The Divine Justice of Humpty Dumpty (Psalm 2)


“The kings of the earth rise up….you will break them with a rod of iron…dash them to pieces like pottery.”

(Psalm 2:2a, 9)

I’ve begun to notice that certain parts of childhood are rather morbid. Don’t get me wrong, I was raised in a good home: great parents, likeable -if not tolerable- siblings and I even got my braces off before my first kiss. But there are aspects of it which, in retrospect, are disconcerting; one of them being nursery rhymes.

Take, for instance, ‘Humpty Dumpty.’ Parsed into a line-by-line narrative, what parents are coo-coo-ing to our children is the story of a rather obtuse person who had the further misfortune (of being named ‘Humpty’ and) of falling off a wall and receiving fatal injuries. I picture a broken neck and numerous compound fractures. Delightful. Sleep tight, kiddo.

The Psalter is equally disconcerting to me, at numerous times. The second Psalm is one of those. The proclamation, often used as a coronation psalm for Israel, depicts the violence of man being futile before the violence of God. I am not a king and I am not God. So when I read of nations being smashed and kingdoms throwing themselves against one another with violent futility, I can’t help but think of myself as inevitable collateral.

Consider this: in the Russian defense of Stalingrad- as with numerous other battles between the Germans and Russians in World War II- Soviet foot soldiers often had to choose, quite literally, between Russian or Nazi bullets. They were forced to charge straight into enemy fire and, if they dared to retreat, their commanders mowed them down the moment they turned around.

Is there hope for humankind between the violence of their fellow men and the wrath of God?

Andrew Elphinstone was a British theologian of royal blood; Queen Elizabeth was a bridesmaid at his wedding (a bridesmaid!). In his book, Freedom, Suffering and Love, Elphinstone proposes that pain ought to be seen as a neutral entity. Just as beauty can become vanity and desire manipulated into lust or exploitation, so- Elphinstone proposes- can pain be used for evil but also for good.

A strange thought: war, genocide, tsunamis famine, rape, slavery… how could the pain evoked by these horrors be neutral?

My legs ache; I went for a nice run this morning. But, at the same time, I feel great. Such an odd equation. Is it possible that we have an intrinsic understanding of pain’s neutrality, even though our core experiences only testify to it’s evil?

Part of us at least flirts with the possibility that brokenness and pain might not always be a bad thing. Bad for chubby dumpty, in the moment anyway. But also not bad enough to be excluded from the nursery. Celebrated, even.

Which brings me back to Psalm 2 whence violence of mankind (The kings of the earth rise up 2:2)  is greeted with divine laughter (the Lord scoffs at them 2:4). The ‘strength’ of nations is a joke; but it invokes strong judgement. Human violence is a serious matter and for it I will be judged. But there seems to be a strange hypocrisy to the psalm, one that declares God will judge- through violence- the violence of the nations.

But God’s implementation of violence to bring justice to the nations is not a compromise with evil. The image of the divine scepter smashing the nations like pottery (2:9) reminds me that with it the queen can bless or destroy; either way she is just, and the scepter is a neutral party utilized for her justice.

It can be easy, as a white, privileged, middle-class, American, male (much less!) to want to believe that evil doesn’t exist. No one has raped my family; no one has judged me a criminal simply because of my skin color; I never lie down in hunger nor do I awake in dread. But I do watch TV. And, despite my deepest convictions, I often cheer when the villain gets the bullet. Because there’s an undeniable sense of justice in the defeat of evil.

The problem is that I often correlate divine justice with human justice. “The myth of redemptive violence runs deep.” if I kill you to avenge my father’s death, let’s hope you don’t also have children.  

Justice will come. But never at human hands. Never by human means. Pain is good when used by God, evil when used in subordination. I testify to this paradox, to this tension, every day of my life: I run; I ache; I pray for peace; I cheer when the villain is killed. And I hope that the little injustices, the little horrors, I suffer (I did try for that first kiss with braces still on) might one day be vindicated- to say nothing of the grand ones felt by others less fortunate than me. The Psalter gives me hope that scars might one day be celebrated.

So does, I might add, Humpty Dumpty.



The People Who Made Me A Pacifist


I grew up in a military family. My father was an Air Force pilot, as was his father before him. I always admired them both. So it made sense that, when it came to deciding on my future, the military held prominent appeal.

I entered college with a Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship; my goal was to earn a college degree then begin my career as an Infantry officer. I woke up for physical training at 4 AM. I ran extra miles on the weekend. I dreamt of going to Ranger School.

I was always aware that there were some people who viewed my choice of profession as immoral, even anti-Christian. And I had no problem publically disputing such claims. I wrote editorials for the school newspaper. I cited Christian thinkers like C.S. Lewis and Augustine as support. And I appealed to Biblical notions of justice, wrath and even Christ’s demands for selfless service.

But then I underwent a transformation. Through conversation, research, and prayer I adopted pacifist beliefs. This change of heart did not occur in isolation; I was deeply influenced by numerous writers, friends, co-workers and mentors.

Here’s a few of those people:

  1. Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne is a radical character. His father was a Vietnam veteran and died when he was young. He attended college and seminary, during which he developed a firm conviction for Christ’s calling to nonviolence and radical love towards others.

During my junior year of college- my third year of Army officer training- I picked up a copy of Claiborne’s book Irresistible Revolution. C.S. Lewis once said that a young atheist couldn’t be too careful with what he reads; the same should be said for a young Army officer.

In his book, Claiborne tells of how he journeyed with a group of like-minded Christians to Iraq during the United States “Shock and Awe” campaign at the beginning of the Second Gulf War. While there, Claiborne witnessed the pain, horror and aguish brought about by American bombs. He saw hospitals destroyed, churches annihilated, and children orphaned. Such tragedies weren’t necessarily news to me. But American media reported them callously. They were “collateral damage”: a necessary evil for a greater good.

But Claiborne pulled bodies from wreckage. He cried and worshiped with scores of Iraqi Christians, huddled in bomb shelters and church basements. During this time, he had a conversation with Iraqi Christians who wondered why American Christians were bombing them. Claiborne tried to explain that the Christians who dropped bombs believed that, in doing so, they were doing God’s will.

This story had a profound impact on me; it prompted me to realize that the enemies of my country are not necessarily enemies of mine. More troubling was the thought that they also weren’t enemies of Christ.

  1. Sergeant Jones

Shortly after encountering Shane Claiborne, I participated in a day of weapons training. I was waiting in a line of fellow officers at the range, preparing to practice firing an M240 machine gun. A sergeant was inspecting all the officers, ensuring proper wear of our flak vests and earplugs. He was a grisly character, vividly wrinkled and scarred. He had about half a container of chewing tobacco stuffed in his bottom lip.

As he went along the line of officers, he asked each of us: “why did you join the Army?!”. It didn’t matter what the answer was, Sergeant Jones always responded with: “WRONG! You joined the Army to kill!”

Sergeant Jones may have had the appearance and demeanor of a Dostoevsky antagonist. But his philosophy is neither unprecedented nor rare in military ranks and training. Army running cadences unite soldiers with cries of: “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot to kill!” All soldiers- regardless of their duty description- are required to qualify at the weapons range. The Soldiers Creed- also memorized by all- states that members “… stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States.”

Sergeant Jones opened my eyes to the poignant reality that engagement in the military demanded forfeiture of personal convictions to those of my nation. If my nation said: “kill!” then I had sworn to kill.

But I’m a Christian whose sole allegiance is to Christ; Christ who tells me to love my enemies, pray for those who would do me harm.

How then can I serve?

  1. Adolf Hitler

The history books of my youth shied away from one vital lesson: the villains never believe they are villains.

Adolf Hitler is a good example. A simple reading of Mein Kempf reveals a conscience who: “believes today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty.” Vincent J. Donovan, in his book Christianity Rediscovered, tells of how Hitler always prayed for the blessing of “Almighty God” upon his troops. Donovan recounts a conversation he had with a Nazi doctor who told him how the nuns and students in German schools were sure to pray for blessings on the Nazi endeavors.

Adolf Hitler believed he had a duty to “be a fighter for truth and justice.” To such an end, Hitler said, “It matters not whether these weapons of ours are humane: if they gain us our freedom, they are justified before our conscience and before our God.”

When I stumbled upon these little tidbits of history, when I compared the rhetoric of my military leaders with villains of ages past, I felt a shiver go down my spine.

What side of history would I have been on? What side am I on?

  1. Jesus Christ

It is not fair to say, as many pacifists might, that Jesus words on this issue were “cut and dry”. Though I hold to the belief that Jesus truly commanded nonviolence, most of his teachings were parabolous and vague. And appeals to a purely literal reading of Christ’s words aren’t helpful to the nuances of this conversation. Additionally, such arguments are easily bypassed or shot down.

But what Christians cannot overlook is the story Christ’s life told. Christ who had infinite power did not use it to subjugate creation to his will. Rather, he submitted to his enemies and suffered as the recipient, not the perpetrator, of violence. As Christians, we are committed to making Christ’s story our story.

NT Wright put it well when he said: “our story is not a power story but a love story.” And I have come to the conviction that I cannot live as a testimony to this story while also accepting employment as a lethal weapon for my country.

Still, it’s easy for me to tout this ethic from the comforts of middle-class America. My family will probably never be threatened and I am unlikely to ever be put in a situation that forces me to choose between my commitment to non-violence and my own personal safety. As such, I hold this ethic humbly and understand the cost it demands is not one I may ever have to pay. I live in a country defended by men and women who bravely (and virtuously) fight for my freedom.

But a necessity for humility does not mean I should abandon a pacifist ethic. I cannot control the times in which I live, but I can control the story I tell. As a Christian, the story of my life should be one that follows closely and fervently in the steps of a crucified Savior. And there is no room for an M16 on the cross; no swords allowed in the hands of his disciples.

It is with such a conviction that I proclaim that I am a Christian. And, therefore, I am also a pacifist. For I truly believe that, as Tertullian once put it: “Christ in disarming Peter disarmed every soldier.”

And so I lay down my sword.




Please Stop Sharing ISIS

Stop Sharing ISIS


For months now, ISIS has been waging their self-proclaimed Jihad in the Middle East. And their brutality knows few limitations. At least once a week they share- via various social media outlets- horrific videos of them executing captives who have fallen into their hands. The latest video was a choreographed killing of numerous Coptic Christians, captives from Egypt.

These are horrific atrocities, of the most heinous kind. And the various news articles testify to the brutality and evil of ISIS.

But please, think twice before sharing related articles on your social media.

I can understand (and-at times- relate to) the good intentions that may accompany one’s decision to share these articles. We want to get the word out, sound the call for prayer, petition for international intervention. I also understand that it can be cathartic- a means to vent the unspeakable anger and grief- to post a brief status damning this evil and it’s perpetrators with cited accompanying evidence.

But we are not helping by sharing the story. We are not helping the fight against evil by spreading articles testifying to its gruesome victories. What we spread when we share these news articles is anger, hatred, grief, hurt, pain and terror. We do not spread love or hope. We spread ISIS.

Consider the victims themselves. Often times they appear in their rehearsed executions dressed as criminals. They are forced in front of cameras knowing their imminent fate. They are presented as powerless against their captors, helpless prey in their claws, pitied examples of what ISIS claims will happen to all “infidels.” They are executed publicly, horrifically.

And then the video of their tragic fate is posted to the internet and its news is spread all around the world. The victims become household figures, shown in a state of terror and horror. Their life is taken and then their dignity is caught up in a wave of social-media virality.

Think also of the victims families. They have suffered unspeakable trauma; from the moment news of their loved ones’ disappearance first reached their doorstep, to seeing that their death has been recorded and is now broadcasting across the globe, the terror has infiltrated and destroyed every semblance of peace they will ever know.

We do not aid their sorrow by sharing photos of their loved one’s final moments.

I want to affirm and further the call to prayer and awareness that sharing these news stories raise. But as Christians we can, and should, be mindful of the fact that the world is vast and there are many dark corners in which evils we cannot imagine are occurring every day. We should never forget this. Nor should we cease in praying for those desperately trying to get out from under the thumb of death.

So please, hear me: we must be praying. We must be aware of the issues at hand. But this doesn’t mean we have to share videos and photos and archived descriptions of these cruelties.

Psychological terrorism is a real thing. And the cruelty of ISIS is that their hatred and brutality spreads beyond the immediate victims and into the homes of people across the world. This is why they post videos to the internet. It is why they have social media accounts that circulate their deeds to the public. They want to inspire hate. They want to inspire anger, fear and terror. And our egotistic, elevated view of “awareness” creates a social media in which second-hand trauma is defined as “news.”

But this isn’t news. It is terror. And the only one’s who win by us sharing these stories, by spreading word of the terrorists’ atrocities, are the terrorists themselves.

Lastly, the we need to remember the following: the reposting of these articles often serves to dehumanize ISIS. Again, the reaction to wish damnation and hell fire on masked figures who delight in executing men, raping women and mowing down children is understandable, human even. But we should not forget that- if we are to call ourselves Christians- then ISIS is not our enemy. They are personification of our enemy, yes, but they are not the real enemy. Christ’s commanded us to love our earthly enemies, to pray for them. In doing so Christ called us to stand for the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that was not of this earth though it came to earth and was announced in the person of Christ. Christians live in testimony to that kingdom: a kingdom that defeats- not instigators of death- but death itself.

Our enemy is not a terrorist organization or any earthly power alone. Our enemy is evil and death itself. And we are called to testify to this reality by praying for our earthly foe.

Of course, it is easy for me to say this nestled into my apartment in America, sipping on tea and stealing glances out the window at fresh snow as I write. It is easy for me to babble on and on about following Christ’s command to love vicious enemies on the other side of the globe because they’re on the other side of the globe. They are not a threat nor are they a perpetrator of unspeakable evil against me, my family, my home, my life. And I acknowledge that.

To some, my position may even be wildly offensive. But so was Christ’s command. Christ ordered his listeners to love their enemies as they stood surrounded by them. The Roman army was infamous for it’s domineering cruelty. At the time Jesus was born Herod ordered that every boy under the age of two be executed by the sword because he’d heard one of them was to be king. Another Roman ruler ordered a mass crucification of Jews outside Jerusalem, such that the Romans actually ran out of wood with which to build the crosses. Roman tactics were cruel, torturous and highly-calculated acts centered on conveying the message: “We are powerful. This is what we do to those who stand against us. Look and be terrified.”

By sharing videos and pictures of ISIS murdering their victims, we take the crosses of Rome and parade them through every corner of the wired world. We advance the message of ISIS’ Rome- “look at our power and might- look at our ability to humiliate and brutalize whomever we please”- and we carry it into our schools, our workplace, our churches, and our homes.

In doing so we forget that Jesus stood in the middle of a society where people travelled on roads lined with their crucified brothers, sisters, parents, children, leaders and hopes. And Jesus told them: “Love your enemies. Pray for those who kill you, mutilate you, terrorize you and exercise earthly authority over you.”

Please, pray for the victims of ISIS. Pray for the families who’s lives are ripped apart by their terror. Pray for the men, women and children who’ve fallen into their grasp. And call others to pray. Pray for peace in the Middle East and everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with posting a status that says “ISIS just killed more victims. Please pray for their families, pray for the captives, pray for peace.”

And as we pray, let our voices join the testimony of Christians past, martyrs who followed Christ’s command, who proclaimed with their words and their lives the story of Christianity. It is not a power story, but a love story. A love story capable of covering the sins, griefs, terrors and injustices- not just of ourselves but the perpetrators themselves.

If we must share something on social media- let’s share that story.