Be Non-Violent As I Am Non-Violent: Part 1

 [Giving Up Violence for Lent]

Guest Post: David Landt

We’re giving up violence for Lent. We’ve spent the last few weeks hearing from friends as they reflected on violence in our interpersonal relationships, as we destroy creation, in international politics, amidst culture wars and civil wars, in human trafficking and tribal conflict. What does the good news mean amidst this violence? What does the way of Jesus teach us about non-violence?

This is Holy Week, in which we encounter the violence of the cross and the resurrection of the lamb – in which victims of violence find vindication. We are privileged to have David Landt close out the series asking, “Where do we go from here? Can we really sustain giving up violence beyond Lent?”

Be Non-Violent As I Am Non-Violent

Part 1: Imagine If Ultimate Justice Arrives Non-Violently

Giving Up Violence?
Giving up violence is a risky proposition.  I do not mean that I’m struggling to give up my life of violent crime.  I did that last year for Lent.   I mean I care about justice.  My concern for justice makes me hesitant to give up violence.  I have a difficult time picturing injustice being defeated without some strong arm of just violence.

AvengersThe curriculum underlying every Super-Hero comic book, or movie, and/or remake of Batman and Superman, teaches me that we need more powerful good violence in order to counter the bad violence of injustice.  We need Avengers.

I have learned to depend on good guy violence to stop the bad guy violence.  My life feels exceptionally safe in comparison to most of the world and it is largely secured by an elaborate system of credible force.   I do not want to rely on violence.  I want to repay evil with good.  But this feels risky.

We need good guys willing to use violence in order to defeat the bad guys.  Right!?

Imagine if the world was void of good violence.
What would stop the total takeover of bad violence?

I think this is the implicit and explicit curriculum on violence that I have learned before I even learned to speak.  Bad violence is an evil that can only be countered by good violence.  Violence is not the problem.  Bad violence is the problem.  Good violence is the solution to bad violence.   It is necessary.  It is Essential.

I think I have had faith in this story:  that good violence is necessary to win the day against bad violence.  The good girls and boys will win, right?  They have to win.  Good triumphs over evil!

I have been unaware that when I say the words “good triumphs over evil” I was actually saying more.  I was really saying that good violence triumphs over evil violence.  Walter Wink names this story “Redemptive Violence”.  The story of redemptive violence tells us that when violence is used as the means to bring justice it is good.  It is converted.  It becomes redemptive.  It is justified.

This is why truly giving up violence is a risky proposition.  It confronts a foundational narrative.  It dares to disbelieve in the story of redemptive violence.  I am discovering that it is dangerous to question this story.  It is audacious to question justified violence.  It is a stumbling block.  Foolishness.

The Season of Lent
What I have come to love about the season of Lent is that it creates an interruption to set patterns and routines embedded in my life.  After giving something up for Lent, I reevaluate whether or not I want to get back to my normal mode of living once the 40+ days are over.  I think, maybe I should continue to read instead of watching TV after the kids go to bed.   Maybe…

Giving up violence for lent is an interruption to a deep pattern of thinking.  Should I consider giving up violence even after Lent is over?  What would that even mean?  Is that sustainable?  Is it even right?  If good violence is necessary for justice, then isn’t giving up violence profoundly irresponsible?

However, can I really welcome the Easter season by returning to a violent narrative?  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Now let me get back to trusting in horses and chariots.

What If?
My schema on violence has been interrupted at various times over the past 20 years and these interruptions have raised some questions for me to consider.
~What if violence is the problem and not the solution?
~What if thinking of violence in terms of good and bad is not as helpful as I once believed?
~What if world peace doesn’t arrive when good violence triumphs over bad violence?
~What if violence is not redemptive?
~What if ultimate justice arrives non-violently?

Imagine if ultimate justice actually arrives non-violently.

Imagine a world not founded on the logic of violence and counter violence.  Imagine a world where law enforcement is not necessary.   And to make sure I’m not simply downing police officers, imagine a world where pastors are not necessary, because everyone walks instinctively and maturely with God.  Imagine if justice does not require a credible deterrent?

When I stop to consider if ultimate justice could come nonviolently, it makes me pause.  If it has any possibility of being true, then giving up violence after Lent seems less irresponsible.  It begins to sound logical.

The first time I remember hearing the term Pacifist was in a college philosophy class on contemporary moral problems.  I wasn’t really familiar with the term.  It was a foreign concept to me.  I have this distinct memory of my professor making this meek confession while we were studying Just War Theory.  He said,

“I think I might be becoming a Pacifist.  I feel really funny saying it.  I feel weird saying it, but I am simply trying to be logically consistent.”

Violence solving the problem of violence became a reasonable problem for my professor.   The default foundational narrative, that violence was necessary for peace, was being reconsidered for the logic that violence simply begets violence in a never-ending spiral of nothing-new-under-the-sun.  Outlandish?

What I simply thought of as a curious admission of a professor almost 20 years ago, I now am beginning to experience.  It makes me feel funny when I write, “Imagine if ultimate justice actually arrives non-violently.”  I feel funny giving voice to all of those imagine statements above.  I feel like Pollyanna wanting to play the glad game.  But here I go nonetheless.  I will let you in on some of my internal wrestling with the subject of non-violence.  I am not at all an expert.  I am in non-violent elementary school and there are much more qualified and articulate voices to guide us.  I frankly feel like I have showed up quite late to the party.  I am sharing here with you what is an open question for me.  I’ll present my thoughts in the form of theories that I am trying to live with for a while and test out.

Theories I am Trying to Live with and Test Out

1)  My ability to live non-violently is directly related to what I believe about God.
2)  God looks exactly like Jesus Christ.
3)  Jesus is non-violent.
4)  God is non-violent.
5)  I was made to reflect/image God’s non-violence.

Selah is a break in a Psalm.  It is a pause to breathe before continuing with the prayer.   This post needs a pause before I continue.  My prayer is to have a second post before the season of Lent is over.   I’ll close part one with a prophetic word from Isaiah on the coming Messiah.  Matthew says this of Jesus in his gospel:

“This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.  He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.  In his name the nations will put their hope.’”  Matthew 12:17-21

“Till he has brought justice through to victory”

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.  In his name the nations will put their hope.”

Imagine if ultimate justice arrives non-violently.



photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc


David Landt


David Landt is a pastor at the Mills Church in Minnetonka,  MN.


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