I wanted then, as I do now, revenge for what happened. Bring me the head of Osama bin Laden” wrote Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen two years ago. Cohen was in lower Manhattan on 9/11 and isn’t shy about acknowledging his desire for revenge. At the root of his foreign policy, he declares (with complete seriousness), is his desire to grab bin Laden “by the throat and tear out his Adam’s apple.”1
Cohen’s sentiment finds a counterpart in the early pages of Scripture. One of the first poems recorded in Genesis is Lamech’s boast. Lamech revels in a vengeful violence: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times” (Gen. 4:23–24, NIV).
My first impulse is to deride and reject everything for which Lamech and Cohen stand. Lamech’s boast, after all, is specifically countered in Jesus’s command to forgive seventy-seven times (Matt. 18:22). Nevertheless, I’ve often found that my arguments don’t carry as much weight as I’d wish, both with Christians and non-Christians alike. The violence and suffering of 9/11 stands out so strongly in their minds that all my theological arguments—about their vain attempts at peace without eschatology, about Jesus as suffering servant, about the church as a new creation—seem to fall on deaf ears.
But perhaps I’m going about things wrong. What if my carefully crafted arguments against violence are less compelling than singing and giving voice to lament over the evil in the world? What if, as John Howard Yoder suggests, the ultimate source of violence goes deeper than any rationalization we give for violence?2 What if the antidote for Lamech is thus not argument but lament? Perhaps we are to sing the kinds of songs that Jesus himself sang as he suffered (Matt. 27:46 and Mark 15:34)....continued here