Sorry it’s been a week or two since my last post. I’d like to continue my series of posts building the case for a theology of non-violence. For the sake of clarity, when I say “violence” I am defining it by its New Testament understanding (biazetai, cf. Mt 11:12) as “acting forcefully toward someone in a hostile or malicious way” – basically, intending to harm somebody. So in this context, wrestling or bear hugging someone is not violence, but punching or shooting someone is. In sticking with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience), I spent the last post discussing the scriptural basis for the belief that Christians are supposed to avoid violence with every fiber of our being. This means not only avoiding attacking others, but it goes even further to mean that we should refuse to use violence even when defending our loved ones and ourselves! If you haven’t read that post, I highly suggest you go back and read it. Remember, solid biblical theology must be firmly grounded in Scripture.
Having said that, let’s move on to the “reason” portion of our journey. Now, I want to be completely upfront in admitting that I don’t have much training when it comes to formal logic. I would be kidding myself if I tried to provide for you a flawless syllogism. It would probably take less than a minute for some of you to destroy me in that realm. So, since I am not a great logician, and since the majority of my readers aren’t trained in logic either, I would like to instead appeal to your general sense of reason by fleshing out what I believe are three reasonable beliefs.
The idea that you could love someone without acting loving toward them is altogether foreign to the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. The New Testament concept of love is inextricably tied to behaving in a loving way. This is why when Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13, he does so by talking about all the things that love does and does not do. Similarly, when John writes in his letter about what it means to be a child of God, he says, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn 3:16). You see, love by its very nature is an act of self-sacrifice.
Bearing this in mind, it almost goes without saying that you sacrifice nothing when you do violence to a person. In the case of an intruder or attacker, you are actually doing the opposite of love when you respond with violence, because you are forcing them to sacrifice something so that you don’t have to.
It’s ironic how almost everyone I know would agree with this statement, and yet many of those same people would support so-called “just wars” or “justified violence.” The underlying assumption is that although violence doesn’t make the world a better place, sometimes it makes my world a better place. When our own personal worlds are threatened, we often deem it permissible (even noble) to make someone else’s personal world a worse place in order to protect the happiness of our world. We in essence elevate the value of our lives, our houses, our jobs, our families, our egos, and our finances (etc.) above those of our enemies. In fact, you have to do this in order to do violence to a person. If I truly believed that my attacker’s life was just as valuable as my own, then I would never seek to end their life to preserve mine.
Let’s frame this in a practical scenario. Imagine that an American soldier is faced with a situation where he must kill his enemy in order to save the life of one of his fellow soldiers. I’ve spoken with a number of soldiers and I know that this situation is all-too common. When this happens a soldier is obligated by duty and his commanding officer to shoot the enemy. But, why? For the simple belief that the life of an American soldier is in some way more valuable than that of an Iraqi “terrorist.” He’s my fellow-countryman, he’s a better man, our reason for killing is more noble than their reason for killing, he’s from the good ol’ U.S. of A. – these are all subconscious reasons as to why one man’s life is worth killing another man over. Now, I have nothing personal against American soldiers, but when our culture glorifies these things it only reinforces the idea that although violence may not be pretty, at least it keeps our world safe, even if it’s at the expense of someone else’s world.
And when I say this I mean more than that violence is merely un-Christian; I mean that it actually works at cross-purposes with Christianity. If Jesus taught us that following him involves not self-preservation but self-sacrifice (Lk 9:23-24), then it directly counteracts the kingdom of God when we use violence as a means of self-preservation. If Jesus taught that his followers love and do good to their enemies (Lk 6:27), then one must stop following Jesus (even if only temporarily) in order to do violence to an enemy. If Jesus taught us not to use violence to resist a violent person (Mt 5:39), then it is directly disobedient for a Christian to use violence to resist a violent person. And if Jesus taught that you must be loving toward your enemies in order to be a child of Yahweh (Mt 5:44-45; Lk 6:35), then it stands to reason that you are not a child of Yahweh if you choose to be unloving (violent) toward your enemies.
At its very core, the kingdom of God is about sacrificing ourselves for love others. At its very core, violence is about sacrificing others for love ourselves. I don’t know how to make it clearer. Violence undoes everything that the kingdom of God seeks to accomplish. They are diametrically opposed to one another.
Well, there you have it – my three reasonable reasons for why I believe there is absolutely no room for violence in the life of a Christian. Next time I’ll take a look back through church history and discuss different threads of tradition in Christianity and how these threads have approached the use (or non-use) of violence. Until then, peace!