Thursday, August 03, 2006

the myth of redemptive violence

I participate in a discussion group of Christian musicians where someone asked whether Israel had gone too far. I was amazed at the vocal folk who believe that violence is necessary, at times good, and doesn't conflict at all with one's faith as a Christian. The argument goes that there are some ends that cannot be achieved by any means other than violent ones. There is something cleansing about violence and "right." Indeed, a thread branched off from that one about "moral" violence.

I've shared before that part of my formation was in the historic peaces churches so this idea is repugnant to me. My faith is in a God of love and I seek to follow the Prince of Peace.

It seems to me that Jesus was pretty clear that violence was not an acceptable option. He said, "Love your enemies..." and in Matthew's version, "do good to those who persecute you." In Luke, "do good to those who hate you." As the bumper sticker says, "Loving your enemies probably begins with not killing them." When Peter drew a sword to protect him from the Roman soldiers, Jesus stopped him, "all who take the sword will die by the sword." When violence was committed on him, Jesus received it, asked for forgiveness for the perpetrators, and God used his non-violent act to change the world.

Paul reminds us to feed a hungry enemy and to overcome evil with good.

The earliest Christians refused to take up arms in the face of terrible persecution and the Church grew in the blood of the martyrs.

And what does this myth say about God? We claim to believe in a God of love who went so far as to send Jesus to the cross as a demonstration of that love, yet who would turn around and call for a war that results in human blood flowing to the horses' bridles? We claim to worship a God who counts the hairs of our heads and who knows every sparrow that falls but who doesn't mourn when 14 children trying to flee a war zone are hit with a missile? We claim to worship a God whose love overcomes even the power of death but who cannot come up with a better way to solve the world's problems than through a bloodbath? It doesn't make sense to me. Indeed, that is not the God I worship.

So why is it that people of faith who claim to follow the Prince of Peace cannot see beyond the violence? I think it is a lack of imagination, a lack of faith, a lack of love, and maybe even bloodlust. Lack of imagination because they cannot envision something better... Lack of faith because they do not trust God to work things out, they must do it and the only option they see (lack of imagination) is a violent one... Lack of love because they cannot allow themselves to love their enemies, many of whom may have done horrendous things... Bloodlust because there is something thrilling about violence and we have all known times when the desire for revenge welled up in our guts (I have identified more than I like with Bruce Cockburn's song - If I Had a Rocket Launcher) I know how I would want to react if I was an Israeli and saw Hezbollah's missiles raining down on my home, or a Lebanese watching my children shredded by US made, Israeli dropped cluster bombs.

Violence is not redemptive, it is something to be redeemed from. Those who take the sword, die by the sword. I believe that we have not risked believing Jesus yet. We have not submitted to the command of Jesus to love our enemies. When we do, if we do, we will see the love of God break forth in ways we have not imagined.


Anonymous said...

Really good post Roy. I have had conversations with other people who say that in order to bring justice, some situations require war. Their argument is that we cannot just stand around while injustice is happening (ie. terrorists bombing) and do nothing.

I'd like to hear from you some of the alternatives to war that you believe would be effective. What sort of stance/activism should we as followers of Christ participate in during these times?

Ryan Myers said...

By the way, the last post was me.
Ryan Myers

Amill-Presup said...

You must really hate the Old Testament.

roy said...

hate the Old Testament? No. But I do believe that the revelation of God in Jesus completes/fulfills/superceeds the Old Testament and I always read the Old Testament through the lens of the person of Jesus.