While Amos’ prophecy is directed to Israel, it also deals with other nations. In Amos 1-2, God through the prophet judges those nations’ unspeakable violence: flogging humans with sledges having iron teeth; selling whole communities into slavery; disregarding a treaty of brotherhood; slaughtering women; gutting pregnant women; desecrating corpses. These sins rival those in modern war-torn countries that ignore treaties and laws of basic humanity.
We’re horrified at the violence Amos identified, just as we are horrified at the violence in Syria today, as well as Islamic State violence in several countries.
America and its allies also commit violence — to end a vicious civil war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths — to stop a movement set on killing Americans and other “infidels.” We try to temper our violence by picking targets uninhabited by civilians and by using weapons designed to be smart about who is killed and who isn’t.
We know, however, that our weapons aren’t smart enough to distinguish a pregnant woman from a jihad terrorist. Terrible miscalculations have resulted in the slaughter of innocent women, children, and medical workers. Are we judged for that? Or is it permissible collateral damage to defeat almost universally regarded evil?
Violence started early in the Old Testament when Cain killed Abel. (Genesis 4:8, NIV) It’s subsequent proliferation is stark, some God-ordained. God’s ways aren’t our ways (Isaiah 55:8), but honestly, using that as justification for violence in scripture or in today’s world seems shallow.
Call me naive or worse, but I’m inclined to lift up Jesus’ teachings that abolished an eye for an eye (Matthew 5:38-39), spoke of a new kind of kingdom when his disciples considered violence during his arrest (26:52), and blessed peacemakers (5:9).
But not answered by Amos or Jesus is whether all violence is sin: a question still deserving prayerful scrutiny.