This article looks at some of the things we hear; the background theology that often supports a call for direct violent action, or a call to support the violence of our modern armies. We see violence in racism, in lack of care for the suffering of great numbers of refugees, in our indifference and personal wealth, while so many others languish. This is all violence.
We hear the background theology often. “God is violent, he punished sin on the cross.” “God is violent, his wrath against sin by destruction of people is all through the scriptures.” “God is violent, he sends people who don’t do what he says to everlasting fiery torment.” “God is violent, he killed every man, woman and child in the Promised Land.” “God is violent, he invented scapegoating, what we call sacrifice, to kill the innocent and punish sin.” “God is violent, the Psalms are full of calls to punish his enemies.” “God is violent, the Book of Revelation shows this is great detail.” “God is violent, before Jesus comes, he must punish all our enemies.” “God uses the good nations to punish the bad antichrist nations.”
I guess all of this maybe is just academic, until we have seen violence. When that happens, we get a distaste for it, in whatever form it appears. We get a distaste for it in our own lives, where it hides in our character. We want this satan out of our lives and out of this world. This is God’s promise. This is what he came to do for us. The church is a fellowship of believers who, by God’s grace, are dealing with violence through their love for others, and through their love for their enemies. And this new kind of fellowship reflects throughout the world, and is the image of God that renews our nations.
What is God like? This is a very important question, because we are transformed into the image of the god that we worship. It’s important to have the right image of God. This governs our Christian growth. If we have an image of a “sometimes violent” god, then we will continue in that way of life ourselves. There is violence and clashes between cultures and sectors of society all over the world today. How do we handle this? How would God handle this? How we respond, will determine our future as nations and communities. It will determine how we reflect the Christian faith in the world, the type of Jesus we show to others.
Once a student asked in class, “How do we measure our Christian growth, or maturity?” We discussed that and found it is to do with us being transformed into the image of Christ. It’s about this character. So then, what is the image of Christ? What is Jesus really like? Some say he is non-violent in the Gospel accounts, but now in his resurrection and ascension he is violent against his enemies. Others even argue about the Gospel accounts, saying Jesus was also violent in his earthly ministry, like when he cleansed the temple.
Getting the nature of Jesus right is important, because Jesus is the exact image of God. Jesus exactly shows us what God is like. Jesus is the word of God. When he was baptised, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” It is essential that we interpret the whole word of God through the Jesus we see in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Who God is, in Jesus, the Jesus of the Gospels, is to be the governing principle of our lives. This is the God we come to know and follow. Christianity is about following this Jesus.
The central revelation of God, of who he is, is seen in Christ. And the centre piece of this revelation is the cross. Expanding that, it starts with the incarnation, his humiliation to take on flesh, his service and suffering throughout his life, and his dying for his enemies in love, instead of destroying them; his prayer, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This is God, not just part of God, but the whole of God.
How can we process this? What does this mean for how we read the scriptures? What does this mean for our fellowship with others, our interaction with our whole community, including our “enemies?” How does this speak to us about our image as the church in the world? How does this teach us to interact with our “problem spots” in our own nation and in the world? How does this put God’s road for our personal lives, and for his larger purposes for us in the world?
It is essential to have the correct image of God through the cross. It’s not an angry god, punishing his son for us. It is a loving God, condescending in the incarnation and taking the suffering himself. This brings up all kinds of questions about justice and how the cross saves us. Do we see a god whose holiness is retribution against our breaking the letter of the law, or is God’s holiness his forgiveness, his difference from human justice, his loving the sinner and transforming his life? Or, what is our main focus in religion? Is it ritualistic atonement, or is it transformation; a holy life and care for the widow and orphan?
In other words, do we handle our challenges in the world today with anger, walls and wars, or with mercy and reconciling service? Which kind of god are we following? How does God overcome evil and how do we follow him in this? How are we going to interact with our “enemies?” The way we see God will determine all of this for us. And this will determine the image of the church in the world, and the kind of future the church has in seeing nations transformed.