We are a violent species. We always have been. From the time when Cain killed his brother Able, people have been killing each other without much of a let up throughout human history.
In my great-grandfather’s day, America was ripped asunder as brother fought against brother in a war that claimed as many as 700,000 lives.
When my grandfather was of age, the populations of the world were involved in The Great War, aka “The War to End All Wars,” also known as World War I.
In my father’s teen years, the world again convulsed in violence as some 70,000,000 perished in the Second World War.
My generation saw the War in Vietnam and my sons saw the wars in the Middle East. Now that most of my grandchildren are entering adulthood, Russia has invaded Ukraine and the earth is nervous yet again.
It has always been so. One would be hard pressed to find a time when at least one country or tribe wasn’t killing the citizens and soldiers of another. There was such a thing as the Pax Romana, or “the Roman Peace,” where the Roman Empire enforced “peace” within its borders. But, even then, there were uprisings and brutal suppression of the same. Besides, outside the Empire, in other parts of the globe, people were still killing people.
In Matthew 24:6, Jesus said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. These things must happen, but the end is still to come.” End-time observers use this passage to confirm that, because there are currently wars, Christ could come at any time. But pick a point anyplace in the history of humanity and one will find “wars and rumors of wars.”
This isn’t to disparage the idea of Christ’s return. Every Sunday in our Eucharistic liturgy, we proclaim the “mystery of faith” by saying or singing together, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” I am a believer in that mystery, as are all orthodox Christians. Nevertheless, it is a discouraging fact that we regularly and intensely savage one another.
We Americans like to congratulate ourselves on our enlightenment and say with pride that the wars in which we fought were all “just wars.” But that, too, is a lie and a self-deception. Our ancestors whom we revere marched from the east coast to the west and annihilated the Native American tribes along the way.
It was in my freshman year of college that I read, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West,” and lost my innocence and my idealism. It was only a few generations ago that America participated in wholesale genocide and whose slogan among many was “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”
And while we point with pride to our founding documents, we ignore the fact that our American heroes thought that prisoners from Africa were only three-fifths human and the freedoms and protections of those documents applied neither to them nor to the native tribes.
In World War II, at the same time we were fighting the Japanese who brutalized citizens in Asia and the Pacific, we were impoverishing and locking up in prison camps, without trial or redress, those American citizens whose only crime was to have slanted eyes.
In Genesis, there is an account about a great flood that was sent by God to destroy all but a handful of humanity. In Genesis 6 it is recorded, “And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said … I am sorry that I have made them.” Sometimes, I wonder what He thinks of humanity now.
It is discouraging to admit that we carry within us so much anger, danger, hate, violence, and — yes — murder. Even in our own cities, people are killing other people in ever-increasing numbers. People of differing political persuasions hate, not just dislike, but actually hate those with whom they disagree.
But I do know what God thinks of humanity, even with all its animalistic tendencies. He believes humanity is salvageable, is redeemable, is unique among all his creations. We are made, the Bible says, “a little lower than God.” And so, He sent His Son into the world “not to condemn the world,” but that we might experience “life more abundantly.”
The larger society rejected Jesus, of course, and still does. Men with agendas had him tortured and murdered, and I suspect modern man would fare no better. But the story doesn’t end there.
It remains to be seen what will come of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Will it stop there? Will the Ukrainians successfully repel the Russians? Is it the opening salvo of a wider conflict, of World War III? Will the Chinese be emboldened and attack Taiwan? Only one thing is certain … as long as humanity remains unredeemed and unchanged, there will always be wars and rumors of wars. Sadly, it seems we just can’t help ourselves.
[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the pandemic, the church is open at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays but is also live streaming at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life) He may contacted at email@example.com.]