Desire For Violence

5.  The Desire For Violence: It Can Hurt Us, Could It Help Us?

Vi-o-lence (noun): intense, turbulent, or furious and often destructive action or force.

There is a violence that brutalizes.  And there is a violence that benefits (more on that later).  In this culture we are used to thinking of violence only in terms of brutality.  We do not wish to be associated with it.  But we are enchanted by it.  We celebrate it in film, sport, novels, and Sunday School lessons.  We tune in daily to get our dose of terrorism, rape, murder, and other violent acts on TV and radio news.  We are deeply intrigued by the harm humans affect on one another.  We appreciate brutal violence because it titillates and excites; it mesmerizes and numbs.  It is woven into the fabric of our society and we can’t seem to get our fill of it.  Yet, we also live our lives in fear—fear that the next victim might be us.

None of this is surprising.  Few, if any, have avoided violent victimization of some sort.  Thus, we are understandably wary of the power of violence.  We desire to protect ourselves and so we promise to never again expose ourselves to the brutality we experienced.

We also experience violent desires within.  Many parents willingly mount a violent defense of their children when necessary.  Violent sports and violent movies resonate with us.  We want to crush our rival.  We are glad, and experience a vicarious pleasure, when a violent perpetrator gets a taste of his own medicine.

One easy way to spot our own violent tendencies is to consider how quickly we wish to take revenge on anyone who wrongs us.  Sometimes vengeful thoughts flit through our minds quickly and are gone.  Other times we meditate on the destruction and elimination of our enemies.

I have often caught myself thinking brutal thoughts about a person who threatened me.  The threat might be minor or non-existent (I am afraid they are smarter than me, for example), but my hidden mental and emotional response to the perceived threat may be disproportionately violent, and even monstrous at times.  If you don’t think you’ve ever experienced this, perhaps you are blessed to live free from most fears.  But many who deny the regular presence of violent thoughts have simply never done the hard work of taking a good look at themselves.

In my opinion, our cultural over-fascination with violence is largely a result of the failure to examine ourselves carefully with an eye to violence.  Violence can be very unsettling if we see it in ourselves.  It is appealing to think of an evil or perverse person being violently taken down, but it is offensive, appalling and overwhelming to think of ourselves as the kind of person who deserves a violent response (or violent end).

We are aware that violence begets violence and we are tempted to believe this means our actions should never be motivated by violence.  If we fail to acknowledge (or take responsibility for) our own violent desires, we are likely to live in fear of being overtaken by them.  We fear harming ourselves or others and we learn to hate the violent aspects of ourselves.  We wish they would go away.  But they don’t, and so we deny their existence and focus on the rest of the world’s problem with violence.

This is to our detriment, for violence and violent desires are central to human life.  To those who claim to hold a biblical Christian worldview I say we must reflect on our own violent desires and think carefully about the role of violence in our everyday lives if we expect to make a meaningful impact for the gospel in our societies.

How many times have you heard a person say, “I just can’t believe someone would do that,” referring to a violent news story they heard or read.  They say they can’t believe it because they must protect themselves from the reality of human brutality if they are to continue denying their own violent desires.  Facing the reality of violence in others entails facing the reality of violence within.  There is a tension within that makes it hard to know how to deal responsibly with violence in our society and in ourselves.  We want violence for some, but certainly not for ourselves.

I believe each of us has a propensity for violence.  It is part of who we are as humans.  I don’t believe violence is a result of the fall, but that it became twisted and broken by the fall.  It was good, but it became ugly and brutal.  God, in Christ, is “unbreaking” the effects of the fall through his people and it is the Christian’s responsibility to learn, day by day, how God is unbreaking violence just as he is unbreaking all of creation.

Violence manifests in differing ways and each of us must take responsibility for the way violence comes out of us.  We must learn the good purposes of violent desires, learn how to deflect or defend against disproportionate violence (brutality), and learn the appropriate subjects, objects, and contexts for violence.

It is possible to nurture a strong desire for violence without brutalizing oneself and others.  Violence can be directed for the good of relationships and communities.  I am not suggesting that we would benefit the community by starting fist fighting clubs (though an argument could be made for such clubs).   I am suggesting we would be people of greater strength, courage, and conviction if we listened more carefully to our violent desires (instead of denying them) and sought to understand how they are prompting us to make a fierce stand for good in our families and communities.

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2 Responses to “Desire For Violence”

  1. sean March 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Your article made me think. I have often heard my friends during football games say “take out the QB” or “hurt him” and it makes me cringe. Do they really mean they want this stranger hurt so bad that he can’t play? Maybe yes, maybe no, depending on the person. But, I agree with you that we need to think clearly about the things we say, our emotions, and the power behind speech. Do we really mean to perpetrate violence on others? At least we should think before we talk, and if we don’t mean it, maybe we shouldn’t say it.

    I also think politicians should think about the violence they ask God’s blessing for. It sound great to say “God bless our troops and the USA” but isn’t the corollary to that “and God damn their troops and God damn them”.
    Are we really that righteous? Are Americans as people more worthy of God’s blessing than people from other countries? And when it comes to war, should we even be asking God for his blessing?
    Just some thoughts that keep bouncing around my head.
    I enjoy your site and especially like the way you place paintings with your poems.

    • restorel66 March 15, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

      Sean,
      thanks for taking time to comment. I appreciate your thoughts. As a Christian, one of my hopes in exploring the topic of violence is to better understand the violence of the Old Testament. God commands the Israelites to completely destroy other nations. I struggle to trust God’s goodness when I see this side of his character. I am hesitant to say, “God bless the USA” because we have committed so much brutality, even in his name. We are a brutal people, killing even our own unborn children. We have a lot of soul searching to do! Thanks again, I’m glad you’re enjoying the site. Peace, John

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