Cain killed his brother…The Lord said to Cain…“Now you are cursed…You will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” Cain answered, “My punishment is greater than I can bear…(A)nyone who meets me may kill me.” The Lord said, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance”…Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch…To Enoch was born Irad…Irad was the father of Mehujael…Mehujael the father of Methushael…Methushael the father of Lamech…Lamech said…“Hear my voice…If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”
The Bible’s first murder, a fratricide, is recorded in the 4th chapter of the first book. (It didn’t take long!)
In Cain’s era, the price of vengeance was sevenfold. Five generations later, Cain’s descendant Lamech could boast that retribution’s bounty had risen bountifully from seven to seventy-seven.
Born in 1952, I was raised under the cloud of the Cold War Era’s saber-rattling betwixt the United States and Russia. I often thought of the escalation of the cost of revenge in terms of the employ of nuclear armament. So far (and I emphasize, so far), this hasn’t happened. However, it seems to me that the American threat and reality of initiatory and retaliatory violence, heeding no restraint or limit, has come in the form of the unfettered and criminal use of an arsenal of assault weaponry.
Following the most recent incident of mass violence, our United States Congress, particularly the Senate, continues to forestall consideration of what I believe to be commonsense gun-control measures. I don’t know what it will take to make sense of (to bring sense to) this debate. What will be the cost of vengeance that sickens our corporate American body enough to act for the sake of health and peace?
© 2022 PRA
Illustration: Cain slaying Abel (c. 1600), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
 Genesis 4.8-24 (heavily abridged)
 This is to say, balanced at or restricted to a calculated or just response; seven being an ancient measure of wholeness or completeness; anything beyond that being considered excessive. Thus, the family of a person injured or killed could exact equal vengeance on seven members of the offending clan.
7 thoughts on “Gun (out of) Control”
Paul, thank you for always making the connections between what we are experiencing and the events detailed in scripture, along with the deep human and spiritual meanings connected to them. Your question about what it will take to “bring sense” to the debate about firearms in the U.S. is the question of the moment and of many past moments. Those moments seem to have momentum for a short while until it fades away in the echoing hopelessness we feel against the great piles of money, the blistering rhetoric, and the naked power that fuels, ultimately, the violence that takes the lives of our children and our sisters and brothers.
It has become crystal clear that many states and our country are now effectively under the control of men who value – over the lives of a vast, indeterminate number of innocent people, including children – instantaneous access to guns (as many guns as desired) and to what guns can achieve – i.e., intimidation, instilling fear, maiming, and killing, for men like themselves. The same men who arrogate to themselves the right to prescribe what medical decisions women can make about their own bodies claim for themselves the sacred prerogative to determine whether many of us live or die in the face of ANY man who NEEDS a gun (or 20, 50, 100 guns) to make himself feel powerful, visible, and vindicated for whatever wrongs he believes – perhaps rightly, perhaps not – he has suffered. It is righteously demanded that we respect the constitutionally guaranteed “freedom” of any man, no matter how unstable or outright evil his motives, to acquire, possess, and wield a sophisticated weapon of war over our individual freedom to keep breathing or our children’s freedom to keep living.
This is where we find ourselves because the vaunted structures of our purported democratic republic provide that a minority of powerful men in selected states can, by virtue those structures, now rule our entire country as they see fit, based on their likes and dislikes, their fears and their prejudices, their hatreds and their greed. I can only conclude that we are living in one of the “principalities and powers” that Paul warned us of. How we extract ourselves and whether we have the will to do so are questions yet to be answered. Right now, I would say the prospects appear bleak.
Thanks for letting me speak my piece. And in return, I expect you will do what you always do so faithfully and beautifully – speak your peace.
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My beloved Karen, you speak for me. As I read and reflect on your commentary, I was struck — internally and viscerally — with the notion (surely, I am not the first to think it!) that our vaunted American democracy is more fictional than real. More an ideation than anything truly, wholly implemented. Now, I suppose that I could write that my oft-stated view that America remains an experiment and not yet an experience (for our founding principles, expressed in that frequently repeated phrase of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not enjoyed by all) draws close to your premise. Perhaps, but it is not close enough. For your insight has opened the eyes of my soul to behold that we, that America is more a plutocracy and oligarchy. Indeed, inhabited by baleful spirit likened unto the biblical principality and power of Paul’s vision and your reminder. Our prospect of reform, as you, and I believe rightly declare, are bleak.
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. So, I pray and pray to continue being a champion of love and justice for all; even (perhaps especially) those who, in fear and loathing of their supposed enemies (which, I think…I feel is an embodiment of a deep-seated human self-hatred) find comfort in armament.
And I must think, feel, and pray more about this.
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I’ve been immersed in these questions almost continuously for days now. And I’ve been dwelling on your response since last night. I can come up with nothing better, and so I pray along with you: Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison. May I also become a champion of love and justice for all. We cannot change the structures and the rules. I think we must rely on love and a never-ending, constantly-voiced, and constantly-demonstrated passion for justice to transform and encourage hearts and minds until change becomes inevitable.
With enormous gratitude for all those saints whose lives have been lived and are being lived in such love and with such passion. And I include you in that number, Paul.
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My dear Karen, amen: “We cannot change the structures and the rules. I think we must rely on love and a never-ending, constantly-voiced, and constantly-demonstrated passion for justice to transform and encourage hearts and minds until change becomes inevitable.”
I thank you for your positive, hopeful (not wishing-thinking, but rather anticipatory view of what is possible via the path of love and justice) perspective. I needed it. For oft, even in my best mind and heart, when faced with what I consider insurmountable (and, surely, uncontrollable) forces, in this case, “the structures and the rules,” I am left to despair. So, again, I thank you for reminding me to hold fast to the powers above all powers — love and justice.
And, as I wrote previously, I am thinking more about this — i.e., guns and violence and how/why we, America, cannot seem to do anything, especially, legislative about it.
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WOW!!!! Paul and Karen!! It’s been a power-packed week of EMOTIONS!!! Thank you both for summing it all up so well!! I too will choose the love and justice path… I remember the day clearly when I gave up my armed license as a security professional. I gave it up because some of the people I was forced to train simply wanted to shoot other people while hiding behind a security (not even a police) badge. When I complained that these people should be removed from the training classes, I was told their money was green so they stayed. One of the people I refused to train eventually killed someone for “trespassing” in an apartment building. The man killed was visiting his sister as a surprise! He had saved for one year to make the trip. I still think of that young man often. The company was sued of course and went out of business for training and giving a gun license to a man who clearly had mental issues. When people don’t have a reason for wanting dozens of guns it says to me it’s all about power. I am not giving up hope, BUT I’m not sure we will see gun control in our lifetime and that makes me so sad!
Much love to you both!
Oh, Loretta. Your story about the young man who was killed while trying to surprise his sister with a visit breaks my heart. I am so glad you refused to train people who clearly have warped motives for wanting guns, and I am also glad that some justice was accomplished by letting the training company know that shouldering such grave responsibility for even unknown people’s lives can never be about money.
I have spent so much time trying to understand why guns – with which I became way too familiar as a child in some frightening ways – are such an irresistible attraction for many men and a few women. The compulsion to be armed to the teeth with sophisticated firearms clearly goes beyond any possible justification based on safety or defense or security. Guns seem to be the ultimate signifier of masculinity to some men who seem to emphasize personal power rather than relationship in order to function. Freud and Jung would have a lot to say about that, I’m sure. I can only think that the outright LOVE of guns, which is what I think we are dealing with in the U.S. in these times stems from the experience of huge emptiness and need that is never going to be filled by guns and ammunition. Once again, the answer lies in relationship, love, and justice, I believe. I know you, and I know that’s what you are all about. I feel privileged to have the benefit of your insights about guns and the terrible crisis our country is in over firearms and what they represent.
Much love to you,
My goodness, Loretta, the stories that I knew — given your history of service in the security industry — that you can tell. And this particular vignette is so tragic — all the way ’round — from the unsuitable trainee resulting in a death of an innocent to the closing of the company.
And I, with you, am not certain, not at all, that we will behold gun control in our lifetimes. And that, too, evokes a great and deep sorrow for me.
Nevertheless, I carry on in love and justice, benevolence and fairness with and toward all, to the best of my feeble ability.