Violence


The Lord takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.  The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses” (Isaiah 3:13-15 NIV). ”

One commentary says, “[ruined, plunder] Normally refers to that taken by violence, but this is probably Isaiah’s way of condemning a social order which allowed the powerful to grow rich at the expense of the weak, even though this might be done by legal means…all the more appropriate that Yahweh is here depicted as bringing the powerful to trial”

I find it interesting that this passage is probably on the verge of the Assyrian invasion and exile of the Northern Kingdom.  More liberal scholars would place the date perhaps after the exile.  Either way it is apparent here that although it would seem that the Assyrians are in control of history and the fate of Israel and Judah—it is actually Yahweh who calls the shots and is at work.   For instance, in Jeremiah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is viewed as the Lord’s “servant.”  That is, Yahweh uses him to bring judgment upon his people.  Not a very comforting thought, huh? As a side note:  I don’t think God deals with his people like this anymore, even if he does have to chastise/discipline us at times.  I will not get into it here in this article but let me put it this way…EVERYTHING changes within the life, death, and resurrection, especially the way God deals with his people and all people of the world.

I suppose that the invasion and exile caused many to blame the evil of Assyria or perhaps Yahweh.  Yet this passage here paints a different picture.  It is because of the evil of the leaders of Israel and Judah that terror came upon the region as judgment.  Yahweh is envisioned as The Judge in the court room delivering the accusations and verdict.  It is intimidating and fearful.  He is the defender of the poor and an ever watchful protector of them.  When those leaders whose essential role was to provide for and defend the poor instead exploit and rape them economically, socially, and emotionally, Yahweh intervenes on their behalf.

Although I am discomforted by this image of a forceful god, I am comforted by the thought that he is on my side—or rather I hope I am on his.  He is a god who is involved, and even though there are times where it seems as though he is silent, he is fully aware, attentive, and watchful–especially for the vulnerable.  Leaders should serve with fear because it is apparent from this passage alone that they will be held accountable for the way they lead.  Are they ethical and honest?  Are they egocentric and self-serving?  Are they mindful of the people or are they more mindful of their wealth, power and careers?

This is an important thought not only for leaders to consider but for those of us who live in a quasi-democratic society that “chooses” our leaders.  Who will you vote for for president of this nation?  What is our accountability when we choose leaders?  Are we aware that some of them may be getting rich or making this nation rich at the expense of the poor or third-world countries?  Do we care? What about the abortion issue?  If we vote for a president who supports abortion, is the blood of millions of innocent children on our hands too (an issue for many Democrats)?  If we vote for a presidential candidate whose answer to most foreign conflicts is war, is the blood of all those young men and women who are fighting for oil or our “influence” around the world on our hands (not to mention foreigners blood)?  That’s a typical issue for Republicans.  Or ignoring the poor or making fun of those on food stamps or government assistance.

These are big issues with a lot of consequences.  We must vote prayerfully.  I may even suggest not voting if you don’t have a peace of mind about who you vote for.  Don’t fall for these comments that people make that you are irresponsible if you don’t vote and have no reason to complain then.  That is a lie!  We have every reason to complain when what we are offered for candidates I wouldn’t trust them with cutting the grass in my backyard nonetheless running the government.  And frankly, I am tired of voting for the lesser of two evils.  I vote for Christ because in the kingdom of God he is king and commander-in-chief and is such over this world if they recognize it or not.  My allegiance is the Christ first and foremost and the state is at best secondary.

Let’s also not vote for people just because they say they are a Christian.  I don’t want to hear they are a Christian, I want to see it.  I want to see the fruit of it.  And sadly enough, the Republican candidate who appears to be most Christian of the four stooges is a Mormon.  Then there is another who touts Christian values but has cheated on his wives more than my brother cheats in monopoly.  And that’s just the Republican field.  My point is, God is watching and is fully aware of their ploys and our votes.  Let’s not vote for who we want but for who God wants.  And if we don’t have a peace about anyone…vote for no one.  I believe that when it is our turn to give an account…God will understand that we trust in him and in good conscience could not vote for anyone.

Lord, help me to defend the poor and out of my substance and ability serve them.  I pray for the leaders of our nation that tend to hide behind the rhetorical veil of “freedom” “liberty” and “democracy” and yet either do or are tempted to be drawn by the lust of wealth and power.  May they serve the people like Christ serves and loves his Church.  In Christ name, Amen.

The older I get and the more time I reflect on things, the more I become a pacifist.  I see no need for violence and war, even though many argue with me that we have the right to defend ourselves or protect the innocent.

I am usually accused of being a coward or a traitor for not seeing the romanticism behind being a pawn of the state to be sent off to do the state’s bidding.   I am not fooled by the nationalism of a so-called Christian nation.  I have seen what it is like to be on the receiving end of capitalism and economic imperialism in a third-world country.

I think many Christians in America have fallen prey to the ambiguous axioms of “duty” and “allegiance” to the state.

Perhaps all this nationalistic romanticism would not be as appealing to Christians if they lived in another country.  It’s a different ball game when you live under a Stalin or a Gaddafi.  The romanticism of patriotism shows its flimsiness then.  I don’t buy the “just war” package.  It should be returned to sender, marked “Middle Ages!”

I believe that Christ’s life, death and resurrection changed everything.  He ushered in a new kingdom that I believe has the power to end the cycle of violence in the world and usher in Isaiah 2:1-5.  But it starts with the Church.  We have to turn the other cheek, leave the sword to the state, allow vengeance to be God’s, and not return evil for evil.  We are to give our lives to end the cycle of violence if need be…but not by storming the beaches of Normandy, dropping a bomb on Nagasaki, or sending an aircraft carrier through the Strait of Hormuz to see what kind of response we are going to get.

I find it awkward that I have actually lost close friends because I have these convictions and that I was grieved for days after the assassination of Osama bin Laden.  Not that I didn’t believe he should’ve been brought to justice, but because as a spokesperson for the Vatican stated, “Catholics rejoice at the death of no man.”  I grieve for the wasted life of a man created in the image of God and a continued cycle of violence.  Did America decrease the numbers of her enemies that day?  Some would laugh and say yes…one.  I believe we created dozens more.  And I pity the Christians locked into this mindset of cyclical violence that they subscribe to.

Christians ought to be the first people to see the reality of the kingdom present in the world, the true governance is God, that the real king who sits on his real throne is Christ.  Our allegiance is to him first and only.  If that makes us good citizens, that’s terrific.  If not, then we conform to Christ and not Uncle Sam.

Let us therefore be the first to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Call me naïve, but Christians have no business being in a military, under the whims of the state, and being dehumanized by putting bullet holes into other humans, beating infants heads upon stones, or urinating on the corpses of people God loves.

Some say I am extreme, radical or too loving and peaceful and that I live in a fantasy world.  Well, I trust that standing before the Judge in roughly six decades (give or take a few) I will rather be accused of being too loving and peaceful than not enough.

In a day when the so-called “prosperity gospel” seems to be growing in popularity, there are many passages in the Bible that are becoming unpopular.  On the one hand we may be aware of Jesus’ invitation to everyone to “follow me.”  On the other hand, we are not preaching enough about what this may cost us or what it all entails.  You see, scripture does not hold back on conveying the reality of following Christ.  It communicates to those who may consider discipleship that it is not all a bed of roses. 

Now don’t get me wrong, there is much to be attracted to and life in many ways will be better.  Yet it may not be the kind of improvement the world may expect.  Jesus does say that he came to give us life and life “more abundant” (John 10:10).  The Greek word for abundant is perrison in this passage and communicates a superlative.  That is, he came to give us a life that will be best, a life that will be full, a life that will be awesome.  Unfortunately, many have turned this term into a mainly financial word.  However, it is best thought of as an equivalent of zoen aionion, “eternal life.”  Eternal life is one of John’s main themes (John 3:15, 16; 5:39; 6:54, 68; 10:28; 12:25; 17:2,3; 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11,13, 20).

Yet the reality is that with this great blessing of salvation and eternal life there is sacrifice.  There is a price to pay; there is a cost for following Jesus.  It is a sacrifice that is different for all of us.  For the rich young ruler it was his wealth and for others it is all that they possess (Luke 18:18-30; 14:33).  For many disciples it was leaving behind house and family (Luke 18:28-29).  For others it is not being able to do those things that seem like the right thing to do; duties that we regard as sacred and things that we must do.  For one man it was burying his father (Matt. 8:18-22).  In that culture to not bury a body was a dishonor to the body and the children who did not bury it (Deut. 28:25-26).  Everyone was supposed to bury their parents because of the command to honor one’s parents (Exod. 20:12).

Then there are those that are called to possibly make the ultimate sacrifice—their lives.  Every time this is brought up in conversation it never goes over very well.  I believe this is partially due to the prosperity gospel we have been infected with in America.  It is a belief that all will go well for you as a disciple if you just do the right things.  However, scripture does not speak to this as being a promise.  On the contrary, we are guaranteed that things may get pretty rough because we are Christians and the world hates our message because they hate God; which brings me to John 21:15-19.

Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.  Each time Peter becomes a little more frustrated and says, “Yes I love you.”  Each time Peter responds Jesus says, “boskeh ta arnia mou,” that is, “feed my lambs/sheep.”  Here Jesus equates loving him with feeding his lambs.  It is clear from scripture that his “lambs” are his disciples.  If Peter truly loves Jesus then he will feed Jesus’ disciples. 

However, through some imagery Jesus speaks to the fact that Peter would be martyred: “But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”  This enigmatic statement is clarified for the reader by the parenthetical statement that Jesus was speaking about the death Peter would suffer to glorify God.  As if the shock value is not strong enough here, Jesus then adds, “Follow me.”  Peter did follow Jesus. In fact, early church tradition says that Peter was crucified in Rome on an upside down cross with his hands outstretched on the cross.   

This is not a passage that you will hear in a prosperity gospel church.  If you do, it will greatly be watered down and twisted.  Yet it is obvious that Jesus is inviting Peter to feed his disciples and that such a commitment will end in a violent death.  So the question must be asked.  Am I willing to follow Christ?  Am I willing to follow and be obedient to a calling that may end in a violent death?   What if that death somehow glorifies God?  Will you?  Will I, take up my cross and follow Christ?

In the past week I have had several conversations with Christians about violence, particularly our involvement with it.  There are three possible scenarios that seem to surface during these conversations.  They are: self-defense, war, and capital punishment.  One of the conversations I had was with a friend of mine who I had already known is by no means a pacifist.  If anything he is the complete opposite.  So when he defends his position I am not surprised with the rhetoric he uses.  However, the second conversation was in the middle of a seminary class with a professor of mine.  As we discussed the Sinaitic Covenant and therefore the Law, I couldn’t help but wonder what he thought about all the death and violence God demands of his people. 

In Exod. 21:15 for instance, it says “Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.”  Now this law is followed by several more such commands.  It seems to me that this is not “an eye for an eye or tooth for tooth.”  This seems a bit too extreme.  Now my professor, to my surprise, is also by no means a pacifist and proudly claimed so in class.  In fact, I should set him and my buddy up for coffee so they can talk about their blood-lust.  Okay maybe that’s extreme but I can’t help but wonder why they are so proud of their stance on violence.

Let me summarize my professor’s argument.  In short, he said that the laws had the clause of death so that the people understood that obedience to God was a matter of life and death.  Secondly, he said that we could only sit and theorize about our role in violence as Christians because of those who went on before us and died for our freedom to do so.  Third, he has a hard time buying questions about violence in the bible when we live in a country that is so far removed from threats of violence but also watches violent movies and plays violent video games.  Fourth, he attempted to point out that Jesus was only one person of the trinity but also tried to point out how Jesus was not a pacifist.  His example of this was Jesus reaction to the tower of Siloam falling on people and killing them (Luke 13:4).

Here’s my response to such arguments which I shared in part with him during the class but also afterwards.  To the first point, I understand his thought about communicating the seriousness of obedience as a matter of life and death.  However, if God wants to punish and poor out wrath why doesn’t he do it himself instead of having those of us whom he has also commanded not to kill do it?  Why do we have to do the dirty work?  Maybe he figured this part out by the time he got to the invasions of Israel (722 B.C.) and of Judah (587 B.C.).  Instead of using the faithful remnant to exact judgment he used exterior forces such as the Assyrians and Babylonians.  I understand God’s sovereign right to punish the disobedient but as Christians are we still that tool of death?

To the second point, I told the professor that his answer sound s too America.  Although he uses this answer to honor those men who “sacrificed”, it doesn’t give us permission as Christians the right to partake in war and kill.  Is this how we are to spread the kingdom of God—by warfare?  I think our love affair with democracy muddies the water of our responsibility as Christians.  We are to be radically counter-cultural and just because our democratic government beats the war drum it doesn’t mean that it is God’s will for us to get in line.  If Jesus was so concerned about freedom and liberty from the world’s perspective, then why didn’t he lead a revolt against Rome?  I will tell you.  He didn’t lead a rebellion because he came to teach us that the answer to the oppression in the world is not to launch a war against evil by the means of carnal weapons against enemies of flesh and blood.  For Jesus, the kingdom of God was spread by living counter-culturally.  That means, doing the opposite of what the world expects, like “turn the other cheek.”  May I also add, “vengence is mine, I will repay (Romans 12:19; Heb. 10:30)”?

To the third point, playing Mortal Combat or Call of Duty is a tad bit different than actually picking up a stone and whipping it at the head of a woman who may or may not have been wrongly accused of adultery.  “Cast the first stone”?

Fourth, I think a person looking for the violence of Jesus is far more hard-pressed for evidence than the pacifist.  Though Jesus believed in the judgment of God, he by no means, anywhere, encouraged his disciples to partake in violence.  Even when you come to the violence in Revelation, it is only the two-prophets that will exact any sort of wrath (Rev. 11:5).  Yet this passage is so enigmatic that it is neither an explicit or implicit encouragement to do violence.  No, we are commanded to pray for or enemies and overcome evil with good (Matt. 5:43-48; Romans 12:21).

It may come as a shock, but I am not a pacifist, yet.  However, I am tired of Christians being so cold and arrogant to proudly say “can you tell I am not a pacifist” without a hint of humility or concern in their voice.  If I ever have to kill a man for threatening my family, I will do it reluctantly and with fear and trembling.  I would also be remorseful and grieved for the rest of my life over the matter.  If we are ever pressed into a situation of violence, I pray it will be with the utmost hesitancy as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was when he chose to resist Hitler.  Yet the responsible Christian must note, he resisted after deep contemplation and even then resisted with utmost humility.  There may be situations where we need to act quickly without the time to think.  However, the Christian should live a life of much contemplation in these areas so that our actions are not mindless.  Have the mind of Christ I pray.