In my last post, I said that Jesus explains God to us. If we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. Whatever is not like Jesus is not like God. And when we do look to Jesus we find that He totally subverted our violent view of God.
Before I continue, I want to refer to the following posts for further study in order to keep this post as brief as possible.
- Logos: the structuring Reality of everything
- The problem with following Jesus
- Jesus’ teachings we don’t really believe
- What if we just forgave?
I want to write about this controversial subject because I think it’s relevant to the world we live in. It’s also relevant to what we justify in the name of following Jesus.
It’s pretty easy to give evidence of the Church’s violent and bloody past in the name of Christ. Historically, we’ve created theology to justify going to war, torturing, killing, enslaving other human beings, and subjugating nations. Even though we may not like to admit it, this justification is so deeply embedded in our mindset and culture that I probably sound like some crazy pacifist for bringing it up.
I don’t think we understand just how far we’ve departed from Jesus’ teachings. We read Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” and just throw up our hands and continue acting and reacting like everyone around us. This is why this subject is important.
As I said in Logos, the worldview of the Greeks, Romans, and Jews of the first century was that God is violent and war-like. The logic: it’s conflict that brings structure to chaos. This the fruit of eating from the wrong Tree. Jesus came and turned this view on its head. While Jesus did get angry, He was nonviolent.
We can see just how subversive Jesus was to the religious and political community. Their response was to kill Him.
The contrast between the Bible’s depiction of the God of the Old Testament and Jesus was so stark that it led an early second-century follower named Marcion to conclude that Jesus was a different God. Of course, Jesus wasn’t a different God and Marcion’s theory was considered heretical. But Marcion was asking the right question.
Consider just a few of the implications of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”:
The God of the Old Testament allegedly told Israel to wipe out all the Canaanites; Jesus told us to love our enemies.
The God of the Old Testament told Israel to exact an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth…” (which was actually limiting the customary violence of the time); Jesus told us not to resist an evil person.
The God of the Old Testament was pictured as vengeful and retributive; Jesus told us not to take revenge but to forgive those who’ve hurt us.
The God of the Old Testament was a God of violence and bloodshed; Jesus was the Prince of Peace and willingly shed His own blood for us. Here’s what René Girard said about violence and Jesus’ subversive kingdom in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World:
Violence is the enslavement of a pervasive lie; it imposes upon men a falsified vision not only of God but also of everything else. And that is indeed why it is a closed kingdom. Escaping from violence is escaping from this kingdom into another kingdom, whose existence the majority of people do not even suspect. This is the Kingdom of love, which is also the domain of the true God, the Father of Jesus, of whom the prisoners of violence cannot even conceive. ( p. 197 *)
Scholar and theologian, Walter Wink, called this paradigm “the myth of redemptive violence.” It’s the idea that we can have lasting peace through war and violence. I think we’ve proven that to be false, even though we still believe it. What actually happens is that violence brings retaliation and more violence. This is the point behind Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek.” Not that we’re to be a passive doormat, but that we’re to arbitrarily stop the escalation of violence. Instead of retaliation, we’re to forgive. This is what following Jesus looks like.
Brian Zahnd said this in his recent book, Farewell to Mars:
“Jesus’s answer is as simple as it is revolutionary: instead of an arrangement around hate and violence, the world is now to be arranged around love and forgiveness. The fear of our enemy and the pain of being wronged is not to be transferred through blame but dispelled through forgiveness. Unity is not to be built around the practice of scapegoating a hated victim but around the practice of loving your neighbor as yourself—even if your neighbor is your enemy.” (Kindle loc. 1008 *)
When we consider that God is love (1 John 4:8), and that all the law and the prophets are summed up in loving God and others as ourselves (Matt.22:37-40), we can safely conclude that being violent is not following Jesus. It’s giving ourselves over to idols.
You simply cannot love someone and slaughter them.
10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom.13:10 *)
Was Jesus actually different than the God of the Old Testament? No. He was different than the way God was often depicted in the Old Testament (and there was internal debate within the text).
The pre-Constantinian church (before fourth century) did not teach a violent Jesus nor did they justify using violence. As the anonymous Christian writing to Diognetus in the late second century put it, “violence is no attribute of God.” (Epistle to Diognetus, 7.4)
The violent one is us, humankind, not God. We brought violence into the world. We are of Cain, murderers who have painted God’s face, over and over again, with our violent, blood-soaked brush. Jesus came to expose this pagan view of God and show us who He really is. But have we been listening?
Jesus Christ, who came to free us from this world, was totally subversive to the world construct in which He lived, and the one we live in today. If we’re to follow Him, we should follow His teachings and understand what we’ve been freed from.