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How to Stop the Killing

January 14th, 2013
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This was posted today on the Missouri Synod’s “Witness, Mercy, Life Together Blog” by the Synod’s Chief Mission Officer, Rev. Gregory K. Williamson, a long time US Army chaplain. I thought it was excellent.

The Fifth Commandment

You shall not murder.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

The recent murders in Connecticut have spawned debates about the growing violence within American society. Debates include gun control, mental health, school security, and parental responsibility. Most experts recommend action by local, state, or federal governments to better secure our society—legislate new laws to protect our children, more aggressive intervention for the emotionally disturbed, more oversight by social welfare agencies, but few, if any, have addressed the acts of murder as a moral and spiritual problem.

Simply put, the experts do not include sin and the old nature. The Bible records the first murder in Genesis chapter 4, “And Cain talked about Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” Not long into mankind’s history do we encounter murder, and not much has changed.

The old nature’s inclinations are close at hand every moment of every day. Scriptures exhort the wise to flee temptation; yet, to flirt with sin is titillating and stimulates the worst within us. Even those who do not process evil from a Christian perspective recognize the danger of a society that inoculates itself to violence and stimulates the passions within by vicarious means.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” writes in 1996,

 In video arcades children stand slack jawed but intent behind machine guns and shoot at electronic targets that pop up on the video screen. When they pull the trigger the weapon rattles in their hand, shots ring out, and if they hit the “enemy” they are firing at, it drops to the ground, often with chunks of flesh flying in the air.[1]

Grossman goes on to say,

This new “pseudo reality” will make it possible to replicate all the gore and violence of popular violent movies, except now you are the one who is the star, the killer, the slayer of thousands.[2]

He concludes by saying,

That force [innate rebellion against killing] has existed in man throughout recorded history, and military history can be interpreted as a record of society’s attempt to force its members to overcome their resistance in order to kill more effectively in battle.[3]

Following the massacre in Connecticut, Lt. Col. Grossman shared his concerns about the desensitizing of our society to violence via movies, television, and video games. I, for one, appreciate his call for less violence within the media; however, what Grossman fails to see is what faith reveals. That is, the innate force within mankind is not rebellion against killing; but, on the contrary, the old nature seeking to satisfy bloodlust.

Without God’s intervention there would be no moments of safety, peace, and tranquility; rather, the constant world state would be violence, murder, and massacre. No human laws, ordinances, or constraints can check this “old Adam.” This is the tragic plight of humanity without the gracious intervention of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Another soldier, General Douglas MacArthur, references this innate propensity to violence and war in his speech at the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945 and again in his farewell speech to congress April 19, 1951 where he said,

Men since the beginning of time have sought peace.  . . . The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years, It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.[4]

MacArthur points to a solution to war and violence that is spiritual, a spiritual “recrudescence.” More precisely, and from a Lutheran understanding, it is only through the atoning work of Christ and the renewing of the Spirit that any has hope. This hope was given to us through the waters of Baptism where we were clothed with the righteousness of Christ—a true spiritual renewal.

In a society desensitized by violence, it behooves Christians to walk circumspectly, not in accordance with the wisdom of this world, but by faith.  As St. Paul writes to the Colossians,

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.[5]

–Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer – LCMS

[1] Lt. Col. David Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, 1st ed., (New York: Back Bay Books; Little, Brown and Company, 1996) 314.

[2] Ibid., 316.

[3] Ibid., 332.

[4] General Douglas MacArthur, “Surrender Ceremony Speech,“ U.S.S. Missouri, Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945, Radio broadcast to the world following the formal surrender of the Japanese.

[5] Colossians 3:15-18.

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  1. January 14th, 2013 at 09:00 | #1

    Perhaps worst of all is pastors getting desensitized to violence by acting out survivalist fantasies at shooting ranges.

    • January 14th, 2013 at 09:24 | #2

      Oh, Greg, you silly fellow. If shooting at paper targets is ‘acting out a survivalist fantasy’ I’d suggest that person has a pretty poor concept of survival.

  2. Jevon Matthews
    January 14th, 2013 at 14:39 | #3

    You could insert any commandment here and explain all of the ills of society. We are definitely dealing with a sin problem and not just the sins that we actually commit. The sins that we actually commit are only symptoms of the broader epidemic which is our sinful human nature. This fallen human nature, which does not fear, love, or trust in God is only concerned with one thing and that is fulfilling the desires of the flesh. So when incidents like Connecticut, Columbine, Aurora, and so many others occur, the question is not how could it happen, but how does it not happen more often. For too long the church has expected the entities listed in the above article to “carry the water” instead of doing what she has been called to do, preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. Many, but not all churches have failed to remain faithful to Christ crucified for our sins, and instead have went the seeker driven, your best life now route, rather than sound Law and Gospel preaching. Eventually even the “unchurched” recognize this brand of pseudo religiosity and can find a better version of it elsewhere besides the church.

  3. January 14th, 2013 at 15:08 | #4

    My wife has an interesting observation about the various mass shootings. Notice that most of the mass killings take place in suburban areas…not in rural or urban areas. In the country, as here in Virginia, I can hear gunfire of hunters out my back door. Hunters know what guns actually do and have a healthy respect for them. On the flip side, in urban areas, like Chicago (some 500 murders in 2012) they too know what rage and hate can do and so no mass killings…. but a mass of murders. (This is for another discussion and note it is hardly reported by the mainstream media, esp. about Rahm Emmanuel’s Chicago). But in the disconnect of suburbia, and the liberal disdain of those who cling to “God and guns”, the fantasy life of the Old Adam enjoying the rage goes unabated by the reality of it. Instead, for hunters, there is the enjoyment of the sport and the enjoyment of a good main course! Or the enjoyment of target shooting and the like.

  4. Jeffrey Heath Miller
    January 18th, 2013 at 12:46 | #5

    From a second-time reader of this blog (yesterday being the first time), and first-time commenter:

    1. Mr. McCain’s comments following the third quote from Lt. Col. Grossman seem to me exactly right. Grossman – from what I read above – simply has got it *wrong*. Looking at my own self, I find that all within me prods me toward (whether physically, verbally, socially, etc.) striking others, declaring that vengeance is *mine* (i.e., J.H.M.); and that if there were something within me which needed to be overcome to become a killer (whether one sanctioned by the State, or just a thug in the Chicago Outfit), it would be base fear of losing in combat, being exposed to others – and myself – as a coward, being found out by the law, and so on. That said, I think it is legitimate to state, complementarily, that the astounding moral landslide of American culture (I was born in 1972, and the difference between “growing up” [for the most part] even in the 1980′s and today’s environment is so noticeable, the present “culture” so toxic, I wonder what my father – born in 1942 – must think as *he* surveys the ruins) is not exactly HELPING anyone out in keeping our so-called society an even tolerably livable place.

    2. Re: Pr. Schroeder’s comment. Interesting observations. Like the hunters you write about, the person I know best who has the best knowledge of weaponry is my brother-in-law, former Marine who served in Afghanistan and did two tours in Iraq, and he is probably the one person I’d fear least were he to be “heavily armed” – *seeing* what firearms, modern weaponry, can actually do to a real, live human being you’ve eaten meals with, bummed cigarettes from, has “inoculated” him from The Great Stereopticon’s disgusting wink-wink exploding-helicopters-are-so-AWESOME Quentin Tarantinian output. Secondly, we are in the South Bend area, and the dirty little news about Chicago gets just about this far and then there seems to be some kind of breakdown in the communications telenet – a restraining bolt fixed onto Telstar 1 or something, I suppose …

    Regards to all, and from what I’ve seen, the quality of this blog is such that it probably cancels out the evil and general degradation in so many forms of 100,000 porn sites, thereby raising the justification for the internet’s existence by, oh, say 0.00001%.

    Truly, though, a fine blog. Thank you, Mr. McCain (and commenters/contributors)!

    - Jeffrey Heath Miller
    Mishawaka, Ind.

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