A Bit of Setup
these essays help pacifist and non-pacifist alike better understand that a commitment to Christian nonviolence is not so much a position but rather a declaration that requires ongoing reflection. Nonviolence is not a stance that is to be limited to being against war, but rather nonviolence requires that every aspect of our lives be open to listening to those who differ from us. To honestly practice the truthfulness that Jesus called for in the Sermon on the Mount may thus require a mode of pacifism that recognizes itself as unfinished. This is a call for you and I to be willing to suffer, to actively engage in service to others, and to join them to help them out of their suffering, not to be apathetic and let others suffer unjustly. The gospel ought not to be treated as we would a new brand of toothpaste that must conform to our tastes before we accept it. We are called, rather, to conform our lives to the gospel.
Pacifism Does Not Equal Passivism
Christian pacifism is not passive because it creatively seeks alternatives to the violence of this world. Therefore, to argue that the only solution to a violent threat is to react in violence (and anything else is simply being passive) points to the pride of self-determination and a lack of trust in divine providence. It presupposes that there are only two alternatives: to watch violence happen or to fight violence with violence. But the evangelistic nature of our calling reminds us that Godâ€™s way of acting in the face of violence was revealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Such an act was not simply Godâ€™s way of surprising us then, but sets the framework for how we should expect God to surprise us in present and future circumstances. As Dale Aukerman points out in his reading of the story of the woman about to be stoned in John 8:2â€“11, Jesus did not stand by passively. Rather, he stood between the woman and her attackers, taking upon himself their attack on her. Jesusâ€™ mode of defense was not to attack the mob, but rather creatively to disarm them, and in doing so, to offer a glimpse of the grace and forgiveness of God. Our problem is that the nonviolent Jesus was decidedly not passive. He did not sit under a tree and practice his breathing. He walked regularly into the face of danger, spoke the truth, and demanded justice. As far as decent, law-abiding, religious people were concerned, he was nothing but trouble. He hung out with the wrong people, healed at the wrong time, visited the wrong places, and said the wrong things. His nonviolence was active, provocative, public, daring, and dangerous. Most of Jesusâ€™ actions were illegal. He committed civil disobedience on an almost daily basis.
Was Jesus a Pacifist?
If ever there were an innocent, it was Jesus. If ever there were a reason to use the sword, it would have been when he was arrested. Yet in all four Gospels, his words to us are: â€œPut away the sword.â€ Is this just a limited, contextual claim, or is it not better interpreted, as many Church fathers did, as a universal command transcending all places and times, a call for all baptized Christians, for this is how God intends Godâ€™s creatures to live together? Therefore, as Aukerman rightly asks, â€œWould God ever expect from us a mode of defense which we do not see in Jesus?â€How Does This Affect Our View of Governments, and Just War?
What differentiates pacifism from just war is that the former, at its best, only makes sense because of the christological convictions we hold about what God has done in Christ. If Jesus is not the unique and definitive expression of Godâ€™s economy, of how God redeems the world and engages it politically through the cross, resurrection, and ascensionâ€”if he were not bodily raised from the deadâ€”then pacifism makes no sense. If pacifism is to be condemned because it says â€œyesâ€ to allowing innocents to die, then so too must just war be condemned. while temporal civic freedom is a worthwhile venture, often one worth dying for, it is not worth killing for. While all forms of government exercise power over their subjects, citizens of the kingdom of God are to exercise power under others. That is, we are to influence othersâ€”including our enemiesâ€”by loving and sacrificially serving them.16 The New Testamentâ€™s insistence on loving enemies and â€œturning the other cheekâ€ is inseparable from this more general call and empowerment to manifest a radically unique kingdom that is â€œnot of this world.â€ it must be observed that the modern nation-state stands, in practical terms, as one of the greatest enemies of the unity of the church: the nation-state alone has demanded that Christians living within its borders kill Christians who happen to live behind the borders of another nation-state. But our baptism grants us a new citizenship in the Kingdom of God.When Jesus Offers You the Road Not Popular
So what should we disciples do when we are faced with a ruthless evil such as Hitler who engenders such horrific suffering? We confront the powerful evildoer with love and truth; we resist the temptation of power and demand that the evil end; we try to alleviate the suffering of all. Simple. And given that we are dealing with a powerful evildoer, the result is that we will fail. And yes, we will also die. Before he says, â€œfollow me,â€ Jesus says, â€œtake up and carryâ€â€”the call is conditioned by our prior acceptance that we bring the instrument of our own execution with us as we live the life of discipleship; the cross becomes the instrument of our execution because we live the life of discipleship. Despite the varied approaches we may adopt in order to interpret Scripture, one thing seems clear: the New Testament demands a radically different way of treating our enemies than killing them. It may be the case, on this very point, that the heart of what makes Christianity so unusual and thoroughly scandalous is its understanding of its enemies. Jesus has given us a new way to deal with our adversaries: to forgive them. When Jesus warns us that we will be hated, scorned, and persecuted for following him, and it turns out that we are not, somebody has gotten something wrong, and it ainâ€™t the Lord.
This Issue Ultimately Comes Down To Trust
Just as followers of Jesus are not to take up the sword, we also should not imagine that we ourselves bring in the kingdom of God. The church-in-mission does not save the world or even ourselves. Rather, we have our eyes opened to see where God already is bringing something of the new Jerusalem into being, and then align our lives with that. Christianity, when necessary, produces martyrsâ€”not heroes. To physically attempt to secure oneâ€™s faith, oneâ€™s life, or the lives of others, runs counter to Christianityâ€™s central declaration that Jesus is Lord. This is the central question posed to pacifists. It is not the question, Are we willing to die?, but rather, Are we willing to let others die for our convictions? If the Kingdom of God has broken in, and will ultimately triumph, then the church is to live proleptically according to the now-present-and-coming Kingdom. To live proleptically means to live now according to something that is still yet in the future, that is, a future reality so sure to come to pass that we live according to that reality even now. In the case of war and peace, we are so confident that the peaceable Kingdom of God will finally triumph over war, hostility, and death-dealing that we live now according to that coming reality.
My Favorite Quote
In truth, we live in a sinful, fallen world where we cannot secure our existence, or that of our friends and families, against all potential aggressors. To live as if we can is simply to deny the reality of sin. To live as if we must is simply to deny the reality of resurrection. What disarms the aggressor is not our better ability to use and implement violence, but to be freed from the grip of fear it has over us. Life belongs to God. Its unjust ending cries out for justification, and we cannot but believe that God will somehow justify those who suffer such a fate. â€œWe believe in the resurrection of the body.â€There are many counterarguments which go far beyond the scope of this post. I had them as well. And this book did an unbelievable job dismantling them. I cannot recommend this book strongly enough, especially for men. As I mentioned above, a few of the other books that have caused this type of reaction in me are The Naked Gospel, Myth of a Christian Nation, and God of the Possible. One final thought from this book about reading challenging types of books in the first place: “It is our responsibility to wrestle with the verses that trouble us as much as we preach the verses that inspire us.”
Do You Want to Read the Bible Without Falling Behind?
Sign up your email and I’ll send you a PDF to download and use my custom-made reading plan system. There’s no way to fall behind on this system and every day will be different no matter how long you use it!
I’ll send future content directly to your inbox AND you can dive into the Bible like never before.