Why We Resist Nonviolence (Crucifixion of the Warrior God, ch. 6)

I’ve quipped that everyone is a Biblical literalist until it comes to Jesus’ words on nonviolence.  Then every nuance and caveat is mined to make sure we are assured Jesus doesn’t actually mean what he said.  So when it comes to traditional ideas of sexuality or hell, or much else, we’re told the Bible just says what it says (so we must believe it).  But we turn to Jesus and, yeah, we’re all of a sudden not as interested in taking it literally.

Why is this?  Boyd addresses this question in chapter six of Crucifixion of the Warrior God:

     So far as I can see, the primary thing that renders this revelation ambiguous to many is that it simply contradicts people’s deeply rooted commonsense intuitions about the justified use of violence. Throughout history it has just seemed obvious to the vast majority of people, including the majority of Christians after the fourth and fifth century, that one is justified in resorting to whatever violence is necessary if it is in the interest of the greater good to do so, and especially if such violence is necessary to protect yourself, your loved ones, your tribe, or your nation.
     Since the fourth and fifth century, therefore, Christians have tended to simply assume that whatever Jesus and various NT authors meant by instructing us to love, bless and serve enemies and to refrain from violence, they surely did not intend to rule out the use of violence in obviously justified circumstances, and they surely did not intend to suggest that God is never willing to resort to violence in certain circumstances.  What they did mean with these instructions to us becomes ambiguous and the strength and depth of the commonsense intuition about justified violence is reflected in the remarkable lengths to which some interpreters have been willing to go to explain how Jesus and various NT authors do not mean what they clearly seem to mean” (260-261).
My whole life growing up in the evangelical church I was taught not to trust my feelings.  The heart, as the prophet Jeremiah said, is deceitful.  Yet again, it has become incredibly ironic to me that this caution to not trust feelings does not seem to extend to violence.
Someone breaks into your house?
Of course you use violence!
Your country tells you its time to go to war?
Of course you support that!
Humanity has been a violent species since forever.  History is a story of war after war, wars often filled with rape and pillage and often justified with a combination of revenge (they attacked us!) and divine sanction (our god wants us to fight).  We can discuss evolution and the reality that nature is red in tooth and claw, that we exist at the end of a long line of ancestors who survived by fight (or sometimes flight).  Or we can discuss sin that has corrupted God’s good creation and thus pushes us towards violence.
Either way (and I suspect its both) our natural inclination is to violence.
Which leads me to think that rather then trying to fit Jesus into our natural inclination, perhaps we should take seriously what Jesus said and did as it confronts those natural inclinations towards violence.
As Boyd writes, “the disciples should expect the NT’s revelation of God to violate our commonsense intuitions” (262)

Published by davehershey

My life is quite simple really. I love my wife Emily and my kids, Junia and Elijah. I serve in campus ministry at Penn State Berks. I enjoy life.

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