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20. Stopping the cycle of violence

Various Bible readings are throughout the chapter. My life (put) alongside God's word, volume 1.

It is depressingly sad to read of tit for tat killings among the many armed groups around South Sudan and Sudan. Not only is it within the military. Herdsmen and agriculturalists return violent deeds on one another. Even family members hold things against others, waiting for the opportunity to take revenge.[1]

People from all religious backgrounds perpetrate these atrocities, across the whole rainbow span of Sudanese ethnicity. Every deed is an atrocity. Against this current background, it is a complete contrast to notice that one of the earliest records we have in the Bible is of God forgiving a murderer.

1. Cain had killed his brother Abel Read Genesis 4:8. The root cause of this murder was jealousy. The jealousy was over which of the two brothers enjoyed the favour of God, and probably the favour of their parents as well, Genesis 4:1-16, Hebrews 11:4. God graciously challenged Cain about the anger he was keeping in his heart before it murderously burst out, Genesis 4:6-7. Regrettably Cain chose not to deal with a small sin while he could. We must all learn that if we do not develop mastery over sin in our own lives, it will very soon become the master of us, controlling our thoughts, our motives and our actions, Romans 6:12-14. This is how cycles of violence build up.

2. God held Cain to account and punished him, but He stopped short of any form of revenge killing. God positively shielded the murderer Cain, with His own protective mark, Genesis 4:15. The Bible does not say what this mark was. It did two things:

1. It was a lifelong reminder, to Cain himself and to others, of Cain’s shame

2. It gave him great protection for as long as he lived

Today in South Sudan and Sudan we might say, “God inserted a United Nations peacekeeping force around Cain, to defend him”. But we must quickly add, “God is 100% effective in what He does, whereas the UN is at best made up of human beings, all of whom, just like us, make some mistakes”.

3. In Old Testament Law God tells His people to love Himself and to love their neighbours with self-giving, generous love, Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Neighbours are people who live nearby to you, and include all who live there, whatever they have done to you in the near or distant past. They are not just some of the people you may choose because you like them. Also written in these extended Old Testament commands are ways and means of caring for the people most vulnerable in society – widows and orphans, the disabled, foreigners, the refugees and displaced, the very poor – all those who cannot help themselves. Christian love must embrace all of them.

4. Our Lord Jesus Christ emphasised this in His own teaching. Asked what was the most important commandment Jesus replied, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is, “Love your neighbour as yourself”, Mark 12:29-31, Luke 10:25-28.

5. When God is made the number one priority in a human heart, then the capacity to love all other people flows out of that life. Whatever shape, size, religion, colour, tribe, social or economic background, God’s true people can always express love in a genuine and a life-changing way. Christians learn how to turn away from those wanting to start a fight, Matthew 5:39, to keep a loose grip on material possessions v40, to excel in forced labour v41, and to share whatever we have with others v42.

6. Completely revolutionary is the command – and it is a command – to “love your enemies”, Matt. 5:43-47. This can apply to us individually, and it can apply to us as a family, a village, a tribe, and even a nation.

Our Holy God requires perfection from us, who say we are His believing followers v48.

7. Breaking the cycle[2]of violence[3]is a challenge to everyone in it. In my desk dictionary there are 15 meanings of the word “break”!

The key one here is number six, “to make something end”. It is illustrated twice, by “the bird’s song broke the silence”, and, “I found it hard to break the bad habit”. Notice there is both a risk and an effort involved in doing either of these two. The first person to break a silence puts him or herself in the line of everyone else’s fire. And, we probably all know, there is incredibly hard work involved in doing publicly, something that no one has tried before (at least within recent memory). Entrenched activities are never easily changed.

Perhaps God is asking us to put our bodies on the line?

Remember, Jesus did exactly that for us.

“Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will”, Romans 12:1-2. (Emphasis mine).

Discussion questions:

1. What is the root cause of violence between people? Can you give examples of conflicts, in your own experience, where this is easily seen?

2. Galatians 5:19-21 includes jealousy as something our sinful nature does that will stop us entering the kingdom of God. How can we deal with jealousy in our own lives?

Consider the phrase, “offer yourselves to God” in Romans 6:11-14.

3. What stops you from being the one who will take the risk, being the first to break the cycle? Why?

4. What will help you overcome this, and live in a more Christian way?

See Galatians 5:22-26, 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, 2 Corinthians 12:10.

[1] Reading on line news, largely in Sudan Tribune and [2] a series of events that happen again and again in the same order or at the same times [3] using physical (or other) force to cause harm or damage


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