Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Question of Faith

My post this week is centered on a question, a question that I've been asking people for the past couple of weeks: "Does the Bible justify violence?" This is a question that gains urgency when we think of ourselves as Christians in the face of genocide, in the face of persecution, in the face of injustice. For many Christians, personal sacrifice is easily accepted, but what if we are asked to sacrifice another's life, the life of a loved one, or hundreds of other lives in order to remain non-violent? Could we do it? Should we?

Many of my christian friends point to the above-mentioned hypotheticals as support for a sort of conditional non-violence, a non-violence that is maintained until it is too costly to do so. What exactly is too costly differs from person to person, but most have a line to draw, be it in the defense of personal belongings, the defense of personal safety, or the defense of others. None of my Christian friends validated non-defensive violence.

Like many key issues in the Christian faith, it is possible to biblically support both sides. There are several verses in the Old Testament in which God orders his people to fight battles, condones capital punishment, and completely destroys not only entire towns, but most of the world's population. Any of these verses could be used as evidence for violence being justifiable in Christianity.

Yet, for every verse condoning violence there is a verse preaching peace as well. The New Testament, and the teachings of Jesus specifically, contain many of these verses: "Love your enemies; pray for persecutors" (Matthew 5:43); "Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you" (Luke 6:27); and finally, the capstone on Jesus' message of peace:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5:38-42)

These verses are unavoidable commands from the person we are called to follow: Jesus Christ. The question I ask each of my christian friends who are part of the conditional non-violence camp is: "How do you get around these commands?" It is a question I can't answer for myself.

As a person, I know I would be unable to restrain from acting violently in order to stop genocide or to prevent another person's death. I think almost anyone would. Nevertheless, the question remains in my mind: "Are we called to non-violence?" So, I'm taking a poll. Post your comments, answers, more questions, anything. I would love to hear it all.

1 comment:

  1. As a pacifist, I really would love to say that the Bible does not condone, justify, or provide opportunity for God-sanctioned violence. But for reasons beyond my understanding, it seemingly does. Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is indeed a time to kill, Proverbs tells us that beating your children is the best discipline, and God frequently uses war and genocide to either free His people or to spread His name to other civilizations.

    When it comes to this topic, I have come to the conclusion that I have to trust God's wisdom, mercy, and sense of justice. If I didn't, I would be constantly angry at God for the violence in His word and the killings that He exhorts His people to commit in war. I can't understand it, but that's the way it is.

    Another thing I'll say is that when I trot out good ol' Matt 5:38-42 when arguing for self-sacrifice and love in the face of violence on a macro-level (as it applies to wars and other large-scale conflicts), people often make this argument that Jesus is talking about personal relationships. That this idea of non-violence somehow only applies to one-on-one interactions and not to whole-scale conflicts.

    I obviously think this is absolutely bananas.

    Anyways. I don't think you can make a biblical argument that an act of violence is a Christ-like action. I just can't see it from His actions or from His teachings. And while Jesus may have told His disciples to buy swords on the night He was arrested (Luke 22:36-37), He also later instructed not to use them (Matthew 26:52-54).