What Can the Church Do in Times of Violence?

It has been a violent, heartbreaking four weeks in America.

On June 12, in the worst mass shooting in modern American history, forty nine people were murdered inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. These past few days, we have seen the graphic video of Alton Sterling shot by police in Baton Rouge, and watched with horror as Philando Castile bled to death inside his car after a police officer put four bullets in him. And just last night, in downtown Dallas, five officers were gunned down, and at least six more wounded, during a protest against police.

It can seem, in times of violence, when people are calling for political, cultural, and legal changes, as if the church is largely irrelevant. Worse yet, the church can make herself seem irrelevant if she embroils herself in political, cultural, and legal changes, and forgets her primary calling: the preaching of Christ and him crucified.

At the heart of the church is an icon of violence: the crucifix. On that cross, God cried out and bled out for the life of the world—the very world that killed him. And it is that cross that the church must carry into the Pulse nightclub, to the convenience store parking lot in Baton Rouge, inside the car of Castile, and onto the streets of Dallas.

It is a strange irony, but in a world drunk on violence, it is only on the cross of violence that there is hope for peace in our world. For on that cross is the God who fills the cavernous wounds of humanity with his grace. He pulls us away from racism, from bloodlust, from hatred, from the vortex of evil to carry us into a freedom that is found by dying and rising with him.

The cross does not exist to answer all our questions of Why. It redirects our questions into the only answer that finally gives us peace. God does not tell why this or that evil befell people; he tells us in whom we have hope, no matter what happens. That hope is in his Son, who embodies the love of God.

That hope is in the God who chased after our world as we sprinted into the night. He himself plunged into the darkness we made our home. He sunk himself into our world. He saw violence, suffered violence, and transformed his own violent death into our salvation. And he stands, in our cosmos of night and slavery, as the only pillar of light and freedom we have.

Whatever else may happen over the next few weeks or months, whatever political, legal, or cultural changes may be enacted, our country and all humanity will still be flawed beyond reckoning. And the church will still have the only message that conveys true and lasting healing—a message that is written not in words but in the slain yet living body of Jesus.

Take that healing, dear church, into the blood-soaked streets of our nation. Proclaim that this is the God who bled and died for you, to redeem you from the evil that haunts every human heart, that turns brother against brother, sister against sister, religion against religion.

This is the God of the cross, the God who gave his all for you, who draws all of you onto his cross. There you discover hope and healing, no matter how deep your wounds, how broken your heart, how violent the world around you may be.

The church may be many things, but it is never irrelevant, not as long as it is preaching Christ and him crucified. He is the life, the only life, of the world.