Shootout at the Not-So-Ok Corral 4/25/99

Matthew 5:21, 22
Exodus 20:13

Jesus Christ said, “out of the heart proceedeth evil thoughts….” as He begins illustratively to list six, the first listed is “murders” and concludes “these are things that defile a man” (Matthew 15: 19, 20).

This week students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado experienced trauma and tragedy when two students murdered classmates. “Why?” has been the question of the hour. Momentarily we will deal with some of the means leading to the action. However, Christ distilled the real reason for us when He said: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5: 21, 22).

There are persons who try to paint Christ as a pacifist. Most such persons do so in emphasizing His humanity to the neglect of His deity. He complimented the Centurion whose sword brought peace. He scourged the money changers and drove them from the Temple. Christ did not argue against anger. He condemned anger for the wrong reasons and corrected persons for not being angry about the right things.

The Ten Commandments were given in a time when murdering was common. In most cultures it was not considered wrong to murder a person. The prohibitions were against killing persons of one’s own clan. It was OK to kill a stranger.

It was given originally in a day when clans and nations did not wage war. War was standard. They had to wage, that is aggressively seek, peace.

It is imperative to note that in the Hebrew the commandment states: “Thou shall not murder.” It does not say “kill.” This commandment is not a prohibition against using animals for food.

At His trial Pilate said “Do you not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release you?” (John 19: 10). In other words, I have the ability to exercise capital punishment.

Jesus said, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above” (John 19: 11).

When Paul was accused and brought before a court with the power of capital punishment he said, “If I am an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I do not object to dying” (Acts. 25: 11). He consented to capital punishment.

In the Garden of Gethsemane when Peter cut off the soldier’s ear Jesus said, “He who takes up the sword shall perish by the sword.” That is, one who murders shall be guilty and subject to capital punishment. Genesis 9:6 is the source for this insight: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”

Romans 13 describes the role of government. It is to reward good and punish evil.

Incidentally, some argue that capital punishment is not a deterrent to crime. It never was intended to be. It was instituted to let the offender know he was about to meet the Lord and provide an allotted time in which to get right.

There are 5,000 teens who commit suicide each year. Thousands more try, as do adults.

Suicide says, “Jesus isn’t capable of handling my problems.” Thus, it is a negative witness. It is a way of saying, “My problems are too big for Jesus.”

Suicide insults everything on earth.

God gives life and we as individuals do not have the right to take it; even our own.

This calls upon us to exercise habits which contribute to good health. To knowingly violate laws of good hygiene, diet, exercise, and rest is in effect the taking of our own life.

Remember the text does not say “kill” it says “murder.” Exodus 21: 12, 13 provides minute descriptions concerning this. Anyone who commits premeditated murder gets capital punishment. Those who unintentionally took another’s life got completely different treatment.

This text calls upon us not only to not take human life but to protect and preserve it.

In 1973 the Supreme Court legalized abortion. Today we have three abortions a minute. 4,000 per day. Since the law went into effect we have had over 15 million abortions in America.

In Quo Vadis there is the moving story of Queen Lygia and her servant Ursus, both Christians, who were taken to the arena in Rome to die. Ursus is led to the center of the ring where he kneels to pray, resolved to die without resistance. A wild bull dashes in with Lygia as its object.

Seeing the danger to his queen the giant Ursus takes the bull by the horns. Brute strength is pitted against the strength of the heart of the giant. Slowly the feet of the two adversaries sink into the sands. Ever so slowly the head of the bull begins to go down. The hushed crowd then hears the cracking of the bones in the neck of the bull as Ursus breaks it. Gentle Ursus frees his queen and takes her to safety.

We all need to play the role of Ursus regarding preborn life.

One of my dear admired young friends asked me recently how can a Christian justify war? In light of today’s circumstances that is a legitimate question. Participation in war can only be justified in light of it being engaged in as a preservative of life. That is, it must be a defensive war. A war to protect and preserve life.

Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century put it succinctly when he said a just war must meet three conditions:
-It must be declared by public authority.
-The cause must be just.
-The motive must be right.

During World War II William Temple spoke to this issue: “We Christians in wartime are called to the hardest of all tasks; to fight without hatred, to resist without bitterness, and in the end, if God grant it so, to triumph without vindictiveness.”

In a fallen world, to refuse to stop cruelty, tyranny, and inhumanity is to let evil rule. God established human government to protect innocent people from evil aggressors who pervert their role.

“For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil” (Rom 13: 3, 4).

Military personnel have to be trained to kill, not just how to kill, but to kill. The same techniques used to train personnel to kill are being used on our total society today, especially youth.

Pearl, Mississippi, Paducah, Kentucky, Jonesboro, Arkansas, and Springfield, Oregon are now joined by Littleton, Colorado. Why is there a virus of violence in our society? Statistics reveal the magnitude of the problem.

The per capita murder rate in this country doubled between 1957 and 1992. The rate at which we are attempting to kill one another is even greater. The aggressive assault rate has gone from 60 per 100,000 to 440 per 100,000. As bad as that is it would be worse were it not for two reasons.

Criminologist John J. DiIulio recorded “dozens of credible empirical analyses … leave no doubt that the increased use of prisons averted millions of serious crimes. Our extraordinary high imprisonment rate keeps down the murder and aggressive assault rates.”

The second factor is improved medical technology. Wounds that formerly would have killed now are treated successfully.

David Grossman, a military psychologist, compares the training military recruits receive to circumvent their natural inhibitions to kill, to what youth today are subjected. The training methods used by the military, he says, are:
a. Brutalization.
b. Classical conditioning
c. Operant conditioning
d. Role modeling.

All four are impacting our total society daily and especially our youth.

BRUTALIZATION is designed to break down existing mores and norms and to accept a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence, and death as a way of life. A person exposed to proper conditioning is gradually desensitized to violence and accepts it as a normal and essential survival skill in our brutal world.

Starting at age 18, that is months, not years, a child can first discern what is happening on TV and mimic that action.

It isn’t until age six or seven that the part of the brain kicks in that lets them understand where information comes from. Developmentally they are unable to distinguish clearly between fantasy and reality. From today to tomorrow you can say to a young child that’s not real it is pretend, but the young child can’t differentiate.

Data linking violence in the media with violence in society is greater than the evidence linking smoking and tobacco.

CLASSICAL CONDITIONING. College students in Psychology 101 know of Pavlov’s dogs. The dogs learned to associate the ringing of a bell with food. Soon they started to salivate when the bell was rung.

Our youth sit and watch violence, suffering, and murder while enjoying the comfort of home, their favorite beverage, candy bar, popcorn, and companions. In theaters when the hero wastes someone or violently destroys something people laugh and often cheer while they keep right on eating popcorn.

The ancient Romans cheered and snacked while Christians were slaughtered in the Colosseum. We are rearing a generation among which there is a large segment of youth who have learned to associate violence with pleasure.

OPERANT CONDITIONING. Classical conditioning is a powerful mechanism that teaches one to like killing.

Operant conditioning teaches you to kill.

Pilots go through hours of training in flight simulators. When a certain warning light goes off they are conditioned to a specific response. When a different alarm goes off they automatically perform a certain operation. Then in actual flight when one of these alarms goes off they automatically respond. It is a stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response process.

When people are made to feel inferior, frightened, or made angry they respond reflexively.

In public buildings fire drills are conducted. When the alarm goes off and there is a practice people do as instructed. One day there is a real fire and people respond reflexively doing as trained to do.

Every time a child plays an interactive point- and-shoot video game he or she is learning conditioned reflex and motor skills.

There is always a stimulus that sets off violent reactions. Anger, bitterness, or resentment is aroused which excites, the heart rate goes up, and the vasoconstriction closes off the forebrain and the trigger is pulled reflexively.

We are developing among our youth some who are conditioned pseudo sociopaths who kill and show no remorse.

Our children are learning to kill and learning to like it.

ROLE MODELS. The military uses role models to train recruits. Our society is doing the same. A frame of mind is produced that results in a complex: “I’ll show those who have been mean to me. I know how to get my picture on TV.”

If you feel discriminated against, left out, treated unfairly, angry, hostile, or bitter decompress. Christ told us of the steps leading to violence in Matthew 5: 21, 22. He said, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not murder,’ and whoever murders shall be in danger of the judgement”

There is progression in Jesus’ teaching: “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without cause shall be in danger of judgement.”

He is not through chasing the problem to its root: “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22).

Jesus traces the trail of the act back to the attitude.

Martin Luther King, Jr., in his book Stride Toward Freedom encouraged people “to avoid not only violence of deed but violence of spirit.”

Jesus taught us to have the highest respect for human beings and to believe in the sanctity of life. He said to be angry with a person makes you susceptible to judgement.

To call one “Raca,” meaning stupid or empty-head may bring you before the Supreme Court. Raca is a summary term for all titles of reproach and contempt. It refers to conduct as being worthless and good for nothing.

To call one a “fool,” that is an outcast or worthless fool places you in danger of “hell fire.” MOROS is the Greek word translated “fool.” It scorns character and is a reference to any expression critical of the mind that classifies the person as morally worthless.

Jesus is warning us against put-downs. Put-down people eventually rise us and strike back.

This teaching strikes at the very basis of our power-dominated social order which sacrifices lives to achieve personal goals.

Jesus taught that anything that leads to sin is sin. If you have inner bitterness, anger, or hate deal with it. Talk with someone who can help deal with the bitter root before the deadly fruit is tasted.

Jesus went further and urged His followers to be ministers of reconciliation.

The reason for not shedding innocent human blood is noted as, “for in the image of God has God made man” (Genesis 9:6).

Someone might say man is merely an animal. It is true man is classified as an animal but not just an animal. Mark Twain mused, “Man is the only animal that blushes, and the only one that has reason to.”

Human beings are created in God’s image. We are the only animal with the capacity of communicating with God and to whom God has communicated.

Human beings are the only animal form in which God has been incarnated.

Human beings have been described as “God in effigy.” We resent seeing straw people dressed up like Uncle Sam and destroyed. In like manner, God resents seeing human beings destroyed who are created in His image.

We are the only animal with cognitive reasoning ability.

We are the only creative animal.

We are the only animal that knows he is going to die.

The Jews of Christ’s day hated the Greeks and Romans. These foreigners had invaded their country and built their cities there. The Jews prayed for a Messiah who would come as a militant political revolutionary and deliver them. As the white hot passion of their hate grew, violence increased.

Just then a young man came over the mountains from the tiny hamlet of Nazareth preaching “…love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Jesus said, “If you love Me keep my commandments.”

In Columbine High School one of the gunmen ask if anyone in a group believed in Jesus Christ. Knowing the intent of the gunmen Cassie Bernall stood. In the next moment she was gunned down for her faith. She was really different and it cost her life.

When young people and adults alike begin to stand for Jesus in opposition to moral corruption then virtue not violence will be the norm of the day.