize his life for any reason not in harmony with his integrity to God.
The Christian does not search out one side or the other in national and international disputes that lead to violence and bloodshed. As a slave of God, he remains neutral concerning this world’s conflicts, thus avoiding the bloodguilt associated with them. Jesus said of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:16) So the Christian does not participate in the world’s violent struggles. He knows that in due time God will bring all wrong to an end, and that without hurting innocent persons in the process.
By avoiding worldly entanglements the Christian today does just what the first-century Christians did. Note what Justin Martyr wrote in the second century: “We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons,—our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage,—and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through him who was crucified.”—The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 254.
While many authorities among the nations do not appreciate the neutral course of Christians, there are those that do.
For example, internal strife in one African country caused police and army forces to mount roadblocks. The checking at these points was very rigorous and time consuming. But in almost every instance, the soldiers and police let Jehovah’s witnesses through with a minimum inspection after positive identification. Often the authorities remarked: “We trust you people.” Or they were heard to say: “Never mind, we know Jehovah’s witnesses.” When some of these Christians were traveling to an assembly of ministers, they were told at the checkpoint: “Some of your people have gone to the assembly already; go ahead!” The law-enforcement officers, being familiar with the neutral position of Jehovah’s witnesses, treated them with respect, knowing they were not responsible for the country’s disorders.
However, even when authorities persecute Christians, the individual Christian maintains his neutral stand. His right course of conduct has been outlined by Jehovah God in his Word. The Christian does not compromise it for any reason. Thus, he avoids responsibility for this world’s violence and avoids the adverse judgment God will bring against it.
Very shortly now God will bring to an end this violence-racked system of things. He will replace it with his new system of things, where “righteousness is to dwell.” (2 Pet. 3:13) Christians who have maintained right conduct in the face of violence will reap marvelous benefits then, benefits of life, health, peace and happiness. They will forever enjoy living in a new order without violence. “The meek ones themselves will possess the earth, and they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.”—Ps. 37:11.
The New York Times, May 12, 1967, p. 1.
U.S. News & World Report, October 17, 1966, p. 86.