What if Someone Tried to Kill Your Family?

Here is our final guest-blog of the “Jesus & Non-violence” series.  I’ll be following up with some concluding remarks in a few days.

Dr. Gregory Boyd

Dr. Gregory Boyd

I’m grateful for Dr. Gregory Boyd allowing me to post this excellent article on a topic that is often brought up in this discussion.  It relates to the worst-case scenario that few in our country face, but that of course we must answer, as many of our brothers and sisters face it on a daily basis.

“What happens if someone breaks into your house and tries to kill your family?  Would you protect them by any means necessary, even if it meant killing the intruder?”

Worst-case scenario, to be sure.  Not a question any of us hopes to have to answer in a way other than theoretical.  And though I’m not sure any of us knows how we would truly act in such a stressful and difficult circumstance, Dr. Boyd gives us glimpse into how we might uphold Jesus’ Kingdom value of “non-violence” even in a Kobayashi Maru.

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The New Testament commands us never to “repay evil with evil” but instead to “overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:17; cf. I Thess 5:15; I Pet 3:9).

Jesus said, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”(Mt 5:39).

He also said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Lk 6:27-28).

loveyourenemy-1The teaching seems pretty straightforward, yet this very straightforwardness presents us with a dilemma.

On the one hand, we who confess Jesus as Lord don’t want to say that Jesus and other New Testament authors are simply off their rockers in telling us not to resist evildoers, to repay evil with good, to love our enemies and to do pray for and bless people who mistreat us. If our confession of faith means anything, we have to take this teaching very seriously.

On the other hand, we have to frankly admit that it’s very hard to take this teaching seriously when it comes to extreme situations like having to protect ourselves and our family from an intruder. Not only would most of us resist an evildoer in this situation, killing him if necessary, but most of us would see it as immoral if we didn’t use violence to resist such an evildoer. How can refusing to protect your family by any means be considered moral? Isn’t it more loving, and thus more ethical, to protect your family at all costs?

How do we resolve this dilemma? It helps somewhat to remember that the word Jesus uses for “resist” (antistenai) doesn’t imply passively allowing something to take place. It rather connotes resisting a forceful action with a similar forceful action. Jesus is thus forbidding responding to violent action with similar violent action. He’s teaching us not to take on the violence of the one who is acting violently toward us. He’s teaching us to respond to evil in a way that is consistent with loving them. But he’s not by any means saying do nothing.

Still, the teaching is problematic, for most of us would instinctively use, and feel justified using, violence to protect our family from an intruder if necessary.

taken_galleryposterThe most common way people resolve this dilemma is by convincing ourselves that the “enemies” Jesus was referring to are not our enemies – e.g. people who attack our family (or our nation, or our standard of living, etc…. ). Jesus must have been referring to “other kinds” of enemies, less serious enemies, or something of the sort. We tell ourselves that when violence is justified – as in “just war” ethics – Jesus’ teachings do not apply. This approach allows us to feel justified, if not positively “Christian,” killing intruders and bombing people who threaten our nation — so long as we are nice to our occasionally grumpy neighbors. Unfortunately, this common-sensical interpretation makes complete nonsense of Jesus’ teaching.

The whole point of Jesus’ teaching is to tell disciples that their attitude toward “enemies” should be radically different from others. “If you do good to those who do good to you,” Jesus added, “what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same” (Lk 6:32). Everybody instinctively hates those who hate them and believes they are justified killing people who might kill them or their loved ones. In contrast to this, Jesus is saying: “Be radically different.”

This is why Jesus (and Paul) didn’t qualify the “enemies” or “evildoers” he taught us to love and not violently oppose. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your enemies until they threaten you; until it seems justified to resort to violence; or until it seems impractical to do so.” Enemies are enemies precisely because they threaten us on some level, and it always feels justified and practically expedient to resist them, if not harm them if necessary. Jesus simply said, “love your enemies” and “don’t resist evildoers” – and note, some of the people he was speaking to would before long confront “enemies” who would feed them and their families to lions for amusement.

The teaching could not be more radical and as kingdom people we have to take it seriously. At the same time, what do we do with the fact that most of us know we would not take it seriously, let alone obey it, in extreme situations like our family coming under attack?

"The Politics of Jesus"  by John Yoder

"The Politics of Jesus" by John Yoder

As with all of Jesus’ teachings, it’s important to place this teaching in the broader context of Jesus’ kingdom ministry. Jesus’ teachings aren’t a set of pacifistic laws people are to merely obey, however unnatural and immoral they seem. Rather, his teachings are descriptions of what life in the domain in which God is king looks like and prescriptions for how we are to cultivate this alternative form of living. In other words, Jesus isn’t saying: “As much as you want to resist an evildoer and kill your enemy, and as unnatural and immoral as it seems, act loving toward him.” He’s rather saying: “Cultivate the kind of life where loving your enemy becomes natural for you.” He’s not merely saying, “Act different from others”; he’s saying, “Be different from others.” This is simply what it means to cultivate a life that looks like Jesus, dying on a cross for the people who crucified him.

How does this insight help address our dilemma? A person who lived with the “normal” tit-for-tat kingdom-of-the-world mindset would instinctively resort to violence to protect himself and his family. Loving his attacker and doing good to him would be the farthest thing from his mind. As with the Jerusalem that Jesus wept over, the “things that make for peace” would be “hidden from [his] “eyes.” (Lk 19:41-42). Indeed, from this kingdom-of-the-world perspective, Jesus’ teaching seems positively absurd.

But how might a person who cultivated a non-violent, kingdom-of-God mindset and lifestyle on a daily basis respond differently to an attacker? How might a person who consistently lived in Christ-like love (Eph 5:1-2) operate in this situation?

For one thing, such a person would have cultivated the kind of character and wisdom that wouldn’t automatically default to self-protective violence. Because he would genuinely love his enemy, he would have the desire to look for, and the wisdom to see, any non-violent alternative to stopping his family’s attacker if one was available. He would want to do “good” to his attacker. This wouldn’t be a matter of him trying to obey an irrational rule that said, “look for an alternative in extreme situations.” In extreme situations, no one is thinking about obeying rules! Rather, it would be in the Christ-like nature of this person to see non-violent alternatives if they were present. This person’s moment-by-moment discipleship in love would have given him a Christ-like wisdom that a person whose mind was conformed to the pattern of the tit-for-tat world would not have (Rom. 12:2). Perhaps he’d see that pleading with, startling, or distracting the attacker would be enough to save himself and his family. Perhaps he’d discern a way to allow his family to escape harm by placing himself in harm’s way.

themythofachristiannationNot only this, but this person’s day-by-day surrender to God would have cultivated a sensitivity to God’s Spirit that would enable him to discern God’s leading in the moment, something the “normal” kingdom-of-the-world person would be oblivious to. This Christ-like person might be divinely led to say something or do something that would disarm the attacker emotionally, spiritually, or even physically.

For example, I heard of a case in which a godly woman was about to be sexually assaulted. Just as she was being pinned to the ground with a knife to her throat, she out of nowhere said to her attacker, “Your mother forgives you.” She had no conscious idea where the statement came from. What she didn’t know was that her attacker’s violent aggression toward women was rooted in a heinous thing he had done as a teenager to his now deceased mother. The statement shocked the man and quickly reduced him to a sobbing little boy.

The woman seized the opportunity to make an escape and call the police who quickly apprehended the man in the park where the attack took place. He was still there, sobbing. The man later credited the woman’s inspired statement with being instrumental in his eventual decision to turn his life over to Christ. The point is that, in any given situation, God may see possibilities for non-violent solutions we cannot see and a person who has learned to “live by the Spirit” is open to being led by God in these directions (Gal. 5:16, 18).

Not only this, but a person who has cultivated a kingdom-of-God outlook on life would have developed the capacity to assess this situation from an eternal perspective. Having made Jesus her example on a moment-by-moment basis, she would know — not just as a “rule,” but as a heart felt reality — the truth that living in love is more important than life itself. Her values would not be exhaustively defined by temporal expediency. Moreover, she would have cultivated a trust in God that would free her from defining “winning” and “losing” in terms of temporal outcomes. She would have confidence in the resurrection. As such, she would be free from the “preserve my interests at all costs” mindset of the world.

love-your-enemiesOf course, it’s possible that, despite a person’s loving wisdom and openness to God, a man whose family was attacked might see no way to save himself and his family except to harm the attacker, or even to take his life. What would such a person do in this case? I think it is clear from Jesus’ teachings, life and especially his death that Jesus would choose non-violence. So, it seems to me that a person who was totally conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who had thoroughly cultivated a kingdom mind and heart, would do the same.

At the same time, I have to frankly confess that I’m not sure this is what I’d do in this situation. Indeed, I have to honestly admit that, like most people, I don’t yet quite see how it would be moral to do what I believe Jesus would do. Yet, I have to assume that my disagreement with Jesus is due to my not having sufficiently cultivated a kingdom heart and mind. If I felt I had to harm or take the life of another to prevent what clearly seemed to be a greater evil, I could not feel righteous or even justified about it. Like Bonhoeffer who, despite his pacifism, plotted to assassinate Hitler, I could only plead for God’s mercy.

What we must never do, however, is acquiesce to our present, non-kingdom, spiritual condition by rationalizing away Jesus’ clear kingdom prescriptions. We must rather strive every moment of our life to cultivate the kind of mind and heart that increasingly sees the rightness and beauty of Jesus’ teachings and thus that would naturally respond to an extreme, threatening situation in a loving, non-violent manner.

Further Reading

Boyd, G. The Myth of a Christian Nation (Zondervan, 2007)

Brimlow, R. What About Hitler? (Brazos, 2006)

Yoder, J. What Would You Do? (Herald, rev. ed. 1992).

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Should Christians Participate in “Just War”?

Welcome back.  Hopefully all of you local Seattle dwellers survived the massive heat-wave this week.  Now that it has cooled off a bit, we’ll get back to our discussion on “Jesus & Non-violence”.

Today, I want to welcome another guest blogger.  His name is Dr. Gregory Boyd.

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Dr. Gregory Boyd

Greg Boyd received his Ph. D. from Princeton Theological Seminary (1988), his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School (1982) and his B.A. from the University of Minnesota (1979).

He was a professor of theology for 16 years at Bethel University (St. Paul, MN) and he is the founder and senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church, an evangelical mega-church in St. Paul, MN.  (for full bio, click here)

Greg is also the author of numerous books, my favorite of which are:

“The Myth of a Christian Nation”

“The Myth of a Christian Religion”

“Satan & the Problem of Evil”

“Letter from a Skeptic”

Dr. Boyd is one of my favorite “thinkers” and writers and though I have mentioned his books on this blog before, I cannot stress enough how highly I recommend the books listed above.   Boyd gives incredible “legs” and voice to this and many other conversations from a well-respected and scholarly perspective.

I asked Dr. Boyd to contribute to this discussion on non-violence and he gave me permission to share this essay that he wrote regarding the question: “Does following Jesus rule out serving in the military if a war is just?”

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Jesus and Military People

Some soldiers responded to the preaching of John the Baptist by asking him what they should do.  John gave them some ethical instruction, but, interestingly enough, he didn’t tell them to leave the army (Lk 3:12-13).  So too, Jesus praised the faith of a Centurion and healed his servant while not saying a word about the Centurion’s occupation (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10).

Christian-Air-Force-eAnother Centurion acknowledged Christ as the Son of God at the cross (Mk 15:39) without any negative comment being made about his military involvement. And the first Gentile to receive the Good News of the Gospel was a centurion described as a God-fearing man (Acts 10:22, 34-35).  Clearly none of these texts endorse military involvement.  But just as clearly, they don’t condemn it.  For these and other reasons, most American Christians accept that the New Testament does not forbid serving in the military.

While I respect that people will have differing convictions about this, I must confess that I myself find it impossible to reconcile Jesus’ teaching (and the teaching of the whole New Testament) concerning our call to love our enemies and never return evil with evil with the choice to serve (or not resist being drafted) in the armed forces in a capacity that might require killing someone.

The above cited texts show that the Gospel can reach people who serve in the military.  They also reveal that John the Baptist, Jesus and the earliest Christians gave military personal “space,” as it were, to work out the implications of their faith vis-à-vis their military service.  But I don’t see that they warrant making military service, as a matter of principle, an exception to the New Testament’s teaching that kingdom people are to never return evil with evil.

What About “Just Wars”?

The traditional response to the tension between the New Testament’s teaching and taking up arms to defend one’s country is to argue that fighting in the military is permissible if one’s military is fighting a “just war.”  As time honored as this traditional position is, I’m not at all convinced it is adequate.

For one thing, why should kingdom people assume that considerations of whether violence is “justified” or not have any relevance to whether a kingdom person engages in violence?  Jesus is our Lord, not a human-constructed notion of justice.  And neither Jesus nor any other New Testament author ever qualified their prohibitions on the use of violence.  As George Zabelka remarked, the just war theory is “something that Christ never taught or even hinted at.” (1) We are not to resist evildoers or return evil with evil – period.  We are to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, bless those who persecute us, pray for themythofachristiannationpeople who mistreat us and return evil with good – period.  On what grounds can someone insert into this clear, unqualified teaching the massive exception clause – “unless violence is ‘justified’”?

Many have argued that such grounds are found in Romans 13.  Since Paul in this passage grants that the authority of government ultimately comes from God and that God uses it to punish wrongdoers (Rom. 13:1-5), it seems permissible for Christians to participate in this violent activity, they argue, at least when the Christian is sure it is “just.”  The argument is strained on several accounts, however.

First, while Paul encourages Christians to be subject to whatever sword-wielding authorities they find themselves under, nothing in this passage suggests the Christians should participate in the government’s sword wielding activity.

Second, Romans 13 must be read as a continuation of Romans 12 in which Paul tells disciples to (among other things) “bless those who persecute you”( vs. 14); “do not repay anyone evil for evil” (vs. 17); and especially “never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (vs. 19).  Leaving vengeance to God, we are to instead feed our enemies when they are hungry and give them water when they are thirsty (vs. 20).  Instead of being “overcome by evil,” we are to “overcome evil with good” (vs. 21).

Now, in the next several verses, Paul specifies that sword-wielding authorities are one means by which God executes vengeance (13:4).  Since this is the very same vengeance disciples were just forbidden to exercise (12:19, ekdikeo) it seems to follow, as Yoder argues, that the “vengeance” that is recognized as being within providential control when exercised by government is the same “vengeance” that Christians are told not to exercise. (2)

In other words, we may acknowledge that in certain circumstances authorities carry out a good function in wielding the sword against wrongdoers, but that doesn’t mean people who are committed to following Jesus should participate in it.  Rather, it seems we are to leave such matters to God, who uses sword-wielding authorities to carry out his will in society.

How do we know when a war “just”?

Thirdly, even if one concludes that a follower of Jesus may participate in violence if it is “just,” we have to wonder how a kingdom person could confidently determine whether a war is “just” or not.  Few battles have been fought in which both sides didn’t believe their violence was “justified.”  The reality is that the criteria one uses to determine what is and is not “just” is largely a function of where one is born and how one is raised. How much confidence should a kingdom of God citizen place in that?

can-we-talkFor example, unlike most other people groups throughout history and yet today, modern Americans tend to view personal and political freedom as an important criteria to help determine whether a war is “just” or not.  We kill and die for our freedom and the freedom of others.  But why should a kingdom person think killing for this reason is a legitimate exception to the New Testament’s command to love and bless enemies?  Can they be certain God holds this opinion?

Of course it seems obvious to most Americans that killing to defend and promote freedom is justified, but fundamental aspects of one’s culture always seem obviously right to people embedded in the culture.  This criterion certainly hasn’t been obvious to most people throughout history, including most Christians throughout history.  And it’s “obviously” wrong to many non-Americans — including Christians — around the globe today.  Even more importantly, it certainly isn’t obvious in Scripture.  In this light, kingdom people in all countries need to seriously examine the extent to which the ideal that leads them to think a war is or is not “just” is the result of their own cultural conditioning.

Assessing this is no easy matter.  It helps to be mindful of the fact that the person you may end up killing in war probably believes, as strongly as you, that they are also fighting for a “just” cause.  It also helps to consider the possibility that they are disciples of Jesus just like you, perhaps even mistakenly thinking their cause is a function of their discipleship just as some American soldiers believe.  You have to believe that all of their thinking is merely the result of their cultural conditioning — for you obviously believe they’re wrong to the point of being willing to kill them — while also being convinced that your own thinking is not the result of cultural conditioning.  Can you be absolutely sure of this?  Your fidelity to the kingdom of God, your life and the lives of others are on the line.

But suppose, for the sake of argument, we grant that political freedom is a just cause worth killing and dying for.  This doesn’t yet settle the matter for a kingdom person contemplating enlisting in war (or not resisting being drafted into war), for one has to further appreciate that there are many other variables alongside the central criterion of justice that affect whether or not a particular war is “just.”

Do you know – can you know – the myriad of personal, social, political and historical factors that have led to any particular conflict and that bear upon whether or not it is “justified?”

Misc+209For example, do you truly understand all the reasons your enemy gives for going to war against your nation, and are you certain they are altogether illegitimate?  Are you certain your government has sought out all possible non-violent means of resolving the conflict before deciding to take up arms?  Are you certain the information you’ve been given about a war is complete, accurate and objective?  Do you know the real motivation of the leaders who will be commanding you to kill or be killed for “the cause” (as opposed to what the national propaganda may have communicated)?  Are you certain that the ultimate motivation isn’t financial or political gain for certain people in high places?  Are you certain that the war isn’t in part motivated by personal grievances and/or isn’t being done simply to support or advance the already extravagant lifestyle of most Americans?

Given what we know about the corrupting influence of demonic powers in all nations, and given what we know about how the American government (like all other governments) has at times mislead the public about what was “really” going on in the past (e.g. the Vietnam war), these questions must be wrestled with seriously.

Yet, even these questions do not resolve the issue for a kingdom person, for a kingdom person must know not only that a war is “justified” but that each and every particular battle they fight, and the loss of each and every life they may snuff out, is justified.  However “justified” a war may be, commanders often make poor decisions about particular battles they engage in that are not “just” and that gratuitously waste innocent lives.  While militaries sometimes take actions against officers who have their troops engage in unnecessary violence, the possibility (and even inevitability) of such unjust activity is typically considered “acceptable risk” so long as the overall war is “just.”  But on what grounds should a person who places loyalty to Jesus over their commander accept this reasoning?

myth of a christian religion

"Myth of a Christian Religion"

The fact that a war was “justified” means nothing to the innocent lives that are wasted, and the question is: How can a kingdom person be certain in each instance that they are not participating in the unnecessary and unjust shedding of innocent blood?  It’s questionable enough that a follower of Jesus would kill their national enemy rather than bless them simply because it’s in the interest of their nation for them to do so.  But what are we to think of the possibility that a follower of Jesus would kill someone who is not an enemy simply because someone higher in rank told them to?

The tragic reality is that most people contemplating entering the armed forces (or contemplating not refusing the draft), whether they be American or (say) Iraqi, North Korean or Chinese, don’t seriously ask these sorts of questions.  Out of their cultural conditioning, most simply assume their authorities are trustworthy, that their cause is “justified,” and that each person they are told to kill is a justified killing.  They unquestioningly believe the propaganda and obey the commands they’re given.

Throughout history, soldiers have for the most part been the unquestioning pawns of ambitious, egotistical rulers and obedient executors of their superior’s commands.  They were hired assassins who killed because someone told them to and their cultural conditioning made it “obvious” to them that it was a good and noble thing to do.  So it has been for ages, and so it will be so long as people and nations operate out of their own self-interest.

The Kingdom Alternative

But there is an alternative to this ceaseless, bloody, merry-go-round: it is the kingdom of God.  To belong to this kingdom is to crucify the fleshly desire to live out of self-interest and tribal interest and to thus crucify the fallen impulse to protect these interests through violence.  To belong to this revolutionary kingdom is to purge your heart of “all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” (Eph 4:31)—however “justified” and understandable these sentiments might be.

To belong to this counter-kingdom is to “live in love, as Christ loved you and gave his life for you” (Eph 5:1-2). It is to live the life of Jesus Christ, the life that manifests the truth that it is better to serve than to be served, and better to die than to kill.  It is, therefore, to opt out of the kingdom-of-the-world war machine and manifest a radically different, beautiful, loving way of life.  To refuse to kill for patriotic reasons is to show “we actually take our identity in Christ more seriously than our identity with the empire, the nation-state, or the ethnic terror cell whence we come,” as Lee Camp says.

Hence, while I respect the sincerity and courage of Christians who may disagree with me and feel it their duty to defend their country with violence, I myself honestly see no way to condone a Christian’s decision to kill on behalf of any country.

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Endnotes

(1) G. Zebelka, “I Was Told It Was Necessary,” [Interview] Sojourners, 9/8/80, p.14.

(2) J. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2nd ed. 1994 [1972]), 198. See also Hays, Moral Vision, 320-31.

Further Reading

Beller, K. H. Chase, Great Peacemakers (LTS 2008)

Brimlow, R. What About Hitler? (Brazos, 2006)

Eller, V. War & Peace (Wipf & Stock, 2003 [1981])

Roth, J. Choosing Against War (GoodBooks, 2002)

Trocme, A. Jesus and the NonViolent Revolution (Wipf & Stock, 2003 [1973])

Trznya, T. Blessed are the Pacifists (Herald, 2006)

When My People Prey – (Part 2)

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Dr. Brad Cole & family

Welcome back!

Today we are continuing our conversation with friend and guest blogger, Dr. Brad Cole (click here for BIO info).  This is the second and final part of his essay on making sense of the “Gentle Jesus” we read about in the New Testament and the disturbing violence we find in the Old Testament.  I think you’ll find his thoughts very helpful.

Recap:  In the first post (which you should go back and read HERE if you haven’t already), Brad established:

1)  Jesus IS the God of the Old Testament
2)  God makes concessions to meet us where we are

And if you remember, the first post ended with God saying that though the Israelites involved themselves in things that were not God’s ideal that he would not abandon them but meet them where they were and give them “laws that are not good and commands that do not bring life” (Ezekiel 20:25) as a concession to their hard hearts.

So, today we pick up on these “laws that are not good” and the context for why God had to give them to his people.

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3.    The context for the “bad rules” to fight

There are many more examples of this foundational principle of God giving in to something less than the ideal, but now let’s specifically tackle the problem of fighting and wars in Old Testament times. I believe that we can say that God never wanted them to fight in the first place, but we can only take this position by understanding the context for these violent times.

It is quite remarkable to consider the violent lives, even of God’s friends in the Old Testament. Just to list a few examples! When Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped, the men of this city were tricked by Simeon and Levi into getting circumcised.

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"...laws that are not good and commands that do not bring life” (Ezekiel 20:25)

“Three days later, when the men were still sore from their circumcision, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, the brothers of Dinah, took their swords, went into the city without arousing suspicion, and killed all the men…”
(Genesis 34:25)

This was Levi, the father of the Levites!

Just a few verses later we read this about Reuben,

“While Jacob was living in that land, Reuben had sexual intercourse with Bilhah, one of his father’s concubines; Jacob heard about it and was furious.”
(Genesis 35:22)

Of course, these older brothers would then throw Joseph in a pit.

Judah later married a Canaanite woman and sometime later saw someone who he thought was a prostitute.

“When Judah saw her, he thought that she was a prostitute, because she had her face covered. He went over to her at the side of the road and said, ‘All right, how much do you charge?’ (He did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.)…About three months later someone told Judah, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar has been acting like a whore, and now she is pregnant.’ Judah ordered, ‘Take her out and burn her to death.’”
(Genesis 38:15,16,24-25)

It seems unthinkable that Jesus Christ descended from Judah and Tamar.

As the children of Israel traveled to Mount Sinai there was continual rebellion and mutiny against the authority of Moses. As evidence of the spiritual depravity, God had to tell them,

“Do not have sexual intercourse with any of your relatives. Do not disgrace your father by having intercourse with your mother. You must not disgrace your own mother…No man or woman is to have sexual relations with an animal; that perversion makes you ritually unclean.”
(Leviticus 18:7, 23)

Would God give rules like this if they were not needed, and if those kinds of rules were needed, what does that say about the people that were supposed to represent God to the world?

MolechFlame

Caananite god, Molech & infant sacrifice

These people were deeply attracted to a form of worship that I hope would make all of us recoil in horror.  To make this “real” lets imagine that the church next door to the one you attend is representative of the religions of the nations who occupied the Promised Land.  What do we know about those religions?  They were remarkably cruel – the church experience involved child sacrifice and meeting with temple prostitutes.  What is especially sad is that the children of Israel were continually drawn to and tempted by this violent form of worship.  Just consider for a moment that when you got up for church next week that you had a hard time deciding, “Hmmm…shall I go sacrifice my child to the god Molech and then meet with a temple prostitute, or should I go to my regular church?  Tough call!”  That would not say very good things about you but it does tell us where God’s people were at this time.  It’s unthinkable that even king Solomon fell into this trap and began to worship the cruel pagan gods.

If you have ever had a chance to quickly read through the account of the serious rebellion of the wilderness wanderings, it is a terrible story of distrust of God and continued mutiny against Moses. Even when they entered the Promised Land they were still a rebellious people and in Joshua’s final sermon he had to tell them,

“Get rid of the gods which your ancestors used to worship in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, and serve only the LORD.”
(Joshua 24:16)

Then Joshua died and . . .

“That whole generation also died, and the next generation forgot the LORD and what he had done for Israel.”
(Judges 2:10)

What follows then is the book of Judges, one of the most violent and depressing books in the entire Bible! The people

“…settled down among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. They intermarried with them and worshiped their gods.”
(Judges 3:5,6)

Every once in a while they would turn to God and he would help them fight against their enemies, but they would soon return to worship the other gods once again. The book of Judges culminates with the story of the Levite and his concubine. This poor woman was raped all night by a mob in a Benjamite city. This heartless Levite then cut her body up into 12 pieces and had them delivered to the 12 tribes of Israel.

Even the brightest moments in the Old Testament, such as the life of David, are mixed in with cruelty and violence. David, of course, had an affair with Bathsheba and then plotted to have her husband murdered, and on and on and on. It is literally too depressing to continue with this violent history and we aren’t even to horrible events of the splitting of the kingdoms, Jezebel, and King Manasseh who killed so many people that the streets flowed with blood, and so on.

The point of all this is to say that this is the setting, the context, and the people that God is trying to work with. In the Old Testament, God is reaching out to stubborn mules and to do that he must interact with his people in ways that only a stubborn mule could understand.

“The people of Israel are as stubborn as mules. How can I feed them like lambs in a meadow?”
(Hosea 4:16)

4.    God did not want them to fight

Just as we have seen God “give in” to divorce laws, the monarchy, polygamy, and countless other examples in order to maintain contact with a rebellious people, the Bible also describes God as giving in to the violence and fighting. But this was never God’s plan! God’s dilemma was that he knew intermingling with the other nations who were involved in the worship of the cruel gods who demanded child sacrifice would be fatal. Coexistence was not an option:

“Do not worship their gods, for that would be fatal.”
(Deuteronomy 7:16)

“Make sure that you don’t follow their religious practices, because that would be fatal. Don’t try to find out how they worship their gods, so that you can worship in the same way. Do not worship the LORD your God in the way they worship their gods, for in the worship of their gods they do all the disgusting things that the LORD hates. They even sacrifice their children in the fires on their altars.”
(Deuteronomy 12:30-31)

UntitledGod’s warning was clear: “They will be your enemies, and you will be trapped by the worship of their gods.”  (Judges 2:3)

They had to stay away from these people and their gods, but yet God’s plan was not to have them fight and kill. Many times God suggested another way:

“Don’t be afraid of them, for the LORD your God will fight for you”
(Deuteronomy 3:22)

“I will send an angel ahead of you to protect you as you travel and to bring you to the place which I have prepared…For my angel will go before you, and bring you in to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I will cut them off”
(Exodus 23:20,23)

The LORD your God will send hornets among them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed. You shall not be in dread of them; for the LORD your God is in the midst of you, a great and terrible God. The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little…the LORD your God will give them over to you, and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed”
(Deuteronomy 7:20-23)

But sadly the people did not trust God to take care of them and to bring them into the Promised Land in the way he wanted to do it. And so it would appear that God (once again as a concession to the hard-hearts of humanity) helped them fight, despite the repeated message that he really did not want them to fight at all.

God’s people did not trust him to take care of the problem. God could have left them, “I told you that I would take care of you, but since you don’t trust me to do it, you’re on your own!” Remarkably though, God did not abandon his children but rather condescended to help them fight. But even as he did this, he tried to teach them that instead of fighting what they really should do is to begin to put their trust in him.

For example, the first city they conquered was Jericho where the walls miraculously collapsed with a mere shout and some trumpets. Should not the people have realized, “You know what, it seems like it’s much more important that we stay connected to God than it is for us to have a large army?” There are countless examples of this. Gideon and his 300 men threw an army of Midianites that the Bible describes as so large they were like the sand on the seashore into a panic with nothing more than torches and God would many times summarize their conquests this way:

“As you advanced, I threw them into panic…Your swords and bows had nothing to do with it.”
(Joshua 24:12)

In every way possible God tried to lead the people away from fighting. When Joshua would conquer a people

“…he crippled their horses and burned their chariots.”
(Joshua 11:9)

This is cruel, but God was trying to tell the people in the only language they could understand, “Please, don’t have a large military and if you would just put your trust in me, you won’t be doing any of this fighting in the first place!”

david_and_goliath_zoomEven when David killed Goliath, we miss these words of David as he charged at the giant:

“You are coming against me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the Israelite armies, which you have defied. This very day the LORD will put you in my power…Then the whole world will know that Israel has a God, and everyone here will see that the LORD does not need swords or spears to save his people.”
(1 Samuel 17:45-47)

After watching a boy defeat a giant, did Israel get the message which was “Hey, God does not need swords or spears to save his people!” Fantasize with me for just one second that this event caused the people to have an epiphany. They turned to each other and instead of chasing after the Philistines they proclaimed, “From this day forward we will place our absolute trust in the Lord. The Almighty One will take care of us. Instead of killing our enemies let’s turn our swords into plows. Let’s become a great light to the world about the kind of Person that our mighty God is.”

Can you imagine how dramatically different the course of human history would have been? Of course, unfortunately, even David, the one who said those words to Goliath, spent most of his life fighting and killing. And so at the end of his life when David asked if he could build a temple for God, it’s almost as if God had to go on record and in print, that “I hate this fighting” and God did not allow David to build a temple for him,

“…he has forbidden me to do it, because I am a soldier and have shed too much blood.”
(1 Chronicles 28:3)

Rather than abandoning his rebellious people in Old Testament times, God stuck with them, but this came at a severe cost to his reputation. By stooping to stay in contact with a people who desired to do things contrary to his desire, God’s character was dragged through the mud:

“Wherever they went, they gave me a bad name. People said, ‘These are GOD’s people, but they got kicked off his land.’   I suffered much pain over my holy reputation, which the people of Israel blackened in every country they entered.  ‘Therefore, tell Israel…I’m not doing this for you, Israel. I’m doing it for me, to save my character, my holy name, which you’ve blackened in every country where you’ve gone.   I’m going to put my great and holy name on display, the name that has been ruined in so many countries, the name that you blackened wherever you went.”
(Ezekiel 36:20-23)

5.    The “Prince of Peace” to the rescue

The terrible Old Testament stories of fighting and violence reflect negatively on us (humanity), not God. We have ruined God’s reputation. It is in this context that we should consider the arrival of Jesus on the scene:

Caravaggion "Supper at Emmaus"  1606

Caravaggion "Supper at Emmaus" 1606

“No one has ever seen God.  But the unique One, who is Himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.”
(John 1:18)

The  people could not “see” God because He simply could not clearly reveal himself in Old Testament times – the rebellion and the chaos of his chosen people was so severe.

God came in human form to clear up any misconceptions as to what God is like as well as to show us what the real kingdom is like. Just the way he came should say so much to us about who our God is. The God of the Old Testament, the Creator of the Universe, moved into the neighborhood by transporting himself into the womb of one of his sinful creatures and then began the 9 month process of growing, cell by cell, into a baby boy.

Jesus’ mission was to reveal the truth about God’s character (John 17:3-6) and to establish a Kingdom of love and service. Everywhere he went he gave parables to describe, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this…” and his description of the real Kingdom never resembled an earthly kingdom of power, force, coercion or violence.

“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
(John 18:38)

loveyourenemiesFor 3 and ½ years Jesus showed us what the King is like and what the Kingdom is like. Do we want to live in a Kingdom where the King lays down his life for enemies rather than killing them?

It was Jesus who opened our eyes to see that the principles of God’s Kingdom are love and service for others.  Jesus was God in human form. His every word and action put skin on what this Kingdom really looks like. (1)  Loving enemies and praying for them? That is the Kingdom!  Carrying the pack of your national enemy an extra mile?  That is the Kingdom.  Washing the feet of your betrayer?  That is the Kingdom.  Laying down your life for another?  That is the Kingdom!  The climax of Jesus’ life was his death where he absorbed all of our violence and hatred, but yet his response was to return this only with love and forgiveness. The Cross is the clearest picture we will ever see of what the Kingdom of God really looks like!

Jesus gave those of us who call ourselves Christian but one command:

“And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
(John 13:34-35)

We are to love others in the same way that Jesus loved.  Our mission as a people is to esteem above everything else to replicate the love of Jesus as he died on a cross – tortured to death by his own children.

Kingdoms of the world do all kinds of things. They raise taxes, fight wars, enact laws, and occasionally achieve some good in the world, but they are all based on a power-over structure. This is not what the real Kingdom looks like! Listen to Jesus’ contrast between the kingdoms of the world and his Kingdom:

“You know that the rulers of the heathen have power over them, and the leaders have complete authority. This, however, is not the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of the others— like the Son of Man, who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.’”
(Matthew 20:25-28)

Bumper-Sticker-When-Jesus-said-love-your-enemies-he-probably-meant-don't-kill-735355As Christians we belong to a Kingdom that is not of this world and when wars and violence are ever labeled as a “Christian” we misrepresent Christ who never commanded us to use violence for a “just” end. Wars can be discussed as to whether or not they are justified for this or that reason, but we should never in any way associate violence with a Christian endeavor. Our motto as Christians is to love, serve, and to present the truth about God as seen in Jesus Christ – period. This is what we do – this is all we do.

In conclusion, when we read about all the fighting in the Old Testament, let’s appreciate the fact that God stooped to an infinite degree to meet a violent people, but why would we ever want to return to something that is less than what we see in the Person of Jesus Christ?  Now that we have seen and experienced the ideal, there is no turning back.  Or should we loveosamago back to the “good old days” and initiate private vengeance but with provisionary cities of refuge?  Should we insist that it is a shameful thing for a woman to speak in church or make provisions for men who might choose to take a second wife?  Of course not, and as Christians we should go just as far to reject violence in any form as we would to distance ourselves from polygamy or the suppression of a woman’s right to speak in church.

Loving, serving, and praying for enemies is not “safe” – Jesus’ death on the Cross is evidence of that.  In fact, God’s best friends throughout human history often seem to have had the worst of it from a worldly perspective.  Just consider the persecution of Abel (killed), Job, Isaiah (sawed in half in a hollow log), Jeremiah (stoned to death in Egypt), John and Baptist (beheaded), Peter (crucified upside down), John (imprisoned on Patmos), and Paul – just to name a few!  We are not called to live “practical” or “safe” lives.

We are called to live out the radical love of Jesus Christ. The love of God as revealed on Calvary forever changed the world and whenever God’s people unite on their singular purpose to love and service others the world is brought closer to the real Kingdom and the real King – the “Prince of Peace”.

footnotes:

(1)  In this brief article I cannot begin to list the words and actions of Jesus that call Christians to a non-violent kingdom, but I would strongly recommend Greg Boyd’s book “The Myth of a Christian Nation”.

(pictures added by editor)

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To read more of Brad’s excellent work and see his lectures on video, please visit his website:

The End of Christian America

[great article link at the bottom of this post!]

Until recently, I lived in the most “unchurched” region of the country.

Now apparently, that designation has switched (very slightly) from the Northwest part of our country to the Northeast (though really “church” hasn’t been popular in either region for years).  But, whether we are first in “lack of churchiness” or second, if there is one thing I know it is living in a post-Christian religion environment.

Newsweek coverWhich is why it interested me to read several articles recently that seemed to indicate what many of us have thought for years, that the rest of the country is catching up to us… in godlessness, that is.   [see “The End of Christian America” and  “The Coming Evangelical Collapse”]

Recent studies find that American people are exiting the Christian religion in greater numbers than ever.  Be it evangelical, mainline, etc, America is losing it’s religion.

So what does this mean?  Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask.  Many people think that it isn’t exactly ideal.  I have heard many well-meaning preachers proclaim it as the beginning of the end; the ushering in of Armageddon.  Ahhh, you premillenialist friends are always looking for the signs of the end, aren’t you?  =)

But, it isn’t among just preachers.  There is panic among many everyday Christians.  There is fear that what has been the driving force of morality in this country is going to erode and leave their children depraved and godless.  I have sat in a pew next to many parents who feel this tension all too keenly.  Even in Seattle (where we have a several decade head start in living in this environment) the church (generally), is characterized by great fear in this arena.  It seems as though this decline in the Christian religion–at least in the form we are accustomed to–can only be a bad thing.

Now, before going any further, I’d like you to know that I understand this fear.  I think I understand why many of my brothers and sisters, whom I love, feel this way.  It is indeed scary to see the moral/religious fiber of your country shaken.  I can sympathize with this uncertainty.

christian_america2However, I think our fear may be causing us to behave strangely.  If you read this blog, you know that I often call-out the apparent un-Christlikeness of the church.   In doing so, I am not meaning to say that I don’t believe in Jesus.  I do.  I believe Jesus has opened the fullest and most meaningful way of life for all people.  I want more people to experience this life, not less.  And, I am not trying to say I don’t believe in the church.  Christians don’t necessarily have bad intentions.  I simply think we need to be very careful and think extremely critically about our methods of communicating a message.  Too often, the methods have become the message.  Too easily we believe that we should use any means necessary to convey our point and “the ends justify the means” should never be the attitude of Christ’s people.  Especially as it relates to the fear of “losing our Christian nation.”

Fear of the end of Christian America.

Because of this fear, we have seen (I believe) many Christians behaving in ways that do not show love.  Whether it is the polarizing political attempt to legislate Christianity, the stereotyping generality of protest signs or simply the attempt to shame those who are perceived as the danger through our bumperstickers, t-shirts and slogans.

Because of fear we have reacted poorly.

But, perhaps, we do not need to fear this decline so much as we have thought.  Maybe what we feel we need to protect doesn’t need protected at all.  Maybe, the cause of Christ could be advanced in a much more meaningful way if what we are scared to lose was really to disappear.

You see, living in Seattle, I have heard for as long as I can remember about how non-churched this region is.  I grew up knowing that I was among less than 10% of my local population that attended any type of church each week.   I heard these statistics as a teenager, while in Bible college and beyond in ministry.  I was taught that I was the only beacon of religion in a depraved land.

But, as I’ve hung out with people, got to know them and seen many of them make decisions to follow the life and example of Jesus with their lives authentically, I have learned that these statistics are a bit misleading.  The reality of my interaction with people in this “godless” land is not as dire as I had been made to believe.  In fact, while we may be declining in religious fervor, I have found people here to be more spiritually open to discussion than ever before.

Almost no one that I meet anymore is unwilling to have a spiritual discussion with me, as long as it is honest and not aimed at “converting” them.   And though this seems strange to some of you, I actually think that the message of Jesus is finding more traction in this culture that we fear than in the one we felt comfortable in previously.  It is almost as if the dismantling of the “civic religion of Christianity” is helping people to rediscover the Jesus behind this cultural influence.

church_stateOf course we all know people that would label themselves “Christian” though they make no attempt to follow and model the life of Jesus.  This country, since its beginning, has been labeled by the same generic label, “Christian.”  It has become a cultural and national label rather than an affiliation with the personhood of Jesus.  This faux Christianity, I contend, has actually made it much more difficult to lead people to authentic relationship with Jesus.  And to see it decline, in some odd sense (to some of you) gives me great hope for the future.

I believe we live in the greatest moment for followers of Jesus in the history of our world (and country).  I believe that this decline is preparing the soil (and has already) for a much deeper commitment to Jesus in the hearts of people than we have seen in our lifetimes.   It is not a day for fear, but for great expectation.  It is a great day to be a follower of Jesus!

I have included a link below to a blog by Greg Boyd.  His excellent blog lays out several reasons not to fear this decline.  Hopefully, it will be very helpful to some of you.

“Don’t Weep for the Demise of American Christianity”

But he also has two excellent books on this subject.  The second of which just came out last week and is fantastic.  Both of these books should be required reading for Christians in America.  If you haven’t read them, please consider picking up a copy this week.

themythofachristiannation

myth of a christian religion