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God is a Warmonger? Jesus is a hippie?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : December 1, 2006

A while back my friend Luke asked me the following:

I?d like to hear/read more about your approach to pacifism.

Jesus seems quite the pacifist. He never once used violence to combat the incredible injustices of his day. To twist a common argument, I don?t think Jesus would have shot a man who barged into his house and planned to kill Jesus? whole family.

But God the Father repeatedly led his people to slaughter evildoers. And if a madman runs down the street killing people, isn?t the best way to love him and other to stop him?

For some reason, I forgot to respond to his question. Today, he reminded me of this. Here’s my response:

Luke,
I have the same impression of Jesus. The tricky thing is that God the Father indeed called his people to slaughter the wicked. This seeming discrepancy is why there have always been folks within Christianity who see Jesus as antithetical to God the Father. Early Christians that were influenced by gnosticism saw the Old Testament God as basically evil (a demiurge) and Jesus (the New Testament God) as basically good. While most Christians wouldn?t pit Yahweh and Jesus against one another, there is most certainly a tension there.The intriguing thing about all of this is that Jesus claims to be a accurate depiction of God the Father-if you want to know what God the Father is like, look at Jesus. Paul said that Jesus is “the image of the Invisible God.” If this is the case, why is it, then, that God seems like a warmonger in the Old Testament, yet Jesus seems like a hippie?It all comes down to Jesus. If Jesus took the evil of humanity upon himself on the Cross, then there is no longer a need for God to punish the wicked with the Israeli Army. This is why there is now no room for vengeance or the death penalty or any sort of violence-Jesus has done away with any need for such punishment. I believe that to commit an act of violence against another person is tantamount to rejecting the work of Jesus Christ upon the Cross.
You ask “if a madman runs down the street killing people, isn?t the best way to love him and others to stop him?” Yes, I think it is. But there is a big difference between stopping a madman and killing him. I am all for physical restraint-I?m simply not for physical violence. For me, the difference is whether or not the goal of the action is to retrain or to destroy. There is indeed a fine line, but I think we have to try to draw the line somewhere, at least tentatively.

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Comments

9 Responses to “God is a Warmonger? Jesus is a hippie?”

  1. dlw on December 1st, 2006 6:31 pm

    I think the issue here is whether Christians can participate in the administration of the sword/rule of the state and whether the state can have a death penalty for some offenses as part of its mandate of using evil means to constrain human evilness.

    I believe Xtn participation in the right administration of the sword of the state can be done in ways consistent with our mandate to overcome evil ultimately with good, though there is risk to it.

    As for the death-penalty, it is only justified if it deters deaths and that is an empirical question that we oftentimes do not have the proper evidence to decide. See here for my pragmatic proposal for anti-death penalty advocates.

    dlw

  2. Luke on December 1st, 2006 10:15 pm

    That is an interesting argument, and one I don’t recall hearing before. I’ll definitely have to test it with prayer and Scripture. Thanks for responding.

  3. Luke on December 2nd, 2006 12:21 am

    After some more thought, I realize that your argument that “If Jesus took the evil of humanity upon himself on the Cross, then there is no longer a need for God to punish the wicked with the Israeli Army” does not ring true for me in my current understanding of Scripture or of God. It does not agree with more standard atonement theology (which indicates why I don’t understand your argument, not why it might be wrong).

    It appears you are saying that post-Calvary, God does not need to punish wickedness with violence (killing people through the Israeli army or direct means), because he relates instead through the redemption of Jesus. I don’t want to take too much of your time, and of course will manage your own time in responding, but will you elaborate your argument for me, provide supporting Scriptures, or especially point me to Christian literature that makes the same argument you are making, please?

    In your lesser point about the madman, it sounds like you are leaving room for “restraint killing”, as long as the purpose was to restrain and not to destroy. This I can understand. And we could all trade in our personal defense firearms for rubber-bullet guns. But there are some cases where there are probably no non-lethal ways to stop a destructive person (for example, a madman in a bunker with his fingers on nuclear missile launch buttons).

  4. Surly Dave on December 2nd, 2006 12:39 am

    Yes…How does a pacifist deal with a madman whose got his fingers on nuclear missle launch buttons? How do you deal with someone who believes it is their obligation, their religious duty, to destroy nations? Do we choose to love them more than their potential millions of victims?

    Perhaps “to love them more” is the wrong way of stating it. Are the sacrifice of millions (believers and non) worth it?

  5. Luke on December 2nd, 2006 5:02 am

    And, Mark: is there a comments feed for this blog?

  6. Van S on December 2nd, 2006 10:58 am

    I’ve added the link to the bottom of the “Recent Comments” section to the right.

  7. dlw on December 3rd, 2006 12:16 am

    I’m sorry Luke decided not to interact with my comment as well…

    dlw

  8. Van S on December 4th, 2006 4:15 pm

    I don’t know if there has ever been a scenario where there has been a madman with his fingers on a nuclear missile launch button that could swiftly be killed without another person to take his place. The situation is absurd. The only madmen with nukes are surrounded by institutional madmen who would gladly take their place in the event of assassination.

    However, let me just humor the scenario and say what should be done. If he can’t be reasoned with and he can’t be restrained then I see no reason not to use non-lethal force (like knockout gas or a tazer gun). I’m not convinced that a bullet is a more effective way of neutralizing threat than knockout gas or tazer guns.

    Here’s the thing: Christians are a different sort of people than other people. Let the dead defend the dead. We are called to lay down our lives before killing others. Jesus suffered and died for the sake of others, even though he could have called the Nation of Israel up in revolt against Rome. Jesus has the power to take down the oppressive power of Rome. I’m not sure it is our job, as the People of God to protect people, but it is instead to suffer for people. We, like Jesus, are to turn the other cheek, even if it means our death.

    David, your question about dealing with folks who believe it is their religious obligation to destroy nations leads down the dark path of preemptive violence. It is the same rationale that we use to justify the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One must believe that the ends justify the means with such a coarse of action. To vaporize many innocent men, women, and children for the greater good seems to be the sort of issues that rulers must grapple with for the sake of power, but I don’t see why the People of God should consider such options.

    If Jesus had the power to stop systemic violence, yet didn’t, what does it tell us? For some reason, Jesus’ response to violence was to embrace it as a cosmic victim, rather than to meet it with force. The question is: Did Jesus only do that to secure our eternal place in heaven, or is it a way of life we ought to embrace as well?

    Luke, I’m still thinking about your latest comment. When I can, I will write a new post specifically about the issues you raise.

  9. MissionThink.org: Mark Van Steenwyk’s Blog on December 4th, 2006 7:14 pm

    […] In a comment to a recent post, God is a Warmonger? Jesus is a Hippie?, my friend Luke writes: It appears you are saying that post-Calvary, God does not need to punish wickedness with violence (killing people through the Israeli army or direct means), because he relates instead through the redemption of Jesus. I don?t want to take too much of your time, and of course will manage your own time in responding, but will you elaborate your argument for me, provide supporting Scriptures, or especially point me to Christian literature that makes the same argument you are making, please? […]

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