Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Non-Violent God

You may have noticed that I've blogged a number of times this year on the theme of non-violence. I've had a growing realisation about the significance of non-violence and it's integral relationship to Christianity. Of course, such a statement explicitly critiques centuries of Christian warfare but I can live with that. I hope I might be able to continue growing in my understanding of this theme and I intend to do some further reading on the subject next year. However, I have just today realised a potential difficulty...

If Jesus, as the decisive manifestation of God, is non-violent ('turn the other cheek', 'love your enemies', etc.), how can we, at the same time, understand his execution as appeasing God's sense of justice? Either God works through violence or God doesn't. Personally I prefer the second option, but in this context it does stand as a challenge to the predominant understanding of atonement. Now of course, there are a number of biblical interpretations of the meaning of Jesus' death and not all of them fit the concept of 'substitutional atonement' developed by Anselm 1,000 years after Jesus. Mel Gibson has a lot to answer for. :-)

4 comments:

David said...

The Bible contains many tales suggesting that God and violence go hand in hand.

No matter what interpretation you put on the Jesus crucifixion story, it is still at its core, a development of the crude ancient idea of sacrificial death with filicide thrown in for good measure.

A most distasteful basis for a faith.

Isn't it time to throw out these ancient superstitions about sacrifice?

JDK said...

Hi David,

You've rightly identified the key problems here but I'm still keen to explore some wider solutions.

Isn't it possible to think of Martin Luther King's death as a sacrifice for instance? Certainly he must have known that if he continued to live his life in such a way that it would be likely to cost him that life. I see both Jesus and King as non-violent revolutionaries who are prepared to give themselves completely because they have a vision of a better world. Similarly, we can't understand the meaning of their deaths if we separate it from their lives. This was Gibson's massive mistake - as if the only purpose of Jesus' life was his death.

I have a favourite line in an Easter sermon that goes: "When we understand Jesus sacrifice as being more about the life he lead than the death he died, it compels us to give our lives sacrificially as well." I think there's a helpful basis here for a renewed understanding of Jesus' sacrifice that separates it from the rather crude interpretation that you have (rightly) identified.

Regards, JDK

David said...

If Jesus was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world", it suggests violence was planned by God from the beginning. This is entirely consistent with other texts that suggest God is the author of evil.

Is God setting an example here? Before forgiveness must come violence? That's not a moral standard many people support.

Why the desparate attempt to drag Christian belief into modernity?

Leave it to die in the ancient, superstitious past to which it belongs.

People reject hell, why can't they take the next logical step and throw out the bathwater too?

JDK said...

Hi David,

The idea that you have quoted 'before forgiveness must come violence' is the heart of the challenge to most of today's atonement theology. I think there are other ways to approach this, rather than reject Christianity altogether but that is a choice that each person struggling with such conflicts must make. For me, the heart of Christianity is right enough for me to persist with a few difficulties. I also think at Christmas, we can perhaps let some of the bathwater flow out while we focus on the baby ;-)

Regards, JDK