Violence never solves anything! (@NedLunn)

There are times on Facebook and Twitter when I disagree with people to such an extent that I fail to control myself. It revolves around an attitude that people seem to think they have the right to say whatever they like, no matter who they offend or oppress without any facts and knowing that if and when I express an opinion I will be aggressively opposed without any thought or reflection. “It’s not fair!” and there lies my problem…

Social media is great at communicating opinion – and reactions are so quick that we fail to spend time checking the facts or really thinking deeper about what is ‘trending’ at any one time. It is easy to get Martin Luther King to say something he never said as was proved last year! We spend so much time responding to knee jerk reactions by our own knee jerk reactions! Our culture loves a good platitude or pithy statement of nicety. Even our ‘subversive’, ‘prophetic’ voices can just be cliched comments backed up by little wisdom. I have given up listening to the Jeremy Vine show and BBC Question Time is completely off my list!

I choose to follow people I disagree with; I hope that in some way it keeps me aware and open to opposing views to my own. It does lead me, though, to often allow myself to be caught up in heated debates and violent disagreements.

Recently it has been about how people talk about the church. On issues of sexuality and gender particularly, the church has not succeeded in winning over any opponents and, at times, seems to be losing friends as well. My major problem is with how bad reporting has lead to false information being communicated. I don’t like how people, even within the church, keep stating the church voted against women bishops. We are in favour of women bishops; the vote was on how. The issue was more subtle than people want and more complex than they’d like.

I am shocked at the amount of ordained members of the Church of England publicly belittle their church, often with little evidence or deep reflection as to what is going on. It is easy, in our culture, to be anti-Church and the liberal viewpoint is so prevalent that anything that does not follow the creeds of such a politic is dismissed as arrogant and bigoted.

Violence is in each and every one of us. We speak of peace and pray that resolutions to conflicts will be found but there is no sign of this. What if we don’t want peace? What if peace requires something from us that we’re not willing to give up: the satification we get when we are violent. What if our solutions to violence are underpinned with their own violence; we replace violence with violence? We cannot seem to escape this seething aggression that pours forth from us in many and various guises. Our response to bigotry is bigotry. Our response to prejudice is our own version of prejudice.

Genesis 4 in Wordle Format

In Genesis 4 we have the story of Cain and Abel; a story that shows this violence coming from within humanity itself. If we read this story it is so easy to fall into two traps: either we pre-judge Cain as the baddie without any questions (certainly the narrative hints towards his role as evil but it’s more complex than that) or we have too much sympathy for him and dismiss God as an arbitrary, capricious Deity who is not loving or merciful. Both these traps are there but both are superficial and too easy.

Genesis is a narrative which challenges assumptions. The creation story is similar in many ways to other creation narratives but the differences lead the intended reader to ask questions. Noah, again must be put against other flood narratives and the divergence of it points out the character of Yahweh. Babel, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, all of them are simple stories hiding an invitation to explore deeper truths.

Here in Genesis 4 we have several possible avenues of meditation and wrestling.

  1. Why is it important that Cain is shown as a farmer and Abel as a shepherd? It is a theme throughout Hebrew Scripture that any sort of settlement is condemned and the people of Israel should be nomadic. Since being sent out from Eden man should have walked the earth feeling at home in no place but Eden. Their desires should be to return to that pure presence of God and not settle for anything else because it is there that they will know what home is.
  2. Cain offers his sacrifice first without God requesting it. Is this not odd? What made Cain bring his crop to God? Later on in Genesis we see God trying to change the system of sacrifice, is this a preamble to that? Is this Cain showing off, showing God that he can live alone and settle?
  3. God asks Cain, “Where is your brother?” This question mirrors the question He has for Adam after the fall, “Where are you?” Both these questions are rhetorical. God knows the answer, so why does he ask? To invite reconciliation? To open up an opportunity for man to reflect and to enter into relationship with God again? Both times man rejects the offer. Cain does it by asking God a question. This is the first question ever asked of God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain, by asking this question, communicates his desire for God to take responsibility. Cain has murdered Abel but it was God’s fault because, ultimately, God should be watching out for Abel. Does this not get to the heart of the problem of evil and suffering. Man perpetrates evil and suffering and our response is to ask “Why does God allow suffering?” Should the question not be “Why do we allow suffering?” We want freedom, we want choice, but we fail in our responsibility and blame is our first response. When we are violent we blame others.
  4. The issue with this story revolves around one question, ‘why does God regard Abel’s gift and not Cain’s?’ We are back to the childhood violence that is brought on by that understanding of ‘it’s not fair!’ We know and feel this deep in our gut because we have been at the end of being disregarded while someone else is chosen or listened to. We have within us this sense that to be equal is about fairness in every moment in every area. This is not possible. We tell children, “life is not fair.” but we don’t believe this ourselves. We want what others have because we ‘deserve’. This is the lie! The truth of Genesis is we do not deserve. Grace is about receiving blessing when blessing comes and truly appreciating it for the free, undeserved surprise that it is. I see this in the Equal Marriage debate. I want equality but I don’t think this is the way to achieve true equality, where everyone is valued. This is enforced legislation which rips freedom of thought and views (however ‘bigotted’ it is) from one and hands it to another. At the heart of this approach is another form of violence and violence never solves anything! (I’m aware that is a sweeping statement and would talk more about it but I’ll end up quoting Hauerwas, Millbank, Schumacher and you’d all get bored!)

Each of these areas opens up a vista of possible truths which undermine our prejudices and our basic concept of ourselves and our social narrative. This story, like all the stories in Genesis, are aimed at disrupting, subverting and uprooting our initial human responses to life and how it works.

On social media it is easy to to say and believe what most people say and believe but what if reality is different? What if they’re wrong? What if we’re wrong? What if its all wrong? The narrative by which we live, the assumptions we hold, the stories told over us all. What if there was another story which invites us to question and go deeper? What would a culture be like if this was the starting point? So before we say or tweet something, before we engage in an issue of conflict why not ask God to disrupt your opinion?

About nedlunn

Ned Lunn is a minister in the Church of England. Before this he ran a theatre company, el mono theatre, for seven years. He now writes on spirituality, philosophy, poetry and arts and is a member of a community called, 'Burning Fences', in York which explores art, spirituality and philosophy. He's married to Sarah and lives in York.