I read an article in the news that estimated around 44 percent of American homes had a firearm. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, one of the fastest growing industries of the past decade or so has been the firearms trade. We Americans have purchased a lot of guns in a short time and I’ve seen estimates of somewhere over 200 million firearms of all kinds in our country.
Now here’s where you’d expect the usual anti-gun screed to start but I’m not going to give it to you. I grew up in a household with firearms. I know what they can do and how to use them, and I know that the vast majority of people who own them are law abiding and have no intention at all of doing horrible things.
Yet a part of me is sad and troubled as well about it all because I know that for more than a few of those people who are in the sporting goods stores lining up to purchase firearms there is also a sense that things aren’t right and it may be a good time to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I’m not talking about hard core “prepper” types with food for a few years and a thousand rounds of ammo in the basement. They exist but they are still few and far between. Instead I see, better yet I feel, a kind of social unease where regular folks are contemplating the world they see around them, the culture they are experiencing, and quietly thinking about how to protect themselves and the ones they love if the usual things that hold us together start falling apart.
These are mostly regular folks, people with the kind of usual lives that form the core of any stable society. They are members of our churches, the people we do business with, folks from all kinds of routine walks of life who are pondering and wondering and then quietly find their way to the counters of the sporting goods stores with a combination of reserve and resolve and thoughts about the “what ifs” where their lives could be changed in an instant if the things they see on TV stop being someone else’s problem and start becoming theirs.
Fortunately the odds are still in their favor, for now. The vast majority of them, and us, will not, and perhaps never, be the victims of violence. Yet, at the same time I know the unease because I feel it too. Could my neighborhood, my city, with its very eclectic groups of people, one day break out into chaos? The answer is simple, “Yes.” Could the bonds that have held us together over the years in relative peace come suddenly unglued? Indeed they could because sin and brokenness and evil are part of the human condition, part of even the best of us, and insanity can quickly descend when the things that make for community are undone and it becomes everyone for themselves.
So you won’t get any argument from me about people trying to think about an end game if the worst should become real. There’s a wisdom in that and as long as it doesn’t descend into a kind of paranoia and, in doing so, actually create fires where none were started it might actually be helpful to keep the peace. Yet there is also a need for a greater wisdom in these days, a wisdom that transcends time and calls us to a way of life that is larger than any moment.
The unease we can feel. The sense of protection and peace we desire but cannot always find. The realization that things are not as we would like them to be and that there is potential for even worse, are illnesses of the soul that no law can cure. The political class often sees laws as an answer in the same way as a person who has only a hammer sees everything as a nail. Yet something larger beckons. The sicknesses of the soul can only, and ultimately, be healed by God alone. The farther we drift away from God the more perilous our journey becomes and our rest is found as we seek and find God. As we draw closer to God the result, in the Christian sense of that drawing closer, is also to bind us to each other and bring down the walls between us, walls sometimes bristling with gun barrels, and even if we cannot always agree on the details we can at least begin to see the “others” in our lives as humans and that’s a good start.
Yes, there is a kind of wisdom in reasonably preparing for the worst. Yet the greater wisdom, even while doing that, is to hope and work for the better. Without that second and greater wisdom we might all find ourselves living in a culture marked by tribalism and violence without meaning. If the light of that greater wisdom is allowed to flourish we at least have a chance.