I must have appeared perplexed as I was sitting in my easy chair when my wife Emily walked in the room. “What’s wrong?” she inquired. I replied slowly and honestly, “Someone is wrong on the Internet.” She laughed hysterically.
In retrospect, my humorous response to my wife betrays my arrogance and perhaps even self-righteousness. There is, and always will be, the distinct possibility that my understanding of things is faulty; and humility in such matters is an important thing that we all too often leave behind.
It seemed that I had once again gotten myself into some discussion online, and I felt like a sheep among wolves in the discussion about the value (or supposed lack thereof) of peaceful conflict resolution. Though this debate will continue to rage on, it has become my perspective that Christians should seek peaceful solutions to conflict, rather than seeking to justifying a so-called “right” to use violence to solve problems.
As is often the case in such discussions, a hypothetical situation was mentioned: a fictitious evil thief comes to break in and steal, and how it is not only a right, but a duty to destroy all who might infringe on our territory.
I understand that social media cannot do justice to such widely contested and nuanced topics such as this, and I do not bring it up to continue the debate. Rather, I mention it because it revealed in myself an inconsistency that I had never thought about.
Fallacy of False Dichotomies
This hypothetical situation about the thief is one that I had never been able to answer properly. What would I do? I’m not sure, since it has never happened to me; and realistically it is something that most of us will never have to face.
But the responses we often prepare ourselves for are almost always ones that involve violence against the offender or to allow the violence of the offender to go unchallenged. Neither of these options is truly redemptive to all the people in the situation—both the victims and the perpetrator.
But were these the only options? Perhaps there are other options.
In philosophical terms, when trying to reason through such discussions there is in logic the fallacy of false dichotomies. This fallacy is committed when a limited number of solutions are offered, but where, in fact, there are more possibilities.
Yearning for a Third Way
In this case, the options presented are not the only options available. There is another way. In the hypothetical situation of the thief, it is assumed that the only options are to destroy or be destroyed.
But for the first time when I thought of this fictional scenario, I yearned for a solution that protected myself while also restoring what was broken in the life of the thief. I longed for a third way.
This is That
As if a lightbulb came on, suddenly what I thought was a discussion about violence and peace became a lesson to me about about something totally different: preparedness. For what am I preparing myself? Am I preparing myself to do violence, or am I preparing myself to defend the dignity of all persons, both my own and that of a burglar, in a creative and peaceful way?
Jesus tells us in Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
This verse was incredibly convicting to me. Hypothetical situations aside, I had not been storing up good in my heart in many areas of life. And how often is this the case for so many of us?
We prepare ourselves and posture ourselves to defend ourselves against so many potential dangers. We store up in ourselves self-interest. We store up in ourselves answers to questions so that we can hit others over the head with our vast knowledge. We store up for ourselves money and power to use against those who might be different from us.
But how often do we think about how we might be a blessing to others? How often do we store up in our hearts different ways of showing Christ’s unconditional love to others? How often in discussions have I prepared harsh words to make someone look unintelligent instead of preparing words of love and kindness?
Take, for example, a scene in Les Misérables. A thief, Jean Valjean, steals from bishop Myriel, and when he is dragged back to the church by the authorities, they tell the bishop that the thief claimed the goods were a gift. The bishop immediately responds by saying that they were a gift—though, in fact, they were stolen.
That, however, is not the end. The bishop tells the thief that he forgot the most valuable gift behind and hands him a pair of expensive candlesticks. Moved by this act of grace, the thief changes his ways. Though a fictional story, this is a great example of a man who was prepared to act in creative and peaceful ways that allow yet another opportunity for redemption.
A Toolbox in the Trunk
I like to keep a small toolbox in the back of my car. I keep some basic tools inside in case something breaks down or I need to fix something when away from home. These tools each have a different function, and I hand-selected each one with a purpose to deal with a variety of situations. These tools have been incredibly helpful for me in many situations, and interestingly, I use them to help others more often than I use them to help myself.
I prepared myself with some tools that help to fix things. As situations have arisen, I have found that those tools are what I have to use to help myself or others. The same is true with the first-aid kit I keep in the car, or the Band-Aid that I keep in my wallet. In those moments of crisis, the only tools at my disposal are those I have prepared.
Prepared For What?
In the same way as a toolbox in my car, we can prepare our hearts and train ourselves to respond in certain ways. We can store up in our hearts words and actions that build up, or we can store up for ourselves weapons that tear down—and what we store up in our hearts will also spill over into our lives and to those around us.
In each of our lives we will experience different forms of conflict and crisis. This is part of the human experience. When we do experience it, however, what have we prepared in our hearts? Is it tools to help mend the brokenhearted? Or weapons that have no function outside of self-interest? It does not take much effort to respond selfishly or defensively.
The challenge—and the goal—is to respond in a redemptive manner that seeks not to condemn, but to bring life.