Our world is riddled with violence. From verbal to physical, personal violence to collective violence such as war. It is everywhere. Our neighborhoods, the news, social media, across national lines, within national lines and more.
So it’s difficult to even consider living a life of non-violence.
Yet, that is the place I found myself some years ago. I was pulled slowly toward the gift of non-violence. And, so, I am now an advocate of non-violence across all areas of life.
Now, let me make clear that, in championing non-violence, I do not consider myself “better” than others. Honestly, I don’t. And if I were to, I’d need to watch it. This is simply the journey I’m on and the position of which I am an advocate. I want non-violence to affect my personal life and I want it to affect the way I live in society.
In all, I have chosen non-violence as a very practical way to live out the peace, or shalom and well-being, of God.
There are three reasons as to why I hold to and look to practice non-violence as best I can.
1) What I see in Jesus Christ.
I am very aware of what we are given in the Old Testament Scriptures. There is much violence, much bloodshed – and we find that the Scriptures even offer this as authorized by God. For example, see Deut 20:16-18; Josh 6:20-21; Josh 8:24-27; Josh 10:40-42; Josh 11:12-15.
But, as I remind my students each and every year, especially as we cover the books of Joshua and Judges, these words are not the final word. They are part of the journey to get to the final word, which is Jesus Christ. Neither is it to pit the Old and New Testaments against one another. But it is to recognize the unfolding nature of God’s revelation.
It’s like an acorn. Within an acorn you will find the elements of a large oak tree. It’s all right in that tiny seed. But to get to that full-blown oak, it takes a lot of time, sunlight, rain, and so forth. Only after around 80 to 100 years will it reach the fullness of what you find within the acorn.
Such is the revelation of God, only taking much more time to unfold. The Scriptures were developed over centuries and centuries. Perhaps around 1,500 years. I’m not sure why God allowed everything to take so long. I imagine it may have cleared up a lot of mess if Jesus had arrived on the scene much earlier. Still, it’s the way God chose to reveal himself – over painstakingly long centuries.
And, so, to stop with Moses and Joshua or Samuel and David or Isaiah and Ezekiel would cause major problems. We must understand these people and their words within their setting. But we also need to understand them within the context of Christ having now come. As Scot McKnight reminds us in his book, The Blue Parakeet:
Throughout this process of conversion and reading the Bible, I made discoveries that created a question that disturbed me and still does. Many of my fine Christian friends, pastors, and teachers routinely made the claim that they were Bible-believing Christians, and they were committed to the whole Bible and that – and this was one of the favorite lines – “God said it, I believe it, that settles it for me!” They were saying two things and I add my response (which expresses my disturbance):
One: We believe everything the Bible says, therefore…
Two: We practice whatever the Bible says.
There’s a lot more to thoughtfully consider than the mere reading of black ink on white paper. We cannot simply spout off something like, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” As I also remind my students, we have to carefully read the Old Testament now through the Jesus lens.
Listen, I don’t believe Jesus is some happy-go-lucky hippy. He was willing to speak very poignant and harsh words at times to both his closest friends and the religious leaders. And, yes, I know – he was even willing to turn over tables in the temple.
But consider this. Jesus never once looked at his friends and said, “Hey, you see those Romans over there? Let’s take them out!” That was a perspective many Jews embraced, like the Zealots. They looked up to people like Judas Maccabeus as a hero of the faith. The kingdom of God was to come through violence, through the sword. However, we find Jesus offering something very different. We are to truly love our enemies and pray for them.
So, I am going to go out on a limb and say that loving our enemies never includes killing them.
Yes, I’m also aware of Luke 22:36-38. That’s the one where Jesus exclaims, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” I’ve already addressed this in another article, but suffice it to say there is a grave misunderstanding of these words of Jesus leading up to the passion narrative. He is not asking us to be willing to kill others.
I am also not shy of recognizing that God will one day judge the nations for a final time. But I believe we need to remember that this is something God himself will do via his Son. This isn’t our duty. There is no authorization of violence toward others. I also personally do not believe this judgment will be a kind of eternal conscious torment of the wicked. Rather it will be a final end of the wicked, a true second death, instead of a tormenting for all eternity. See my four-part series here.
So I embrace non-violence because this is what I ultimately see in Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), the exact representation of God (Heb 1:3).
2) Where we are headed.
Non-violence is something I have recently pondered in light of two Scripture passages about the “last days.” I have already offered elsewhere that the last days began long ago, particularly at the Feast of Pentecost described in Acts 2. Peter makes this clear. As the onlookers saw the Spirit poured out, identified by hearing people speak in languages they had not learned, Peter stated this is what Joel said would happen . . . “In the last days, I will pour out my Spirit . . .”
It was now the time. The last days were here.
And, so, noting that, I take us to an interesting passage in Isaiah 2. The prophet clarifies what will take place in these proverbial last days, the period in which the Messiah would become king. In particular, we are told in vs4:
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will 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.
This is where we are headed.
Or, better yet, if we are already in the last days – and I’d say the Scriptures make clear we are – then we should be a people who even now lay down our swords, our spears, our guns and abandon war itself.
This, I believe, is the way of Christ and those who follow Christ.
Christ is the non-violent one, calling his followers to love even their enemies.
We have already entered a period which is defined by the laying down of our weapons of warfare. Isaiah said so; Peter shows the early church entered that period.
These two points must be considered. I have one more.
3) I know our (including my) heart and practices.
We are driven by violence. From Cain until now, we are violent. I started the article noting how vicious we are across all aspects of life. We cannot seem to stop.
Or what if we could stop the violence?
Now, I know we have to ask what this means practically with regards to national defense and protective rights? And I acknowledge that I cannot speak with full insight into all questions. I’ve pondered them and I don’t want to make hard-lined, definitive statements, ones such as, “Christians should, therefore, never serve in the military.”
I think we should consider this as a practical ramification of what I’ve shared above. But I know it’s not so simple. It really isn’t.
In my own consideration of what this means for Christians and the military, I believe the best voice is a counter-cultural voice, calling us to live differently than what we find in normal society. This is why I’m intrigued by Hauerwas’s and Willimon’s classic, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. They offer:
The church does not exist to ask what needs doing to keep the world running smoothly and then to motivate our people to go do it. The church is not to be judged by how useful we are as a “supportive institution” and our clergy as members of a “helping profession.” The church has its own reason for being, hid within its own mandate and not found in the world. We are not chartered by the Emperor. (p39)
There is something greater going on here as Jesus is identified as the king to whom we owe allegiance. It doesn’t mean we shun what it means to be a citizen in our homeland. But it does ask us to consider something much bigger than our national ideals. The Christian church and American nationalism have been married for far too long to bring any sense of objectivity into the mix.
Perhaps we need to divorce ourselves from our over-the-top nationalism.
On a personal level, I have also been mocked and harshly challenged at times when offering my view of non-violence. So, are you just gonna let someone kill you or your wife?! If they are coming at me with a gun, I want to have a gun to stop them first. Something of that nature.
For starters, I think many of our responses show that we are not really driven by protection. We are rather driven by retribution toward the other. It’s highlighted by our desire to be the first to pull the trigger.
I’ll get them before they get me.
I believe that is a quintessential foundation for violence. Who can strike first?
That, my friends, feels fairly anti-Christ. At least if we consider the cross. Being willing to lay down our lives and love our enemies means we cannot ask who will be able to strike first.
Now, please know I am not against true protective justice. Protection is good. But I believe there are better ways to consider protection than simply pulling out our guns (or bombs) to end the life of a perpetrator. Better options. Just take some time to think about it.
So, are you saying we should end police forces, then?
As I noted above, it’s not so simple. I am thankful for our police. But I can be grateful for police and still champion non-violence. I can offer non-violence as the Christian way of life and still hold to protecting others.
In all, I believe that non-violence is the best practical – and counter-cultural – way in which the people of God can live in our world today. I believe it truly testifies to the one whom we say we follow.
I could offer more here. But, suffice it to say, I have shared quite a bit for now.
I am convinced 1) non-violence is the way of Christ, 2) it’s where we are headed and are called to even now in this period of “last days” in which Christ is in charge, and 3) it is a way to counter the inclination of our own hearts. I believe non-violence is the best way forward.