The hostilities in Syria have taken a lower profile this week. Apparently, the main story worthy of news is that Vladimir Putin is prepared to back the UN’s proposals, calling for a ceasefire and allowing humanitarian aid into the country. He is the head of an administration which is arming the Syrian regime with heavy weapons to use against its own citizens as the Cold War is played out in the Middle East. The UN estimates 8,000 people have died. What is striking and tragic about the situation is the level of violence, and the seeming determination of the regime that the resolution to the uprising is the extermination of its opponents. This takes place not only in armed battle but also by strategic torture and execution. Violence escalates.
But it is another particularly brutal act that has been at the forefront of our thoughts for these last few days: the murder of the rabbi and the three Jewish children in Toulouse, France. The gunman, who is believed to be responsible for a total of seven murders, had expressed a desire for further deaths. Not only was the incident itself shocking and terrifying but early suggestions are that the man who carried out the attacks sought to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children. The notion that one might avenge the deaths of Palestinian children by carrying out executions of Jewish children strikes us as abhorrent.
Both instances point to the fact that violence generates violence. Yet, at the centre of our Christian story is an act of violence upon which we reflect theologically as specifically understood to put an end to violence: the violence of the cross. Paul articulates this powerfully when he speaks of Christ, who, though being in the form of God, gave up his life to a gruesome death by Roman crucifixion, taking the violence upon himself in an act of reconciliation and forgiving those responsible. He met the military power and might of Rome with human frailty and weakness. Paul describes this as the power and wisdom of God, or the power and wisdom of the cross. This aspect of our Christian theology must help to formulate our response to the injustice we encounter. It is a clear rejection of the way of violence in favour of suffering, self-giving and reconciliation.
This week I was privileged to participate in an act of worship which involved revisiting the Stations of the Cross through the reading of Scripture around a university campus. It occurred to me in a profound way that in re-telling the events of Jesus’ suffering and death we were not merely remembering the story. In walking, talking and being observed by some rather puzzled onlookers, we were re-enacting the story. It also occurred to me that the hope assumed in our act of worship was that after it was over we were to go into the world to continue with the story. In other words, we were to actually follow the crucified one in the way of the cross.
Sarah Whittle, Nazarene Theological College - Evangelical Alliance