It was opening devotion time at Synod Assembly.
The folks leading the devotion lifted up a study on violence which had been turned into a musical cantata.
Those of us participating in the congregation listened to the words put forth in that cantata as read by our devotion leaders.
I listened intently.
"You don't want to be hurt by anyone, so why do you hurt someone else? Stop."
I paused upon hearing those words.
Yes. They make sense.
Given an unspoken assumption.
That I am somehow not hurting already.
I remember years ago sitting in a social psychology class. We watched a video detailing a study of pain and animals. Two animals were placed in a cage which had been electrified. One animal was larger than the other. When current was applied and the animals felt the pain, the larger animal nearly always attacked the smaller animal. When there was no pain, there was no violence. When there was pain, violence ensued.
There was a lesson for each and every one of us in that class.
And it speaks, I think, to one of the reasons we try to avoid pain as a culture.
Keep the pain to a minimum, and you don't have acting out. Keep the pain to a minimum, and you don't have violence.
And how do we keep the pain to a minimum in our culture:
1. The preferred drug of alcohol.
2. Material wealth and its redistribution.
3. Sex and sexuality.
4. Escapism through entertainment and sports.
There are other ways, of course, but the reality is, none of these things really and truly deal with the pain. None of these things really and truly dig down deep into the recesses of the heart and deal with the emotional pain someone feels deep within their souls.
The recent shooting in California shows this beyond a doubt. If you read this story, you will see how none of these things could satisfy Elliot Rogers before he went on his shooting/stabbing rampage. He drank. He had wealth. He had privilege. He desired sex and felt like he deserved it. His family was a part of the entertainment industry. He had it all--everything, and he was in pain; deep, pulsating pain.
Given that Elliot was a young male (which is one of those "curious" common threads which run through just about every school shooting and mass murder), his brain was not fully developed, he was in emotional turmoil, he had access to firearms which made him feel like an alpha male (feel like, not that he was), it was just a matter of time before things finally erupted.
Everything that would supposedly dull the pain didn't work, and simply saying "You don't want to be hurt by anyone, so why do you hurt someone else?" wasn't going to work.
Because Elliot was already hurting.
A lot of people are already hurting.
Sure, they may put on a good front, but deep down, underneath the surface, nearly everyone has pain, hurt, resentment, agony, sadness, fear, loathing, contempt, frustration, and the list goes on. Everyone has a piece of darkness within where the light does not shine. Sometimes that darkness grows and grows and grows until it becomes all consuming.
And we throw money at it.
And we throw drugs at it.
And we throw sex at it.
And we throw self-help books at it.
And nothing works.
And those of us who wish to offer a faith-based solution are scoffed at by many.
Perhaps with good reason. I mean, there are those who become so consumed with their respective faiths that they fly airplanes into buildings, kill abortion doctors, mock, beat and kill homosexuals, act with supreme arrogance, and are generally unpleasant people. Such folks do not help in the cause of ending violence as they actually perpetuate it. (I believe it is because they do not have God at the center of their hearts, but instead are pretty self-righteous. Their fundamentals are out of whack. I mean, no one has ever seen an Amish terrorist.)
The Gospel is sorely needed.
Whenever we think we deserve something, and we do not get what we think we deserve, we become angry, frustrated, and full of pain. Whenever we feel like we have been wronged, we become resentful. Whenever we feel thwarted by someone else, anger begins to build. It tends to be the other person's fault.
The Gospel does not allow you to do this. The Gospel says, "You may have been wronged. You may have been hurt, but you are not without guile yourself. You have fallen short as well. You have no basis to think that you are morally superior over another. You have no basis to think that you deserve any particular good over and above anyone else. You are just as corrupt as the person you believe has wronged you."
It's not a popular message amongst some.
Most of us like to think we have the moral high road.
Jesus doesn't allow us to take that.
If we were left at this point, we would all be miserable. We would all be in pain and agony knowing our imperfections; knowing our fallenness; knowing our brokenness. We would continue to act out in pain and frustration.
But then Jesus says, "Let me take that away from you. Let me show you how much you are loved even in your brokenness. Let me show you how far I am willing to go to forgive you when you continue to act in an unforgivable manner."
And Jesus stretches out His arms to die for you.
And He says, "I am pouring myself out for you, and if you put me at the center of your life, I will pour myself into you. I will fill the void in your heart. I will take the pain and frustration. I will help you know forgiveness so that you may forgive others. And I will give you hope."
And Jesus was raised from the dead ushering in eternal life for all who trust in Him.
That hope means a state of fulfillment for eternity. The things you thought you missed will be granted you in their fullness in the healthiest manner possible. You do not have to try and squeeze in every sight and sound because "you only get this one life." You have an eternity before you. An eternity filled with light and goodness and love--with God at the center wiping every tear from your eye.
And that reality--that sense of eternity--is not limited to when you die. You can have one foot there now. You can be in this world but not of it. You can experience what it is like to worship God who is at the center of the throne now. You can know His peace now. You can know His love now. You can have Him wiping your tears now.
People will still hurt you.
People will still mock you.
People will still do you wrong.
And you will still do this to others, but you do not have to experience the fullness of the anger. You do not have to experience the fullness of the pain. You can forgive because He forgave you.
And when you forgive, the pain lessens.
And you know peace.
And when you know peace, you seek to spread it instead of violence.
All because of the Gospel.