With details still emerging about tragic shootings at the Washington D.C. Navy Yard, halfway across the world, news of a militia attack on a Kenyan shopping mall began to break. In Washington a lone shooter gunned down 12 innocent people starting their work day. Days later in Kenya, Somali terrorists murdered more than 60 people until government forces took control of the mall. Why? What would cause anyone or any group of people to lash out with such destructive and senseless violence?
Violence rises from a deep desire to seize control, satisfy needs, and solve problems through force, coercion, and destruction. Those who are violent presume that their deep inner needs will be fulfilled through violent actions. They erroneously believe, I have the right to use violence to do what I want or to get what I want. Using force makes me feel significant, important, and in charge.
Tragic acts of violence often rise from one or more of four related and overlapping causes:
Mental illness and emotional distress profoundly affect many individuals and can lead to violent responses. Traumatic head injuries and chemical dependencies can alter the way the brain functions and reduce natural inhibitions. According to news reports, the Navy Yard shooter reported having at least one blackout where he did not remember a specific violent response during a confrontation.
Our actions are shaped by our experiences. Early or prolonged exposure to violence makes it a "normal" part of life. When violence is normalized, it becomes second nature to use it to achieve our goals or to gain control. Glamorizing murder through entertainment can also make violent outbursts seem more acceptable to certain individuals. The Somali terrorists surface from a land torn apart by tribal warfare, where warlords have made brutality a way of life.
The ideas and belief system of violent people are often distinctive. They normally view coercion and violence as an acceptable way to manage conflict and believe they have a "right" to use force against others. They often think others treat them with hostility and then become combative. Many times they feel slights, insults and disrespect when none was intended. With links to al-Qaeda, those responsible for the Kenyan attacks maintain they have the right and responsibility to spread their beliefs by force.
Easy access to weapons that can quickly cause multiple casualties, a person or group with a violent disposition, and any gathering or large crowd – these comprise a formula that has repeatedly led to tragedies like those in Washington D.C. and Kenya. Often small sparks ignite a terrible, violent eruption.
Whatever the causes behind the shootings that took numerous lives in Washington D.C. and in Kenya, this type of violence is never excusable. We may never know all of the reasons that led to these dreadful incidents, but we do know God's heart on violence. …
• God hates violence.
"The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion" (Psalm 11:5)
• God will judge the violent.
"The LORD works out everything to its proper end – even the wicked for a day of disaster" (Proverbs 16:4).
• God prohibits violent people from positions of church leadership.
"Since an overseer manages God's household, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain" (Titus 1:7).
• God commands those who are violent to change.
"Give up your violence and oppression and do what is just and right" (Ezekiel 45:9).
It is hard to understand why terrible things like this happen, but we must remember that God never forgets the victims of violence. Scripture reveals his heart for victims and their families. …
• God hears their cry.
"You, LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry" (Psalm 10:17).
• God is present with them, holds them by the hand and helps them.
"I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you" (Isaiah 41:13).
• God confirms their value and worth.
"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Luke 12:6-7).
• God will bring good out of tragedy.
"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me … to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning …" (Isaiah 61:1–3).
Our world is fractured and looking for answers as well as hope. In the United States, in Kenya, and all over the world we grieve at the violent displays all around us as we search for answers. The preeminent answer for victims of violence and for those who feel trapped in destructive, violent patterns of behavior is a relationship with Jesus Christ. His presence can comfort families who have lost a loved one. Experiencing His forgiveness can teach all of us to forgive those who have wounded us. His wisdom, gentleness, and peace can redirect and heal those who lash out with violent behavior. His matchless power can transform and heal those who carry deep emotional wounds.
The Prince of Peace . . . stands opposed to all forms of violence.