Maybe it is just how the name rolls off the tongue – Kalashnikov. Or it is the engineer/tinkerer in me. His famous AK-47 was the classic necessity is the mother of invention. And to this day, unlike American arms which are high maintenance, the AK-47 just works. Which is of course why every terrorist group and no-good-nik in the world carries the curved magazine rifle. I don’t know if it is true. I’ve never owned a gun in my life. But I once read or was told that it can even handle a wide variety of ammunition. And this makes sense because it was designed quickly for the under-supplied in everything but bodies Red Army. If you are defending Stalingrad and your orders are “not one step back” you might need to be able to fire any rounds you find.
Rod Dreher points at the man’s recent death and some of his final thoughts.
“My spiritual pain is unbearable…I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle claimed people’s lives, then can it be that I… a Christian and an Orthodox believer, was to blame for their deaths?” he asked.
“The longer I live,” he continued, “the more this question drills itself into my brain and the more I wonder why the Lord allowed man to have the devilish desires of envy, greed and aggression”.
On the one hand it is easy to say that such a reaction is a hyper-active conscience. And that would not be wrong. Comrade Kalashnikov is not responsible for all the uses of his terribly marvelous piece of tinkering. On the other hand his response is deeply Christian in two regards. The first is the universal recognition of sin and the groaning of the world. The best of us is corrupt. As the confessional liturgy says, “by what we have done and by what we have left undone”. I’ve often thought that a better line would be “by what I recognize and by what I’m too blind have seen.” That spiritual pain is the recognition of a world groaning waiting for its deliverance (Romans 8:22). The second way this is deeply Christian is that it is this response that allows the gospel proclamation. For this, Christ came. For all of this Christ died. It shall be remembered no more. Sin wishes to hide itself and take no blame for its actions. If we deny our responsibility we are still under the law. It is only accepting our sinfulness that frees us.
Our Sunday bible class got tossed sideways for a bit reflecting on then tense of the verbs in Isaiah 42:1-9 which is the first servant song. I think I’ve mentioned before that there are at least 6 active bible translations within this small congregation (ESV, NIV, NKJV, RSV/NRSV, CEV/Good News, NLT). And each one can approach things differently and not at all internally consistently. For example the ESV typically is the most literal by which I mean the ESV often mechanically translates tense, voice and mood and uses the same word for the same word. It is the type of translation, at least on first pass, that something like Google Translate would do. But there are occasions where the ESV, due to how it came about from the KJV through the RSV/NRSV, maintains a translation that has become established church English but is not very literal. For example in Luke 2:49 the ESV has “in my Father’s House”. The old KJV has “be about my Father’s business” which the NKJV maintains, but the RSV had changed is to “in my Father’s House”. Business is a better translation. Even better would just be a generic “things of my Father”. The ESV strayed from literal I’m assuming to maintain a poetic interpretive translation affected by the location of the scene in the temple.
The point of this is not to hopelessly cloud things. In that example above the general sense is the same. Jesus must do the will of his Father. The biggest difference I would say is that by leaving it generic it invites further reading and meditation about just what are “the things of the father”. The more modern translations, by putting in house and focusing on the scene, narrow the things probably unduly. The things of the Father, as the sermon held a couple of weeks ago, are not really religious practice things which the temple might lead you to conclude. The point is one of revelation leading to knowledge of sin leading to justification. Comrade Kalashnikov’ story is exactly the things of the Father. The revelation might have dawned late, but late is better than never.
Now here is why I started writing. You start out reading the Word, but at the same time the Word is reading you. What I mean by that is God’s Word starts moving you. There are some things, like the extent of sin, where when you spend enough time in the Word, you get moved to where Comrade Kalashnikov was at. I imagine this is what over the ages has driven many to monasteries. You can also get driven to fundamentalist like certitude about certain bedrock doctrines like the 10 Commandments and the creed. We naturally think these things are lite trifles, but spend enough time with the Word and you see the effects that might not have been so clear. You start to see the punishments to the third and the fourth generations. There are other things that I have become much less certain of, or maybe a better way of putting it would be that there are a lot more things which come under gospel freedom. Jesus reiterates the 10 commandments and “turns the knob to 11” in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17ff) . This same Jesus is the one who “eats with tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 9:11) and breaks the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:2) and pays attention to gentiles and women (Matthew 15:21-28). That pattern is meaningful.
It is not that we don’t have traditions, but that we hold them lightly meaning only when they are secondary. If you find yourself excluding someone because they are not saying the right shibboleth at the right time, you’ve made a mistake. Likewise, if you find yourself ignoring the sacraments or treating them with disrespect, or making excuse for sin instead of repenting, you’ve made a mistake. And in a world as full of spiritual pain as Kalashnikov came to see it, rightly hearing the Word probably leads to where it always did – the cross. Anything to kill the pain.
Which is what the cross does. Because it is only there the foot that we see. Both the depth of the wrong, and the deeper love of God.