What Is the Underlying Cause of Violence?

The human race didn’t create itself, nor can it find fulfillment in itself. Human life is meaningful only in relationship to God (Deuteronomy 8:3; John 4:13-14; 6:32-35, 49-50). Originally, Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship with God in the Garden of Eden. When they chose the path of distrust and disobedience, they fell headlong into fear, loneliness, meaninglessness, and despair. They were exiled into a dangerous world where living became a struggle (Genesis 3:16-19, 22-24). Cain took his parents’ distrust and disobedience a step further by hating and killing the brother who sought to restore something of his parents’ lost relationship with God.

Bearing a mark ensuring that anyone who killed him would suffer vengeance seven times over, Cain founded the first city (Genesis 4:17) along with a social order that could be preserved only through fear of vengeance and retribution. It wasn’t long before Cain’s great-great-great grandson Lamech defiantly boasted that while God might avenge Cain’s murder seven times, he could personally avenge himself seventy-seven times (Genesis 4:23-24).1 Soon civilization was so corrupt and violent that God destroyed it in a flood, sparing only one just man and his family (Genesis 6:9-13)

But human violence didn’t end with the flood. The offspring of the patriarchs through whom God intended to establish His kingdom (Genesis 12:1-3) took possession of the Promised Land and established a city at Mount Zion. Although the bearers of the promise, they soon filled their own city with such violence that God brought judgment against them by means of even more violent nations (Ezekiel 7:23-27; Matthew 23:34-24:2).

Like Cain, the people of Noah’s day, and the Israelites, people of every generation are alienated from God. Without a connection of love and trust with the Creator, they are also alienated from each other and themselves. Yet rather than turning to God for affirmation and meaning, they seek it in social convention. Further, just as Cain hated Abel, people hate genuine prophets and honest men and choose leaders willing to nurture their illusions. The more their leaders flatter and mislead them, the more the people admire and honor them (1 Samuel 8:6-9).

Founded on falsehood, culture is deeply flawed, doomed to fail (Lamentations 2:14; Micah 3:11; Luke 6:39; Isaiah 30:10; Isaiah 56:10; Jeremiah 5:31), and satanic at its core (Ephesians 6:12). When consensus crumbles, disillusionment brings fear, isolation, suspicion, and rage. Just like Adam and Eve, we dread exposure of our “nakedness”—our pretense to purpose when we have no purpose, our pretense to strength when we have no strength, our pretense to peace when we have no peace, our pretense to love when we have no love. When the social contract fails, the violence of our hearts is unleashed in a desperate search for a scapegoat to blame.

Perhaps the scapegoat will be a politician or political party that was once viewed with adulation. Perhaps it will be an ethnic or religious minority. Perhaps it will be an “enemy” nation or alliance of nations.

Unwilling to accept responsibility and unwilling to turn to God, we unleash chaos. At this point, the dehumanizing, demoniacal madness of Saul (1 Samuel 18:10-11; 19:9-10; 20:33) and the dweller of the Gadarene tombs (Mark 5:1-5) becomes manifest. We objectify and kill fellow human beings like insects and vermin. Our “enemies” respond in kind.

Yet our greatest rage, like the rage of Cain, is roused when someone like Abel exposes our need for redemption.

  1. In Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus apparently has Lamech’s boast in mind. In sharp contrast with a social order founded on vengeance and hatred, Jesus said that his disciples should forgive those who sin against them “seventy times seven.” Back To Article
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