When was the last time you murdered someone? That long? Really? I bet you answered “never” or maybe, “I’m not a killer.” I have a confession to make; I kill someone else at least once a day, sometimes more often, and frequently, with malice aforethought (as the lawyers say). Let me explain.
My husband and I spent most of the last week in Coleraine, Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, and other towns in the green, green country of Northern Ireland. We also spent a day touring Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland. Just hearing the names of those places brings images to mind of endless conflict and horrible stories of terror and hurt. Check out my photo of the so-called “peace wall” in Belfast, a wall that is several hundred feet long and a few stories high, erected to deflect the violence of neighbors divided by philosophy and deep-seated enmity. This is just one reminder of the violence that can break out between men of different minds.
Back to my confession. On Sunday, we listened to a Christian from Northern Ireland read the following words: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Don’t take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge: I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)
When I listened to these words read aloud in an Irish accent, I heard them with new ears because I knew the reader’s life had been scarred by first-hand experience of the conflict within his country, his town, and perhaps even his own neighborhood. I understood the words in a more personal way, knowing that this man had likely struggled to live the ideals he was expressing in the face of intentional provocation, random violence, and many, many hard words.
Pair this passage with the words of Jesus, “You have heard that it was said, to people long ago, ‘Do not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…” (Matthew 5:21-22) Murder, then, begins in the heart, most often with anger. Harboring anger towards another is like making my “enemies” dead to myself, as if they are less important to God than I. Anger (or hate, or fear), causes me to: avoid people, cut them out of my thoughts, tune them out when they speak, overlook their emotions, step on their feelings, and generally, hold them in contempt.
How different would my world, our world, be if we put all fear, hatred, and anger away and walked that extra mile with our enemies? If we gave those who inspire anger our clothes, our food, our time, our service, our love, and our prayers? (Remember, love is a verb, not an emotion.) Would our enemies’ minds begin to burn with the knowledge of God’s love?
If I withhold my knowledge of God’s way through my actions, or my lack of action, I might have killed my neighbor’s chance of knowing God, perhaps his only chance of experiencing the peace of God. On the other hand, if I mourn when my enemy mourns, if I laugh with him, if I involve myself in his or her life, putting aside my self-righteous anger, might we not come to a better understanding? I know that if I lived that way, God’s influence would spread; life would triumph over death.
All these years, I’ve been certain that I wasn’t guilty of murder, but now, I must confess there’s violence in my heart—sometimes towards an individual, sometimes towards an entire group of people. I confess to bias and prejudice. When I disagree, I let that disagreement cause hard feelings. I like to think I’m a tolerant, loving individual, but it turns out, I’m guilty…of murder.
So, I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf and stop trying to get away with murder. Moreover, I plan to dismantle the “peace walls” in my life, the barriers I have erected around my “way of life”, so that I can engage my enemies in an entirely new way. Evil can’t withstand goodness, not my own “goodness”, but the goodness that comes from God. I am the tool in His hand, a vessel to pour out His love on anyone within reach. Like the man in Northern Ireland, I can make a conscious effort, as far as it depends on me, to live at peace with everyone.