March 8, 2006

A Used Bullet

t’s a small, rusty piece of metal, but it gives me a chill when I look at it. While visiting Cambodia last year, my wife picked up this used bullet--not the casing, the actual pointed projectile--amid the gravel on a road through an area that was known as a “blood field,” a place of mass killing and mass burial.
It’s a sobering thing to hold in one’s hand and contemplate its probable history. Given its location and the gruesome modern history of Cambodia, it may well have been the means by which someone was killed. This tiny piece of metal tearing through his or her body with horrific speed and shattering impact probably destroyed the life of a unique person, someone who had a family, who had hopes, dreams, and fears; someone who was loved immeasurably by God. All this was ripped away--extinguished--with the crack of a gun and the sickening thud of this bullet, another nameless victim among the millions in the evil and tragic madness of our world.
Still more disturbing is the realization that this act of brutal and evil destruction is at the heart of the many wars, conflicts, and assorted violence taking place in the world at this moment. This lethal fragment of metal and the many, more diabolical, military “technologies” are the means by which the grand causes of the day are “advanced.” This is the currency--we are told--with which our freedom and prosperity are bought. Contemplating the cold reality of this artifact of a forgotten and horrifying death, we must ask ourselves whether the soul-destroying and life-smashing price is worth the too often self-centered result. Add a single used Cambodian bullet, and the arguments for “just war” seem even more hollow.
At our various days of war remembrance we ostensibly honor those who have died for their respective countries, and this is valid--if that is what we are really doing. But these days are marked most enthusiastically by those in the “victorious” nations. The commemorations would be more awkward if we would label them as days honoring those who have killed for their countries. That is what we have asked and continue to ask the young people of our various nations to do. With political-speak, media spin, denial, and ignorance, we gloss over the stark reality of one group of people using high-powered pieces of metal to tear to shreds another group of people, and vice versa. War is death.
Albert Camus summed it up well: “There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.” He was borrowing heavily from a teacher named Jesus. Jesus said--and showed--there are causes worth dying for. He told His disciples that “the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends” (John 15:13).
Jesus was not interested in His disciples killing to protect Him from arrest and death (see Matt. 26:51-54). In Jesus’ teaching, not only did He affirm the commandment against killing; He said we should not be angry or hold a grudge (see Matt. 5:21-26) and that we should love our enemies (see verses 43-48), meaning that we should take active steps to seek their good. This world-changing command was echoed by Paul’s instruction that we should “conquer evil by doing good” (Rom. 12:21).
 If we are to take Jesus seriously, we need to recognize the power of goodness, the strength of weakness, and the force of humility. It seems, ironically, that if more people were prepared to die for goodness, there would be less need for killing in the name of the various causes employed to justify armed conflicts.
Holding the cold Cambodian bullet brings a fresh understanding as to why “those who work for peace . . . will be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
Nathan Brown is editor of the South Pacific Signs of the Times and the South Pacific Division Record.