Be Non-Violent As I Am Non-Violent: Part 3

[Giving Up Violence for Lent]

Guest Post: David Landt

In Part 1, I share my journey of questioning the dominant narrative, which depends on violence in order to bring justice.  In Part 2, I share my progression from a violent to a non-violent picture of God.  In this final post, I will explore the book of Revelation, Holy War, and the upside-down-cruciform-way of making all things new.

slaughtered lamb

Photo Credit: Jim LePage via jimlepage.com

Today is Good Friday.  Two thousand years ago, Jesus stood in front of the Roman Governor of Judea and said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight…But now my kingdom is from another place” John 18:36.
A few hours before, “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to [Peter], “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” Matthew 26:52.

The Kingdom of God is Non-Violent
I believe the nature of the Kingdom of God is non-violent.  It is holy and distinctly different from the way the world works.  The world deals in violence and counter-violence.  The system I marinade in believes that you need good violence in order to defeat bad violence.  Jesus came to demonstrate that there is another way.  There is another way to bring justice that does not depend on violence.  There is a way that does not use violence as a justified means to bring peace.

My next statement is a bit out in front of me.  I have not lived into it yet.  It is more honest to say that I hear it calling me:  Non-violence is central, not peripheral to what it means to be a student of Jesus.  I am coming to see non-violence as Jesus’ narrow way.  The broad road that leads to destruction is less about possessing the right religious identity.  It is about trusting in violence.  The way of violence is an eternal spiral of escalating hell.  Be warned.

“Then [Jesus] said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” Luke 9:23-24.

I am indebted to Michael Gorman’s work, Inhabiting the Cruciform God.  The term cruciform has stayed with me as a handle for describing the way of non-violence that Jesus put on display.  I have come to believe that this cross-shaped way of life is both an example to follow, as well as, the dramatic revealing of the nature of God.  God is non-violent and therefore, I am to be non-violent.  I believe Gorman stated it this way, “Be cruciform as I am cruciform.”

What about the Book of Revelation
I grew up in a church where prophecy conferences were highlighted and Sunday night services could be trumped by showing “The Thief in the Night” movies.  In the lobby of my church, visitors and members were greeted by the painting pictured below.

(artist and source unknown)

This is a painting of the glorious appearing of Jesus and the Rapture of the church as understood in classical dispensationalism.  The Left Behind series of books, by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins, depicts this ideology in how it interprets the book of Revelation.  Here is a synopsis of this world view:  Jesus’ first coming was the diplomatic dispensation of grace.  A bit of a parentheses between the violent God of the Old Testament and the justified violent vengeance of Jesus’ second coming.  The message was simple: Now is the time to get right with God.  There is a free period of unconditional grace and forgiveness in the cross now.  It is available now, but it is a limited time offer.  Act now or you will be left behind.

The book of Revelation is written in a genre that uses symbolic, subversive and severe language to get underneath our dominant stories.  It is apocalyptic (revealing) literature.  It does not force its meaning on you.  It can act a bit like a Rorschach Ink Blot test.  You see what you expect to see from Revelation.  Stay with it however, and it may begin to reveal something you do not expect.  Here it becomes more like an autostereogram (a magic eye picture) and less like an inkblot revealing your own subconscious projections.

I admit that I did not expect Revelation to reveal anything other than enthusiastic support for the Redemptive Violent narrative.  Jesus is the ultimate Avenger.  The Super-hero of heroes who will return with a justice league of 144,000 holy and celibate warriors to once and for all violently crush his enemies.

Revelation, Holy War, and the upside-down-cruciform-way of making all things new
I have come to believe, however, that the book of Revelation does not depict God’s return to violence.  I believe it subverts our violent expectations about how everything is made new.  A world that is enslaved to violence cannot be saved by means of the very methods enslaving it.  I also believe that the book of Revelation may be one of the most significant resources for living out Jesus’ third way of neither violent fight, nor passive flight.  I see far too many people, compelled to live non-violently, dismiss and discard Revelation as a bizarre celebration of religious violence.  Let us consider for a moment that it may be the most radical expressions of non-violent living.  It may actually be the unveiling of the way to lasting peace—the upending of our concept of Holy War.

Here is a teaser for what I mean:  If you admit that you are a pacifist, then you will spend the rest of the day trying to insist that pacifist does not mean you are for being passive in the face of injustice.  The book of Revelation simply does not suffer from this stereotype.

Revelation is a declaration of non-violent war.  It is an all out call to arms.  The subversive twist is, it is not a call to take up the world’s weapons.  Why?  Because God wants to win!  And you cannot defeat violence with violence.  Do you care about justice?  Then join God in a non-violent fight.  If you say you care about justice, and that is why you are for violent war, then you do not really care about justice.  You are (to get a feel for the shock of the genre) a loser.  You are a sucker drinking the Kool Aid of Babylon and Babylon is going down.  Babylon represents the world system of domination.  It will collapse under its own self-destructive weight of the very violence it has been dealing in since the dawn of time.  That is the message of Revelation and I am finding it absolutely captivating.

The language of Revelation is severe, it is symbolic, and it is subversive.  It is a change in tone, but it is not a change in the character of Jesus.

If reading Revelation through a cross-shaped lens interests you, I invite you to listen in on the teaching series our church is currently doing through the entire book.  We are in week 29 of the series and are about half way through.   The audio is available here.

Jesus wins by taking up the cross on behalf of his enemies [full stop].

“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” Colossians 2:15.  I used to assume that Jesus must have to do something else, something violent in order to “really” win.  The cross was good for forgiveness, but not effective for brining justice.   I believe now that I was missing the full extent of his work.  I was unintentionally minimizing the way of the cross.   I did not believe “a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” Non-violence did not seem like a viable strategy for producing a new world.

Jesus invites us to be witnesses and participants in his cross-shaped victory by demonstrating the same faith.  The faith that the kingdom of God is not grounded in the logic of the world.  It arrives by the upside-down logic of being willing to forgive and die for your enemies—absolutely refusing to violently retaliate against them.  This way will certainly look like losing.  It will look like a Friday on the cross.  But if I really want to celebrate on Sunday, then it follows that I will have to go through Friday.  I do not expect many people to sign up for this way.  I have not really gone all in myself to be honest.  It is a narrow way.  But I do believe the scriptures are presenting this as the way of true victory.

“They triumphed over [the dragon] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”  Revelation 12:11

Imagine if ultimate justice arrives non-violently
I began this series of posts with my reluctance to give up violence.  I wrestle with this.  Violence is so deeply ingrained in me.  I shared with you some of my working theories:

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.

There is so much here left undone.  So much that still needs to be reconciled, not just in a blog series, but in my own heart and mind.  With that said, I will bring my reflections to a close with a word about a really long Greek word.

Anakephalaiomai
Anakephalaiomai – To recapitulate, Retell, Unite, Add up, Gather it all together under one heading, to Sum up.

This really long Greek word is used twice in the New Testament.

1. “The commandments…are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’”  Romans 13:9.

2. “He made known to us the mystery of his will…to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ”  Ephesians 1:10.  The NAS translates it this way “the summing up of all things in Christ.”

The unveiling of the will of God is that it all will come together in Jesus.  It all adds up in Jesus.  He is reconciling all things through Jesus because he has brought peace through the cross (Colossians 1:20).

All the commands add up to love your neighbor as yourself.  If what I do does not add up to this one command, then I have more work to do.  The commands of scripture anakephalaiomai to love my neighbor.

Likewise, everything gets reconciled in Jesus.  And this is what I have been thinking about when it comes to reconciling my understanding of God with Christ.  In short, if my understanding of God does not add up to Jesus, then I have more work to do.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” Colossians 2:9 [emphasis mine].

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” Hebrews 1:1-3 [emphasis mine].

For more on how Jesus shows us the true character of God, as well as, reading scripture with a cruciform lens, I recommend Greg Boyd’s work.  Here is a sample with links to a few of his posts.

Jesus is God’s one and only true self-portrait.  I believe that the truthfulness of our mental picture of God, and therefore the quality of our relationship with God, hangs on our believing this. Jesus doesn’t simply reveal an aspect of God, as though there were aspects of God that were not Christ-like. Nor is Jesus simply one revelation to be set alongside all others…Jesus said, ‘If you have seen me you have seen the Father.’ To know what God is like…don’t look anywhere else except to the Son.”

(Click here for Greg’s 6 part series on Jesus as God’s definitive self-portrait.  See also his 3 part series on the Cruciform God, here, here, and here.)

The Road to Emmaus
As we approach Easter Sunday, I am reminded of the two disciples traveling back to their home.   Their hopes are dashed.  They have just experienced the death of the one they believed would change everything.  They hear the disorienting news of Jesus’ resurrection, and settle to return to their previous life.  They come across Jesus, but do not recognize him.  Jesus then retells the whole story.  He Anakephalaiomai the scriptures to them.  He retells the story from a new angle that illuminates and sums it up in a way that was hidden to them before.

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself“ Luke 24:25-27.  Their eyes are opened and they recognize him as they sit and break bread together.

Jesus then appears to the other disciples where “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” Luke 24:45.

I love this.  How I long to continue to allow the risen Christ to retell the story.  I long to begin at the beginning and go all the way through having open eyes to see how it all comes together in the end.

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” Revelation 21:3-5.

May the risen Christ meet with us and retell the story from the beginning.

And now a prayer as we close this season of Lent and open our hearts to the reality of resurrection:

May God’s blessing rest over you and be with you.  May God grant you peace and reveal the way of peace.  May you have power together with all of his children “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Now go and “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”

Amen

 

David Landt

 

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

 

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