Be Non-Violent As I Am Non-Violent: Part 2

[Giving Up Violence for Lent]

Guest Post: David Landt

Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Creation of the Sun and Moon

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” A. W. Tozer

In Part 1, I shared my journey and reluctance to question the dominant narrative, which depends on violence in order to bring justice.  The question that I have been exploring is this: Imagine if ultimate justice arrives non-violently?  In this post I will share three stages in my relationship with and understanding of God.  This will focus on my first postulation below.  I will then wrap up this series by exploring 2-5 with some reflections on how the book of Revelation has profoundly influenced my conversion in how I understand the nature of God and corresponding call to reflect, what I believe to be, his non-violent character.

I’ll list again the 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.

Show Your Work
Math was not my best subject.  I never finished the math portion of the SAT or ACT in the allotted time.  “Is it better to fill in circle B for the remaining 10 questions or just leave them blank?”  This is what I remember about standardized tests in math.  There was one thing, however, that all of my math teachers ingrained in my head.  “David, you have to show your work.”  It was not enough to simply state the answer to a math problem.  I had to show how I arrived at my answer.  I had to show my work.

The postulations above have come from years of wrestling.  And although it will be impossible to be exhaustive in a couple posts, I will attempt to show some of the work that has brought me to consider the non-violent character of God.  My prayer is that there will be enough here for you to wrestle with and take further and deeper than I have.  Let me begin with my first theory.

My ability to live non-violently is directly related to what I believe about God.

Is God violent or non-violent?

I believe that I will reflect what I worship.  This is why the Bible has so many warnings about idolatry.  You become what you worship.  If the god I worship is violent, I believe that I will inevitably take on violent attributes.  I believe religious violence of any kind is directly related to an adherent’s picture of God.  What God is like is a critical question influencing the kind of person I am becoming.  And in my life, I can discern three stages of how I have pictured God in my head.  These stages have progressively moved from violent to more non-violent portrayals.

My Stages of Belief about God

Stage One:  God is violent:  Of course I did not believe that violence was God’s only attribute.  He is also good.  God is love.  I believed precisely because God is good and loving, that he must also be violent.  Violence upholds his Holiness and is necessary to accomplish his just purposes, punish sin, and judge evil.

God appears to ask his people in the Old Testament to be instruments of justice by using violence, does he not?  And although Jesus takes a break from violence in his first coming, I think I understood that as a diplomatic window of grace before his violent final judgment in his second coming.

I believed that we should love our enemies like Jesus commanded.  And similar to the logic I inherited from Augustine, we should try to exhaust all non-violent possibilities, but for the sake of justice, we may have justified reasons to use violence.  If God uses violence to bring justice, then we may be justified and required to reflect this aspect of his image.  God is the ultimate reality behind the redemptive violent narrative because this is how he will ultimately bring justice.  God will have to resort to violence in order to bring lasting justice.  God’s violence will be necessary in the end.

God is violent, because he is love.  This has been my picture of God for most of my life.  Therefore, being non-violent was not only contrary to the dominant narrative of redemptive violence, it was contrary to my very understanding of the nature of God.

Stage Two:  Violence belongs to God and God alone: “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” Romans 12:19.

I maintained a similar understanding of God in stage two with this one exception: God’s violence is not to be imitated.  In my continuing journey to follow Jesus, I was being challenged to take seriously his unique claims for his disciples to practice non-violence.  Disciples were to be separate from the world in our response to evil.  I was being called to live out a third way that was neither a retaliatory fight against evil, nor a passive flight away from it.  Therefore, if God used violence, it was his alone.  I, in following Jesus, was not called to reflect God’s violence in any form.  I was commissioned to reflect his non-violent characteristics, not is violent ones.

An example of this kind of separation may be in how many people understand the role of the state.  The state may have the right to use violence, but individual citizens do not.  The authority to use violence exists in a body that transcends the individual.

This sounds like a simple enough distinction, but because citizens make up the body politic, it is difficult to form a truly non-violent citizenry.  Individual citizens tend to want the right to be violent like the state if “necessary”.   Violence remains in us because it exists in the state.

In stage two, I was finding that violence remained securely embedded in my character.  Although I wanted to pursue non-violence, I was constantly trying really hard to somehow turn the violent part of me off.

This is what began to move me to consider my first postulate.  I believe that my ability to live non-violently is directly related to what I believe about God.  If I believe God is saying to me, “Do what I say: do not resort to violence, and not what I do: which will be to resort to violence”, then I will have a hard time following his decree.  Not because I do not want to obey God – I do more than anything – but because do what I say, not what I do is a really difficult example to follow.

Stage Three: God is non-violent:  I admit that the move to consider God as non-violent is audacious.  I will explore more of my journey in part three.  For now, I will close this post with two scriptures that have been working on me for a good number of years.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” Ephesians 5:1-2.   First, I want to call out the sacrifice language in this passage, because, for me, this came with all kinds of theological assumptions about the atonement that prevented me from considering stage three for a very, very long time.  With that said, the link between following God’s example, as specifically illustrated by Christ’s choice to die at the hands of his enemies and forgive them, rather than retaliate caused me to pause.

I’ll share one more.  This from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”  Matthew 5:43-48 [emphasis mine].

Jesus seems to be saying, love your enemies, not in spite of God’s example, but because of God’s example.  Be perfect in the same way that your heavenly Father is perfect…in the way that he loves everyone.  This is a remix of Leviticus 19:2, “Be Holy because I am Holy”.  Does what sets God apart from all other gods and all other dominant stories have to do with how he treats his enemies?  Is enemy love a defining characteristic of God’s set apartness—His Holiness?

These questions were moving me beyond stage two.  I was no longer being called by Christ to give up violence in spite of God, but because of God.

selah

 

David Landt

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

 

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