nonviolence is at the heart of the Gospel

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : February 6, 2007

Thanks to Graham who recently shared this link on his blog. Here’s a snippet:

I suggest that these verses [Matthew 5:21-48] exhibit the core of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection which most distinguish him among all the world’s religions. The Buddha perhaps comes closest. But even he allows violence in defense against one’s enemies. In the last century, the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi (one to whom Martin Luther King, Jr. explicitly traveled to study in 1959) held the Sermon on the Mount in the highest esteem when interpreting his own Hindu scriptures to reveal a God who is “perfect” with respect to loving nonviolence.

But is this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount the core of Jesus’ faith and teaching? The ultimate test must be the focus of the Gospels themselves, namely, Jesus’ act of going to the cross. Jesus came not primarily as a didactic teacher of principles to live by, but as a prophet who came to incarnate God’s Word through faith and action. When considering fundamental issues such as a nonviolent response to violence in light of the New Testament, the Cross itself is the center. For the Cross of Jesus Christ is essentially God’s nonviolent response to human violence. Richard Hays, in his essay on “Violence in Defense of Justice,” sums this up well:

“When the New Testament canon is read through the focal lens of the cross, Jesus’ death moves to the center of attention in any reflection about ethics. The texts cannot simply be scoured for principles (the imperative of justice) or prooftexts (”I have not come to bring peace but a sword”); rather, all such principles and texts must be interpreted in light of the story of the cross. The meaning of dikaiosyne (”justice”) is transfigured in light of the one Just One who exemplifies it: Christ has become our dikaiosyne (1 Cor. 1:30). When we hear Jesus’ saying that he has come to bring not peace but a sword, we can hear it only within the story of a Messiah who refuses the defense of the sword and dies at the hands of a pagan state that bears the power of the sword. The whole New Testament comes rightly into focus only within this story.”

The more I read the Bible through the lense of Jesus’ ministry and death (and resurrection), the more it “clicks” for me. I’m convinced that many of our false readings of the Bible (in particular Paul) have come out of a desire to justify ourselves. For example, the way in which Romans 13 is interpreted apart from Paul’s clear references to Jesus’ teachings regarding love of enemy is astounding. What was supposed to be an exhortation for the church in Rome to submit to the government out of love for the enemy has become the basis for the Church’s understanding of the State as the legitimate wielder of violence and, therefore, the basis for our own use of violence in complicity with the State. In other words, we have created exactly the scenario in which it is ok to kill our enemies in a passage where Paul calls upon Jesus’ teaching to challenge us to love our enemies.

for further reading . . .

  • None Found


3 Responses to “nonviolence is at the heart of the Gospel”

  1. Michael Westmoreland-White on February 9th, 2007 4:06 am

    Graham is slightly confused historically. Gandhi died in 1948. Kind did travel to India, “the land of Gandhi” as he put it, in 1959, but he never had an opportunity to study with Gandhi personally. He encountered Gandhi only through his writings.

  2. espiritu_paz on February 9th, 2007 12:21 pm

    The turn to a focus on metanarratives in the scriptures have done a lot in changing the landscape of what is considered theological truth.

  3. graham on February 9th, 2007 3:56 pm

    I didn’t write the piece, Michael. Nevertheless, I’m not sure that the piece implies that King met Gandhi, merely that he travelled to India to study him.

Got something to say?