My Core Convictions:
Nonviolence and the Christian Faith
Part I: First Principles -- Theses presented in paragraph format: 1 Evangelical Anthropology as a Necessary Complement to Theology; 2 God is Love; 3 Mimetic Desire and the Two Ways: Love or Resentment; 4 Falling into the Way of Satan; 5 Satan Casting out Satan and Apocalypse (5.4); 6 The Biblical Story as the Story of God Saving Us from Our Violence.
Part II: Nonviolence as the Heart of Jesus' Faith -- An essay that proposes nonviolence as the heart of the Christian faith, featuring the Sermon on the Mount as central teaching that points to the cross; and St. Paul's reworking of "God's Wrath" in Romans.
Part III: 'Nonviolence or Nonexistence' as the Message of Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet -- A follow-up essay that suggests the corollary to a message of nonviolence in terms of the apocalyptic choice to avoid nonexistence, featuring the recent work of N. T. Wright concerning the Historical Jesus; and a overview look at the Book of Revelation.
Part IV: Major Theses for the Life of the Church -- As in Part I, theses presented in paragraph format: 1 The Call for Reform; 2 Re-Formation of Faith in the "Faith of Jesus Christ." 3 Re-Formation of Doctrines (Atonement, Original Sin, Hell, et al.); 4 Reformation of Practice (anti-racism, gays in the church, et al.)
Part V: Ecumenism, Inter-Religious Relations, and the Perspective of the Victim.
Part I: First Principles
1 My choice for the most succinct summary of the Gospel is the one which opens the First Letter of John: "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).
1.1 As we shall see, the secondary corollary of "no darkness" is almost more important than the primary pronouncement, "God is light," because the pull of human idolatry is to project our human darkness onto our gods. Only in Jesus Christ do we receive a full revelation of God such that we can finally embrace "that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all."
1.2 The full revelation, then, is not only a theological one, but the anthropological revelation is equally urgent. We learn about the nature of human idolatry at the same time that we begin to know who God really is in Jesus Christ. Conversely, who God really is becomes more clear as we learn to see, under the grace of forgiveness, how we human beings project our darkness onto God.
1.3 "Anthropology" proper benefits from scientific methodology, namely, from its gathering of data from a diversity of cultures over time and geography. The first centuries of scientific anthropology, however, have distanced themselves from all religions and cultures, so anthropologists have not fully benefitted from the Christian revelation of anthropology in Jesus Christ.
1.4 Is an interplay between scientific anthropology and biblical revelation even possible or desirable?
1.4.1 If one believes in the incarnation, then it should be possible. For the Christian faith has always striven to maintain that Jesus Christ is both fully human as well as fully divine. In other words, the revelation through him should unveil true humanity at the same time that it reveals true divinity.
1.4.2 And St. John, for one, seems to be aware that the corollary is a revelation of false humanity and false divinity. As one learns to see that God is light, one also begins to see that in God there is no darkness at all. And John immediately turns (see 1 John 1:8-10 below) to the anthropological matter of forgiveness of sin as that which can help human beings begin to walk in the light. There is an implicit biblical anthropology which is pre-scientific, that is to say, prior in time to the moment in history when its anthropological insights might become universalized for all cultures over time and geography.
1.4.3 Perhaps, then, we might turn around the question of §1.4: Instead of wondering whether biblical revelation is compatible with science, we might press science as to whether it can ultimately be successful in its search for the truth without biblical revelation. Science can never cease being a human endeavor, subject to sin. And so we ask: Is a true scientific anthropology possible without the grace of forgiveness to heal our blindness, to shed light on our darkness? Can we ever have the ability to perceive the truth about ourselves without the grace of forgiveness?
1.4.4 St. John would seem to be raising the same hypotheticals in his corollary to 1 John 1:5:
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)1.5 I submit to the reader that in recent years there has come along a scientific hypothesis for anthropology which is in dialogue with the biblical revelation. That evangelical anthropology is represented in the work of René Girard. All that follows in seeking to present my core convictions is an outgrowth from his work (though any errors are mine alone).
1.6 Girard's work essentially presents us with a unified theory of human violence. Violence is the "darkness" we project onto our gods. Thus, Girard's work also offers an hypothesis concerning human idolatry, namely, that idolatry arises to veil humanity's responsibility for its own violence. A common mistake has been to undertake the matter of idolatry from a theological perspective only. But idolatry is in our nature, not God's, and so is more properly a matter for anthropology.
1.7 The subsequent First Principals seek to put forward an implicit explanation of why the biblical revelation is so focused around violence, with the Cross of Jesus Christ at the center. They seek to answer the question: Why is Christ's submission to an act of human violence necessary for our salvation?
2 Even more succinct of a theological proclamation is St. John's simple declaration that "God is love (agape)."
2.1 Love requires at least two things: (1) personal relationships between Lover and Beloved; and (2) personal freedom, because the nature of love is such that it cannot be forced. If the Beloved cannot choose but to return the love, then it is not really love.
2.2 Thus, to say that God is love is already to imply a multiplicity of persons, since love requires personal relationships in freedom. Through the revelation of the Son, Jesus Christ, we have come to know God as a multiplicity of persons, the Trinity -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2.3 Love has its requirements (§2.1); it also has at least one result: creativity. Love spills over the boundaries of its relationships, creative of further relationships. God the Trinity must also thereby be God the Creator. The universe is the creative result of God as love.
2.4 Since Love requires personal relationships in freedom, then Creation must ultimately issue forth in creatures capable of personal relationships in freedom. Human beings are those creatures created in the "image of God," capable of a loving relationship with God and with God's Creation.
2.5 But freedom means that we human beings can also find ourselves living in broken relationship with our Creator. To say that humankind finds itself enslaved in sinful living is to say that we do, in fact, find ourselves estranged from our Creator. Rather than living in loving cooperation with God in the power of the Holy Spirit, we find ourselves living mired in envious rivalry with God, and with Creation, in the power of Satan (much more on Satan below, beginning at §4.2.4).
3 Desire is a more general and neutral term for the power that either binds persons together in loving cooperation or breaks them apart in envious rivalry.
3.1 Desire is mimetic (imitative, but not necessarily conscious imitation) in structure(1) such that (1) persons can either come together and cooperate toward the same goal, sharing the same desire, or (2) find themselves as rivals toward the same goal, locked in competition and conflict. Love describes the first potentiality of desire; Envy and hatred, or resentment, the second.
3.1.1 God, as St. John says, is Love; the Father and Son are of one desire through the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to do his Father's will (e.g., Matt. 26:42).
3.1.2 Human beings, created in the image of God, are capable of living in God's loving desire. But, since the beginning of our existence, we have continually stumbled into envious rivalry, spoiling our attempts at love. Genesis 3 relates the story of how the serpent, the most beguiling of creatures, mediates envious desire to us so that we find ourselves in rivalry first with God and then with one another. And the situation of constant rivalry is that of constant competition, constant comparisons, and the need to justify oneself vis-a-vis others. As Genesis 3 insightfully shows, we need to place blame on others (Gen. 3:11-13) to aspire to a higher relative standing among creatures.
3.1.3 Even when we might achieve some relative unity of desire with one another, we still fall short of sharing Jesus' loving desire, which is both for the Creator and for the whole Creation. Our attempts at sharing desire with one another, if they are not rooted in the Creator's desire through Jesus Christ, will always leave someone out. In fact, as we shall see (§ 4.2.1ff. below), that over-againstness to others who are left out is the principle of unity for human community which always falls short of God's community (God's "Kingdom"). The leaving-out becomes an active expulsion which unifies the expellers.
3.2 The worldview of love is that there is an abundance in creation, enough of the common goals/objects of desire to share with others: "'I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given" (Luke 19:26a).... The worldview of envy, on the other hand, sees a scarcity in creation, exacerbating the rivalries even more: "but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away" (Luke 19:26b).
4 Created in the image of God, who is a Trinity of persons, human beings are made to be in relationship -- "it is not good that the man should be alone" (Gen. 2:18). But, as we have already seen, relationships can go either the way of love or of envy.
4.1 The way of Love in Jesus Christ, who is the "Second Adam" (Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45), is the way of Holy Communion, the way of living together with others in lasting peace -- the way of eternal life.
4.2 The way of envy is the way of violence, the way of hurting one another and of breaking apart relationships -- the way of death. It became the way of the First Adam. When Satan (that is, the serpent of Gen. 3 interpreted as "Satan") mediated envious desire to the man and woman, the results were: rivalry with God; blaming one another; broken and distorted relationship with each other and the earth; and rapid descent into the way of violence -- one son kills the other -- all elegantly summed up in one brief story (Genesis 3-4), the basic story of our lives in sin.
4.2.1 The way of violence includes the way of unholy communions, the generative basis of all human community and thus of all human culture.(2)
4.2.2 The way of unholy communions involves a special form of violence, a 'good' violence that is sanctioned to keep in check the 'bad,' mimetic violence that arises out of rivalrous desire. In modern cultures based on law, this good violence is the sanctioned violence of police and military forces. In more ancient cultures, it is the sacred violence of ritual blood sacrifice. The New Testament witness is that in Jesus Christ we arrive at the end of both Law and Sacrifice -- "end" in both of its senses. Christ is the end in that we cease to live according to the previous practices of Law and Sacrifice. Christ is also the end in the sense of the fulfillment of both Law and Sacrifice. Jesus Christ ushers in the way of God's Culture ("Kingdom"), based on the Law of Love (cf., Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8) and the way of self-sacrifice (cf., Rom. 12:1; Heb. 9:26).
4.2.3 Behind both of these forms of righteous violence -- namely, the cultural order based on law and/or sacrifice -- are real collective murders. The unity, or "unholy communion," of a community is founded on the majority heaping its violence on a few, or the one.
4.2.4 At the heart of such collective violence is the accusation against scapegoats, arising out of both (1) the situation of envious rivalry in which there is a need to blame others and (2) the mimesis of accusation itself. Relative unity is achieved by a mimetic focusing of blame around one person, or a small minority. Compared to the threat of all-against-all mimetic violence, this relative unity based on all-against-one violence is experienced as an awe-inspiring peace -- literally "awe-inspiring," for that awe is the anthropological beginning of human religion and foundation of human culture. But, as we shall see, this is the fundamental mistake of human idolatry: to mistake the satanic for the divine. We mistake the satanic power of an awe-inspiring unanimous accusation as the power of a god who is bringing us together through our obedience. We obey the command of a sacred violence against the accused.
4.3 For focusing accusation is the chief function of Satan, traditionally known as the Accuser. But accusation of 'sinners' appears righteous to us, and so we mistake the satanic accusation for a godly one. The unity of the majority -- that is, the basis of cultures and societies enduring in the face of mimetic rivalry -- is based on the satanic powers and principalities of sanctioned violence against unsanctioned violence. When Satan presents to Jesus all the kingdoms of this world as under his power (Luke 4:5-8; Matt. 4:8-10), Jesus doesn't disagree with this claim by Satan. Rather, he refuses worshiping Satan's powers by simply telling Satan that he, too, must worship God.
4.4 For Jesus to bid Satan to worship God implies that Satan is not a god. His prominent role in the Gospels thus begs an anthropological interpretation (the kind of wholistic treatment that René Girard has provided in I See Satan Fall Like Lightning and throughout much of his work).
4.4.1 In the history of Christian theology, if Satan is not given an anthropological interpretation, there have been two erroneous tendencies. The first is to wander into Manichaeism, the worldview that assumes two great forces, one for good and one for evil, a primeval conflict between light and darkness. The second is to lapse into an idolatry of subsuming the darkness of human violence within the godhead. It is to retreat back from St. John’s pinnacle insight that God is Light and in God there is no darkness at all. It is the idolatry from the foundations of our human worlds.
4.4.2 An anthropological interpretation of Satan refuses either Manichaeism or the idolatry of a dark, violent side to the one true God. Evangelical anthropology properly sees the satanic powers as arising out of human inter-relationships around fallen desire and the resulting efforts to control mimetic conflict through scapegoating. Satan is both the instigator of the 'bad' violence of mimetic conflict (the serpent as the Tempter), and then the one who restores order through the 'good' violence won via unanimous accusation (the Accuser).
5 We have thus arrived at one of Jesus' basic insights which, by Mark's account, was expressed in his first "parable," or riddle. When Jesus is accused -- Satan's basic principle of power -- of having his power come from Beelzebul, he turns their accusation into a riddle:
And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come." (Mark 3:23-26)5.1 Jesus is not here denying that Satan does cast out Satan, as is the usual reading of this riddle.(3) No, Satan casting out Satan is precisely what the scribes from Jerusalem have just tried to do to Jesus -- though they, of course, don't see it that way. The scribes see themselves as doing God's work, not Satan's work. But, in charging Jesus with being of Beelzebul, which is another of Satan's names, they are manifesting the mechanism of "Satan casting out Satan." They are acting out the ultimate principle of satanic power, namely, the joint accusation they bring against Jesus, as an attempt to cast him out by identifying him with one of Satan's names. They think they are doing God's work, but Jesus' riddle is cleverly suggesting otherwise.
5.1.1 What Jesus is trying to help us to see with this riddle is that "Satan casting out Satan" is precisely the shape of all our unholy human communions since the foundations of our worlds. Jesus is not challenging the reality: Satan does cast out Satan. The mechanism which generates the peace of human community is that the majority do the work of Satan by accusing a minority of being the satanic trouble-makers, the tempters, and so they cast them out. And the traces of violence by the majority are veiled to them by the idolatry of seeing their satanic casting-out as commanded by God.(4) Whatever the accused perpetrated is seen as a violence against the community, but the violence of the community against the accused is seen as a righteous or sacred act in obedience to higher powers.
5.1.2 Thus, rather than challenging the reality, Jesus is affirming the reality of Satan casting out Satan and challenging the outcome: this mechanism will never result in a lasting peace as we think, but always in a divided house that cannot stand. And, in the cross and resurrection, Jesus' obedience to his Father will challenge the idolatry: what we see as God commanding us to cast out Satan is actually Satan casting out Satan. The God of Jesus, the God who is Love, would never ask us to base our communions in acts of force. But Satan tricks us into thinking that he is God, and so we continue to play his game.
5.1.3 The outcome of "Satan casting out Satan" needs challenging because humankind has unwittingly put its faith precisely in these unholy communions based on accusation and sanctioned violence. We have remained blind to seeing our form of communion as based on Satan casting out Satan. Through his riddle Jesus is inviting us to recognize our unholy communions as unholy -- as commanded by Satan not God -- and as always doomed to fail, always doomed to end in division. All our attempts at culture and community are, at their foundations, based on a being over against someone else, so that all our human communities ultimately end in division. Calling attention to how these satanic powers have operated is thus the first step in their reign coming to an end. Satan falls from heaven like lightning (Luke 10:18).
5.1.4 God's Holy Communion in Jesus Christ, the coming of God's reign based on love, thus comes not through yet another form of sanctioned violence, namely, just another chapter in the age-old satanic game. God's reign comes through its opposite, that is to say, through a suffering of righteous violence at the hands of humanity in the cross of Jesus Christ, only to reveal the vacuous power of such violence by raising this Jesus from the dead.
5.2 We have now seen violence in both of its manifestations, with the anthropological interpretation of the satanic powers behind both 'bad' and 'good' violence.
5.2.1 'Bad' violence is the violence which arises from falling to the temptations of rivalrous desire. It begins with mimetic desire among creatures, rather than the creatures following the loving desire of the Creator for the whole Creation, and it quickly descends into brother killing brother (Gen. 3-4). It is a violence with the potential to escalate into an all-against-all deluge of violence, an 'apocalyptic' crescendo of mutual destruction (see Gen. 6:11ff.).
5.2.2 The second basic kind of violence is a 'good' violence, the sanctioned, even sacred, violence used to keep 'bad' mimetic violence at bay -- only for a time, however, since it is always based on an over-againstness and must therefore fall. Such righteous violence is based in the accusation of the majority against a minority of 'trouble makers,' who are seen as demon-possessed or somehow super-human and thus made to take the blame for the mimetic violence of everyone. It can never be the ultimate answer to violence because it relies on one brand of violence to stop the other. In short, it is Satan casting out Satan, a realm divided against itself that can never stand.
5.3 But, akin to the man born blind in John 9,(5) humankind, since its birth, has remained blind to its idolatry around sacred violence. We fail to see our gods who command of us a sacred violence as the satanic powers that they are. In John 9, it proves easier for Jesus to heal the man's physical blindness than it is for him to heal our human blindness around sacred violence. The Pharisees deepen their blindness by performing the age-old satanic function of expelling the man (John 9:34). "Jesus said, 'I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind'" (John 9:39). Jesus ultimately brings judgment against them by letting them judge him and by letting them execute him in an act of righteous violence.
5.4 The revelation of the cross of Christ thus begins a process in history of the progressive unveiling of sacred, sanctioned violence. The Resurrection is not just the survival but the permanent establishment of the victim's experience in history. The satanic interpretation of collective violence, which is the interpretation of the perpetrators of that violence, is now forever challenged by the victim's perspective on that violence. Sacred, or sanctioned, violence is unveiled as violence.
5.4.1 The unveiling of sacred violence, however, has the more immediate consequence of taking away humanity’s only bulwark against ‘bad’ mimetic violence, thus resulting in the potential for increasing that brand of violence.
5.4.2 Moreover, the satanic powers' hold on humanity won't go away that easily. Their attempts at veiled sacred violence become more desperate and generally more lethal. The satanic powers can take advantage of the fact that humankind has never really known any other way to stem the tide of 'bad' violence. It is like an addiction. In fact, the mechanism of sacred violence is similar to taking drugs. The Greek word, pharmakos, that we might best translate as "scapegoat" (because it designated one who was expelled from the community), is obviously related to the Greek word for "drug," pharmakon. The idea is the same behind both. A drug is a poison that, given the right circumstance and precisely the right dosage, can also be a remedy. Sacred violence is a violence -- and violence is ordinarily poisonous to us -- that, given the right circumstance and precisely the right dosage, can also be a remedy against 'bad' mimetic violence. (See my sermon for Epiphany 7B 2003 for more on pharmakos.) Yet addiction builds as the system builds immunity to the drug. Addiction to sacred violence can escalate as the Gospel immunity to it builds within our systems.
5.4.3 Thus, the unveiling of sacred violence in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ can have the more immediate effect of doubly increasing violence for a time -- "doubly" because both forms of violence tend to increase. ‘Bad’ mimetic violence increases because the Gospel unveiling weakens the containment field of sacred violence against it. And attempts at sacred violence increase against the Gospel weakening of it, much like an addiction. In short, the Gospel unveiling is also an Apocalypse. Gil Bailie offers a penetrating summary of apocalypse:
The word "apocalypse" means "unveiling." What, then, is veiled, the unveiling of which can have apocalyptic consequences? The answer is: violence. Veiled violence is violence whose religious or historical justifications still provide it with an aura of respectability and give it a moral and religious monopoly over any "unofficial" violence whose claim to "official" status it preempts. Unveiled violence is apocalyptic violence precisely because, once shorn of its religious and historical justifications, it cannot sufficiently distinguish itself from the counter-violence it opposes. Without benefit of religious and cultural privilege, violence simply does what unveiled violence always does: it incites more violence. In such situations, the scope of violence grows while the ability of its perpetrators to reclaim that religious and moral privilege diminishes. The reciprocities of violence and counter-violence threaten to spin completely out of control. (Violence Unveiled, p. 15)5.4.4 It is no surprise, then, that from the outset the Christian faith offered its interpretation of the Apocalypse. (Cf., Part III below, "'Nonviolence or Nonexistence' as the Message of Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet.") The Apocalypse is represented in the teaching of Jesus (cf., Mark 13 and par.), the writings of Paul (cf., 1 Thess. 5), and the last book of the Christian Bible, the Revelation of St. John.
6 Therefore, from beginning to end, the biblical story is a story of humanity's sinful descension into violence, and of God's planned action of salvation from our violence.
6.1 At the same time, it is also the story of our human idolatry. We continue to choose our human way of salvation from 'bad' violence through sacred, 'good' violence. We persist in a peculiar blindness that stubbornly sees the satanic powers behind sacred violence as divine powers. We continue to choose gods who justify our human violence instead of the God in Jesus Christ who calls us to live in God's reign of Love, the way of nonviolence.
6.2 What is the way out of idolatry and into salvation? The Christian faith invites others to follow Jesus Christ as "the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).
6.3 What is perhaps not clearly seen often enough is that the way out of the idolatry of violence must be a way out of both forms of violence, that is, both 'bad' and 'good' violence.
6.3.1 "Conservatives" are generally those who clearly see the danger of 'bad' violence, and the scandals that lead to it, and so they fall into the attempts to re-sacralize a 'good' violence against it. They seek to conserve the traditional human means for order which are dependent on sacred violence.
6.3.2 "Liberals" are generally those who clearly see the systemic 'good' violence as an oppressive means of conserving order, but they underestimate the power of 'bad' mimetic violence to ruin their communal efforts at fighting oppression. The most common reason for such a downfall is an over-reliance on human reason as sufficient against the temptations of desire to fall into mimetic rivalry.
6.3.3 A second danger of "liberalism" is to miss the fact that their efforts to "fight" oppression can so easily themselves turn into justifications for 'good' violence, or "justice." Elijah unveiled the idolatry of worship to Ba'al, but then he himself slaughtered the four hundred fifty priests of Ba'al (1 Kings 18:1-40) -- which Gil Bailie has aptly called "anti-sacrificial sacrifice" (see excerptViolence Unveiled, 169-173). Jonah would not forgive the Lord for forgiving the idolaters of Ninevah (Jonah 4) -- which Sandor Goodhart has fittingly named the "idolatry of anti-idolatry" (see Sacrificing Commentary, ch. 5).
6.4 Evangelical anthropology is a stage in the process of unveiling both forms of violence, and so disciples are guided in the work of the Spirit to better stay on course in following the way of Jesus Christ.
6.4.1 First, to those who, in the faith of Jesus Christ, begin to have their blindness to such violence healed, the only thing left as a bulwark against 'bad' mimetic violence is also the faith of Jesus Christ to live God's desire. For the latter is a non-rivalrous desire, a sharing of God the Father's desire for the whole creation. To live in that faith of Christ ("...it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" -- Gal. 2:20a) is to begin to live free from the power of fallen human desire. It is the power to begin living free from the rivalries that lead to mimetic conflict and violence.
6.4.2 Yet that faith of Christ to live a non-rivalrous life in a sea of mimetic rivalry is a faith that will be -- until the day when Jesus Christ brings all desires in line with God’s (cf., 1 Cor. 15:28) -- a likely target for mimetic accusation. In short, it is the same faith that took Jesus of Nazareth to the cross, in the first place. It is the faith of Christ to trust in God's power of life in the face of the lethal satanic powers of sacred violence. It is faith in God's way of nonviolence as winning the ultimate victory over the satanic human powers of violence.
6.4.3 Let us be clear from the outset, however, that faith in the nonviolent way of Christ is different from faith in human reason to devise a fully worked-out strategy of nonviolence. It remains God's plan of salvation, not ours. Faith in Christ is thus an eschatological faith that hopes in the ultimate victory of the Nonviolent way of the Cross.
7 Having laid down First Principles, the following takes up God's call to the way of nonviolence in essay form.
Part II: Nonviolence as the Heart of Jesus' Faith
It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.... I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "We ain't goin' study war no more." -- Martin Luther King, Jr., March 31, 1968. (6)Nonviolence or nonexistence. The great civil rights leader posed this life-and-death alternative to us in his last Sunday sermon before he himself was felled by violence. I think it can be argued that nonviolence had increasingly become the very heart of King's faith. It has become the core of mine.
The more that I read and interpret Scripture, especially the New Testament, the more I am convinced (1) that "nonviolence" is also at the heart of Jesus' faith, and (2) that this posing of alternatives -- nonviolence or nonexistence -- conveys the meaning behind Jesus' "apocalyptic" preaching (the subject of Part III below).
Beginning with the first of these two theses: Is nonviolence at the heart of Jesus faith? I can anticipate the objection, "What about Love! Isn't Love the broader category of Jesus' proclamation?" Yes, of course, God's Love is the heart of the New Testament faith, when positively stated. Yet the New Testament letter which most clearly thematizes God as Love -- namely, the First Letter of John -- is also careful to clearly state the case in the negative. For example, in talking positively about love, St. John is quick to add the negative corollary about hate: "Those who say, 'I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars" (1 John 4:20). Even stronger:
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. (1 John 3:14-15).Here we see the explicit connection with violence, namely, murder. It seems that it is not quite good enough to simply tell us about love. St. John must also make clear to us that God is in no way about death or violence, and so we should not be, either.
There is a good reason for St. John's needing to be so explicit about violence. I will highlight in this essay our anthropological propensity toward projecting our human darkness onto God. John's initial summary of the Gospel is careful to state things in both the positive and negative: "God is light and in God there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5b). John is implicitly acknowledging the fact that we so often experience the darkness of an angry, punishing, violent God. But in Jesus Christ we come to definitively understand that these experiences are not of the one true God. These experiences of God must be idols. For God is light and in God there is no darkness at all.
Thus, St. John also knows that it is not enough to simply acknowledge our human problem with violence. In fact, the deeper problem is precisely in the acknowledgment: with the help of our idols, gods who command violence, we delude ourselves from thinking of our violence as violence. The gods command it, so it must be the right thing to do. Our gods sanction the violence we use against our enemies. What our enemy does to us is violence; what we do in response we call "justice," not violence. When it comes to our own violence, in other words, we are in self-denial. With the help of our gods, we lie to ourselves.
In John's Gospel, Jesus makes an incredibly condensed anthropological proposition:(7)
You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)What is the lie? Isn't it believing that we aren't murderers? That when we kill we do so with justification? In fact, our most common reaction to this saying of Jesus is something like, "I've never killed anyone!" But this is a way of ignoring the truth, of lying to ourselves, that we have killed. Individually, we might never have killed anyone, but collectively we have. In the name of law and order we have executed. We have lived under governments that, for all kinds of reasons, have gone to war. We participate in communities that neglect those in poverty on the fringes, leaving them to die. (8)
In short, we resist recognizing our own complicity in the darkness of violence (see 1 John 1:6-10 (9)). Jesus implicitly recognizes our self-delusion when he 'ups the ante' on confronting our violence (10) in this crucial passage from the Sermon on the Mount (condensed):
"You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to the hell of fire.... You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.... You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:21-22, 38-39, 43-44, 48)I suggest that these verses exhibit the core of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection which most distinguish him among all the world's religions. (11) 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. (12)Placing the Cross at the heart of the New Testament becomes our background, then, in reading its various teachings, including those of St. Paul. It is often noted that Paul elaborates a very different angle on teaching than did Jesus. He is much more theological. But the place where he most closely echoes words of Jesus himself is the above portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Compare it to Paul's ethical exhortation of Romans 12-13:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, (13) hold fast to what is good.... Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, (14) live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath [of God]; (15) for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.We will shortly see how this hortatory text relates to Paul's wider theology of the cross.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 12:9, 14-19, 21; 13:8-10)
The First Letter of John, with which we began, provides another example, for it is essentially a meditation and elaboration on these themes of the Sermon on the Mount. The side of darkness in which we normally participate is the side of hatred, violence, murder, and lies. The side of light is the side of love, nonviolence, service, and truth. God is completely on the side of light -- "no darkness at all." We have not been on the side of light, but we can begin to be so, through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Overall, when Jesus calls us to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect", doesn't this begin to make sense in light of a focus on the human problem of violence? We can strive to be children of light in the sense of nonviolence. We are called to love like God with a love that reaches out even to one's enemies and therefore with a love that never does violence. For violence against our "enemies" is our chief justification for doing violence. If in the cross of Jesus Christ we see God's perfection in loving even enemies -- and thus in suffering our violence and forgiving it, rather than in ever returning it -- then our way to perfection in faith is also one of living in nonviolent loving service to others.
The human problem with violence, however, goes much deeper according to the New Testament witness. The sin which is forgiven in the Cross is, according to the Christian tradition of interpretation, an "original sin." In other words, we understand our sin to go all the way back to human origins. The Christian revelation is an anthropological revelation, even as it is a theological one. It opens the way to a true understanding of what it means to be human, helping us to recognize the sinful ways of being human, back to our origins.
In this essay, therefore, I want to present our sin as idolatry, but especially as a specific form of idolatry for which it takes the event of the Cross to reveal. In short, when St. John speaks of murder and lies from the beginning (John 8:44 above), I want to describe this as our being under an anthropological compulsion to lie by creating gods in our own violent image in order to cover our tracks. I say "compulsion" because it is not a conscious decision of ours to lie, nor to create the violent gods who bid us to do violence. Neither should we think in terms of Freud's "unconscious." Rather, as Jesus hangs convicted of blasphemy, an offense against his persecutors' god, he prays to his God, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." The God of forgiveness to whom Jesus prays is quite simply a different god than the one who, in the eyes of those who put him there, justifies his hanging on the cross. In other words, we have a deep-seated problem with idolatry: we insist on worshiping violent gods who command us to do violence so that we can feel righteous in doing so. Thus, our problem is not simply with violence in general, but even more so with righteous violence -- that is, with violence that the gods of our unwitting creation deem righteous. (16)
More bluntly, this idolatry is commonly known as "vengeance" -- which, interestingly, the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures reserves for himself (cf., Gen. 4:15; Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30). One of the most poignant passages in the Hebrew Scriptures about vengeance became part of the great commandment in the Christian Scriptures: "You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:18).
It may be objected that this is a selective citation from the Hebrew scriptures. For the few passages that assume we shouldn't take vengeance because it is completely a divine prerogative, we can find many more passages that assume a vengeful God who would seem to justify human violence against God's enemies. But Luke shows us a Jesus who, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures" (Luke 24:27). Below I will argue that St. Paul needed to completely re-interpret the "wrath of God" from his own Hebrew scriptures, according to the revelation of the God he met through Jesus Christ.
Re-interpreting theological notions through Jesus Christ does not mean we diminish the importance of the Hebrew scriptures. The latter remains the remarkable record of God's chosen people coming to the realization of monotheism itself -- which also means the realization of idolatry. And through Jesus the Messiah we come to more clearly see (1) that the true God is, along the trajectory of the formula from the Hebrew scriptures, "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love"; (17) and (2) that the wrathful God of vengeance is more a function of our human penchant for idolatry. For the Hebrew scriptures are further remarkable in their honesty about how tough it is for God's people to kick the human habit of idolatry. Should it be such a surprise, then, if it took the coming of the Messiah to help God's people take the final steps in having our idolatry fully revealed to us?
More precisely, we are faced with an idolatry that turns on the issue of human violence and the compulsion to be deluded about it. For a thousand years, Jesus' people, the Jews, had grown in their recognition of idolatry and, conversely, in their faith in the one true God who had created the world. But there existed, and continues to exist, an idolatry deep within our anthropology that is most resistant to coming into the light. Tragically, Christians have persecuted Jews for their righteous violence against Jesus -- and thereby manifested their own continual falling victim to this same sin. It has required the cross and resurrection to reveal to all human beings the precise sin of idolatry that the cross represents: an act of righteous violence -- that is, an act of violence justified by one of our violent gods (who we, of course, are to deluded to think is "God").
Nonviolence thus becomes central to the Christian faith to the extent that revelation of our idolatry of violence is manifested in the central events of the Christian faith. In the cross Jesus, the "Lamb of God," submits to our human act of righteous violence, and the vindication of the resurrection reveals that righteous violence as violence -- thus 'taking away the Sin of the world' (John 1:29). (18) At the same time that the cross reveals our enslavement to righteous violence, it reveals God's righteousness as nonviolence -- as radical nonretaliation, that is, as forgiveness -- and as a love that reaches out even to enemies.
This, I maintain, is the central theme of Paul's letter to the Romans, namely, the righteousness of God (3:21), as described most succinctly in chapter 5:
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath [of God]. (19) For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)Whereas we have already noted that Paul didn't seem as concerned as the Gospels with specifically transmitting to us the words of Jesus himself, he was very much concerned with interpreting the implications of the entire Christ event. His ethical exhortation in Romans 12-13 is rooted in his theology of a God who has loved us even while we were still enemies.
Further, a much more subtle, but extremely important, corollary of the righteousness of God's unconditional love for us can be seen in Paul's reworking of the notion of the "wrath of God." Often the first question in response to the thesis of a nonviolent God in Jesus Christ concerns what to make of the apparently violent God of the Hebrew scriptures, especially the common theme of God's wrath. I believe that Paul is giving us, in the Letter to the Romans, a crucial response to this concern, one he no doubt needed to answer for himself.
Douglas Campbell has offered a bold new reading of Romans, in his groundbreaking 2009 book The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009]. And a pivotal point in his argument helps cement a reading that students of Girard have offered for a number of years.(20) What Girardians have noticed is this: Paul, after introducing his letter, begins the body in 1:18 with a seeming thesis about the "wrath of God" -- "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth" (Romans 1:18) -- and then works it out, with the word orgè, "wrath," appearing twelve times throughout Romans.(21) Only that first time, however, does it appear as orgè theou, the "wrath of God"; the other eleven times the word orgè appears solo, that is, as simply "wrath." Why? Because Paul is subtly reworking the "wrath of God" as a function of human idolatry.
Campbell's reading, though, adds a crucial element: the words wrath of God in 1:18 aren't even Paul's direct words! Rather, it is Paul speaking the viewpoint of an opposing Teacher. "Wrath of God" is how his opponent talks, not Paul. Campbell argues (in ch. 13, "Rereading the Frame") that the only thesis which solves all the questions about the reason for Paul writing Romans when he did is that he had to make a preemptive appeal against the Judaizing Teacher akin to the one at Galatia. That's why he had to write before making specific travel plans. That's why much of the language of "justification" is similar to that of the Letter to the Galatians.
But there is also a significant difference from Galatians. He started that church. The Galatians knew him intimately and he them. But Paul hasn't ever been to Rome. They don't know him, and so he must speak to the Romans differently than to the Galatians. They don't even have a first-hand version of what Paul's Gospel is about. He will need to give them a full version in writing. But he will also have to argue against the opposing Teacher with the disadvantage that he is there and Paul isn't. What is Paul's solution? According to Campbell, it is to use the Greco-Roman rhetorical strategy of Diatribe. And the latter always includes a statement of the opponents position, often with a "speech-in-character" effort to put things in the words of the adversary. Diatribe was generally an oral performance with the speaker using different voices, or with more than one speaker involved. Paul would have trained the reader or readers to speak in different voices. The formidable task for subsequent generations is to isolate those different voices in a text that is intended to be read aloud in those voices.
Campbell has begun that process with thoroughness, but it is a thesis sure to be debated for years. Without making a determination about the entirety of Campbell's thesis, let us at least consider here the portion pertinent to Romans 1:18. Campbell argues that Romans 1:18-32 is Paul's "speech-in-character" presentation of the opposing Teacher's basic theology. And the words wrath of God represent the heart of their disagreement. Campbell writes,
In short, Paul seems to be stating in v. 18 -- in a suitably pompous manner -- that the initial and hence essential content of the Teacher’s position is a vision of the future wrath of God -- of God as retributively just. And Paul does not think that this is the essential nature of the God of Jesus Christ. So he contrasts the Teacher’s programmatic theological claim quite deliberately with the initial disclosure of his own position -- his gospel -- which speaks of the saving intervention of God and hence of the divine compassion (vv. 16-17). Paul is stating here compactly that fundamentally different conceptions of God are at stake in these two gospels. Moreover, it is immediately apparent that the Teacher’s conception has no significant input from Christology. The stylistic parallel therefore denotes a deliberate contrast between two quite different theological programs. (p. 543)
If Campbell is right, this makes the Girardian thesis about "wrath" in Romans even more clear. Paul's subsequent solo use of "wrath" is a contrast with the Teacher's typical use of "wrath of God." Paul says "wrath" because the most crucial and obstinate consequence of our idolatry is the kind of wrath we inflict on one another. Having trotted out the Teacher's favorite forms of Gentile idolatry, he turns now to the form of idolatry that only an anti-idolatrous person can commit: wrathful judgment against other people's idolatry. This is made explicit in the "therefore" which immediately follows 1:18-32:
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, "We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth." (Romans 2:1-2)This is now Paul beginning to counter the judgmentalism of the Teacher. When we judge others, in other words, it is its own form of idolatry. We portray our judgment as God's judgment. And so, several verses later, St. Paul can deduce the logical consequences of this idolatry: "But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (Romans 2:5). Wrath is simply "wrath" here, and no longer the "wrath of God," because it can instead be seen to be the wrath we store up for ourselves, due to our idolatry of righteous violence. On the "day of wrath," namely, the time when our human wrath comes to roost, God's righteous judgment will be revealed, precisely as something different from our wrath. It will be revealed as a love that reaches out in grace as a free gift in faith (Rom. 3:21-26) even to sinners, to God's enemies (Rom. 5:8-10). Those who refuse the faith of Christ -- namely, faith in an unconditionally loving God -- will continue to live in faith to the false gods of our own wrath and so will end in that wrath. It might be said that, on the day of wrath, the alternative will finally be clear to us: nonviolence or nonexistence. Either we seek the righteous, forgiving, nonviolent judgment of God that we experience in Jesus Christ, or we are handed over to the logical end of our own wrathful, violent judgments upon one another -- and the wrathful gods we use to justify them.
Paul's reworking of wrath is such an important matter that we should briefly consider several further instances of the word "wrath" in Romans. First, we have already glimpsed the problem here in this essay, when we quoted Romans 12:19 and 5:9 above, while noting (in footnotes 15 and 19) the gross mistranslations in the NRSV. The words of God in the "wrath of God," as translated in these two verses, are completely absent in the original Greek text. The NRSV translators inserted the words "of God," and thus provide an inadvertent illustration of the idolatry of interpreting our human wrath (and the violence connected with it) as of God. Here I am arguing that St. Paul is subtly trying to work towards the opposite insight: that we would finally see human wrath, which we have formally seen as of God, as of us instead.
Second, consider Romans 3:5: "But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.)" In this instance, inflicting wrath is explicitly connected with God, but Paul amazingly also makes explicit that this is precisely a human way to think -- namely, idolatry. I can hardly imagine a more direct presentation of the thesis here. Paul asks about God's justice, whether it can be seen in terms of God inflicting wrath on us, and then explicitly tells us that seeing things in these terms is our human way of thinking, a worldview deeply ingrained in our anthropology, not in God's nature.
Finally, interpreters might still see in Paul's thinking a connection between God and wrath in Romans 9:22: "What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction." (22) The translation implies wrath of God by giving us "his wrath," referring to God. But, once again, the translators have added what isn't there in the Greek. Technically, the first his (autou in the Greek) is not there, yielding a more literal translation as, "desiring to show the wrath and to make known his power." I would therefore suggest the following overall message of this verse as: "What if God, desiring to show the [human] wrath and to make known his power, has endured the objects of wrath made for destruction" -- the "objects of wrath" being things like the whip, the crown of thorns, the nails, the cross, etc. In other words, "the wrath" and "his power" are being contrasted here. God has made known his power as distinct from human wrath precisely by enduring in Jesus Christ the typical objects of our wrathful judgment. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, in commenting on Romans 1:18-3:20, says:
the wrath revealed in the gospel is not the divine vengeance that should have fallen on us falling instead on Jesus, but rather the divine nonresistance to human evil (cf. Matt 5:39), God’s willingness to suffer violence rather than defend himself or retaliate. It is the permission granted us by God to afflict ourselves unknowingly; it is the divine nonresistance to human evil. It is God’s unwillingness to intervene in the process of action and consequence in the human world by which we set up and operate the system of sacred violence, and so paradoxically a sign of love as the refusal to abridge our freedom and a respect for our choices even when they are catastrophic. (Sacred Violence, 101-102)In contrast to our violent wrath, God reveals his power as nonviolent love, that is, as love which suffers violence rather than inflicting it.
And I would suggest that Gandhi and King were faithful disciples of God's power in Jesus Christ in living out what they referred to more simply as the way of "nonviolence." In short, I believe we have arrived at my first thesis: that "nonviolence" is also the heart of Jesus' faith, the faith by which he was able to endure the violence of our wrath, because it is a faith in the power of God's unconditional love, a power that manifested itself on Easter morning as the very power of Life behind Creation. It is a faith that the power of human violence can never ultimately defeat God's power of Life.
Part III: 'Nonviolence or Nonexistence' as the Message of Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet
Nonviolence or nonexistence. We arrive at the second of my two stated theses: that the posing of alternatives "nonviolence or nonexistence" conveys the meaning behind Jesus' apocalyptic preaching.
Here, I need to begin with a preliminary thesis about New Testament interpretation: contemporary scholar N. T. Wright is in the process of revolutionizing much of what has passed in the last century as faithful scriptural interpretation but, according to his assessment, has been wide of the mark. I heartily agree with the overall thrust of Wright's project, that goes by the overarching title of "Christian Origins and the Question of God," and is thus far four volumes. (23) Volume 2, Jesus and the Victory of God, Wright's foray into the Historical Jesus movement, is the cornerstone effort in his project and is most pertinent for my thesis here. The following is a summary of Wright's main theses in this book:
- Modern scholarship must bypass Rudolf Bultmann's overshadowing influence last century in interpreting the New Testament, and instead go back to his predecessor Albert Schweitzer's correct categorization of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet.
- However, Schweitzer's attempt at sketching the Historical Jesus, written in 1906, did raise the scandalous possibility that Jesus was simply wrong in his predictions as an apocalyptic prophet -- wrong about his second coming and the end of the world as events about to happen.
- Bultmann's response, though, compounded Schweitzer's error, by counseling a radical change of emphasis from Schweitzer. Bultmann said that we cannot know the Historical Jesus anyway, so let us focus instead on the "Christ of faith" that we meet in the Gospels. Bultmann's counsel was basically accepted by the vast majority of New Testament scholars last century, with the results of a basic underlying skepticism toward the picture of Jesus in the Gospels. Wright argues that it is high time to seek a new method from Bultmann's. The whole point of the Christian faith is to know Jesus, not simply Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John's faith in Jesus. We can trust that the genius behind their basic picture of Jesus is Jesus himself -- basically, the apocalyptic prophet which Schweitzer proclaimed him as in the first place.
- Wright's method, which he calls "Critical Realism," addresses shortcomings of both Bultmann and Schweitzer. Wright doesn’t want to turn back the clock on the modern awareness of how pure objectivity is impossible. But that Bultmannian awareness became, in the post-modern age, an almost complete mistrust of sources, making historical study a farce. Yes, it's true that the evangelists did not give us a purely objective picture of the Historical Jesus. But, says Wright, if the historian does a thorough job of investigating Jesus' historical context, namely, First Century Judaism, then he or she can make hypotheses not simply about the history of the evangelists and their communities, which is where Bultmann left off, but also how much of the evangelists' picture of Jesus can be corroborated by other sources. We can make judgments about the accuracy of their picture of Jesus.
- Thus, rather than rejecting Schweitzer altogether, we need to more thoroughly do our homework on the history of the time, especially the Jewish context. Specifically, we need to correct Schweitzer's description of what an apocalyptic prophet would have meant in First Century Judaism. If we are thorough in our picture of First Century Judaism, then Wright argues that we can make excellent sense of the evangelists' overall picture of Jesus. We don't need to largely discard the evangelists in order to reconstruct the Historical Jesus primarily from other sources -- say, that of Hellenist Cynics, as John Dominic Crossan does.
- The key to Wright's historical construction, then, begins with a renewed understanding of Jewish apocalypticism as firmly rooted in the language of the great prophets. The apocalyptic language of the prophets uses metaphorical language to depict 'earth-shattering' events -- specifically, for example, that reliance on militarism will end in cataclysms of violent downfall. Consider Jesus' words in Mark 13:24-26:
- And a crucial insight that Wright isn't afraid to keep repeating is that the "end of the world," so unfortunately common among Christians, could never be a Jewish hope. God's chosen people remained anchored in a faith in the one true God who is creating the world and is still a force behind its history. This God would never bring the world to an end, in the sense of destroying it, but rather bring it to an end in the sense of fulfillment.
- So what was Jesus prophesying? Jesus was essentially correct as an apocalyptic prophet in his prophecy that the way of armed rebellion against Rome would bring an end to the Temple, and thus to Judaism as it was known in first century Palestine. Jesus' apocalyptic language of coming cataclysmic events pointed, in other words, to the true prophecy of the events in his disciples' lifetimes of the Roman defeat of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. His coming to Jerusalem as the Son of Man (in other words, his first coming to Zion, not a "second coming"); his prediction of the Temple's downfall; and his own passion and resurrection together constituted the true representation of the choice before his own Jewish people: learn the way of nonviolence, or suffer consequences that would drastically change their history as a people. It is not altogether different, for example, from Isaiah using similar language to predict the downfall of Israel at the hands of the Assyrians, or Jeremiah predicting the exile of Judah to Babylon.
- But Jesus' message and personhood also went beyond that of the great prophets. Jesus also came to lead a battle as the Messiah. But his battle was not against flesh and blood (cf., Eph. 6:10ff.). We must understand that the real enemy is not Rome or the Judean leadership -- or even Assyria and Babylon before them -- but the real enemy is the satanic power of righteous violence behind them.
- When this is understood, then it is easy to see that the way to peace is not through killing Romans or corrupt Jewish leaders, who are but instruments of "the satan" (Wright uses the article "the" to indicate a title akin to "the accuser"). Instead, the way to victory is by suffering at the hands of these satanic powers, only to have the resurrection reveal that Jesus' nonviolent suffering is the Way to ultimate victory, to ultimate peace and life.
- "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory."
Doesn't Wright's work also make sense of the unique call of Jesus to love our enemies -- and the theology of Paul which emphasizes a God who has loved us even while we were still enemies? Jesus could call on his people to love even Romans because they aren't the real enemy. Satan is. Similarly, God can still love us as sinners because the real enemy is Satan.(24)
What is the ultimate outcome when we resort to violence to stop our enemies? We can kill our enemies, but Satan will simply find another instrument for his brand of righteous violence. Any peace will only be temporary.
Consider the flood story of Gen. 6-9. It is essentially a story of God resorting to violence to stop human violence. In the mythical time before history, God tried the way of violence, wiping out all living things except Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark. But it is a fruitless slaughter because humankind quickly falls right back into distorted desire and the violence that goes with it. Thus, the conclusion to the story is the real point. The rainbow carries the promise that God would never again resort to the strategy of violence to stop violence. With Abraham and Sarah God establishes a people who begin to discover a different God than all those other gods who resort to violence. History finally begins -- namely, a gradual way out of the "eternal return," the cyclical view of time in most cultures.
History is essentially the gradual way out of the endless cycles of "Satan casting out Satan." In the second verse of the biblical history proper (Genesis 1-11 being a pre-historical prologue), God gives us the basic formula of covenantal love: "I will bless you, so that you will be a blessing" (Gen. 12:2). Opposite to the satanic trajectory of expelling someone in order to achieve communion -- a solution always doomed to fail in bringing a full and complete communion, a Holy Communion, of all of God's children -- 'blessed to be a blessing' to others has a trajectory of always reaching out to include others within the bounds of God's family.
And the climactic moment of history comes when God shows us the way of unconditional love through Jesus Christ, the way of forgiveness rather than vengeance. It is a way that challenges much that passes for "family values" based on satanic over-againstness as providing an incomplete peace. Jesus' family consists in this: "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35). Whoever lives in the Holy Spirit finds themselves able to live God's will from the beginning of history -- namely, the call of Gen. 12:2 of being blessed to be a blessing to others, which is a "spirit of adoption" as God's children (Rom. 8:15). Anything less will always bring a merely temporary peace, something less than our final hope (of which Romans 8 has much to say).
Or, in pondering the outcome of always resorting to violence to cast out violence, consider Jesus' parable of the Wheat and Weeds in Matthew 13. The evil one has sown weeds into the midst of the wheat, but the owner of the field counsels his servants against resorting to a violent weeding out before the harvest. Let them be, forgive them. (25) The weeds will be sorted out in the harvest.
Finally, I would like to call upon one more witness from Scripture, the Book of Revelation. Strangely, it is the book in the New Testament most often called upon by Christians to justify their views of sacred violence, misinterpreting it as a vision of God someday performing the ultimate sacred violence on all the wicked. I would like to invite the reader to see the Book of Revelation as, instead, the most graphic revelation of human sacred violence under Satan's power. It represents such violence as the Beast who has always had the kingdoms of this earth completely deceived by its powers. To thus see in John's vision a divine sacred violence as putting an end to our human violence is a misreading of colossal proportions.
John the Seer's vision, then, is the final defeat of the Beast -- but at the hands of whom? The "Lamb slain since the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). (26) The revelation of the Lamb will lead to the eventual defeat of the Beast as it ultimately sinks into its own hell-hole, its own lake of fire. When this happens, the heavenly way of God's nonviolent love will descend and merge with the earth to make both heaven and earth into a new creation. (27)
In short, satanic violence is ultimately self-defeating. It is a kingdom divided against itself which cannot stand, just as Jesus predicted in his first parable of "Satan casting out Satan" (Mark 3:23-26; see §5 in Part I above). It might be added, however, that from the perspective of Revelation this "self-defeat" required the help of Jesus revealing it, not just in parables, but finally through incarnating it on the Cross as the Lamb slain since the foundation of the world, and by God revealing it fully as the way to death through the eternal power of life in the Resurrection. Because of the latter, all the white-robed martyrs who have suffered the ordeal as victims of sacred violence, "from all tribes and peoples and languages," have a place before the eternal throne of God, where God will wipe away every tear (Rev. 7). Death will be no more; mourning and crying will be no more, for the first things (namely, satanic violence since the foundation of our human worlds) will have finally passed away (Rev. 21:4).
I cannot here offer a thorough reading of the Book of Revelation as a call to nonviolent discipleship of the Lamb, (28) but allow me to at least present a couple of key moments. The first involves the Lamb's first appearance in Rev. 5:6. John is told by one of elders to look up in order to see the lion of the tribe of Judah. In other words, he expects to see that symbol of victorious righteous violence. The lion is the classic mighty Beast. Instead, John sees the Lamb standing slaughtered. It is the Lamb who will thereafter be the dominant figure in this drama, appearing twenty-nine times in Revelation.
At crucial moments of victory, it will always be the Lamb who is most prominently present. The best example is in chapter 12, where Michael and the army of angels win a decisive victory in heaven against the dragon. How is the dragon characterized? Revelation 12:9-10:
The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, "Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God."Notice how Satan, the dragon, is characterized as the Accuser. And how is the victory won? Through the superior militaristic might of Michael and the angels? No, Revelation 12:11 gives us the answer: "But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death." In short, sacred violence loses its place in heaven by the revelation of the Lamb slain, and by all those witnesses (martyrs is the Greek word for "witnesses") who do not cling to life even in the face of deathly violence. It is the same kind of moment marked by Jesus when he says, "I see Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18; the title of one of René Girard's most recent books).
Just before the final defeat is described in Rev. 19:11-20:15, the marriage feast of the Lamb is proclaimed (Rev. 19:7-10). Then, it is a new character pictured who actually brings the defeat, a rider from heaven on a white horse who "makes war." But, again, how is this war waged? Through superior firepower? It would seem not. For the rider is described, even before entering into the battle, as "clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God" (Rev. 19:13). Again, it is the witnessing of martyrdom, the "testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 19:10), the Word of God, that wins the victory. The decisive word of God's loving forgiveness in Jesus Christ ultimately results in the self-defeating event of satanic violence sinking into its lake of fire.
Let me conclude this essay portion, then, with the direct call to nonviolence from John the Seer. It is the one moment when he takes time-out from recounting his vision to speak directly to you and me, his readers:
Let anyone who has an ear listen: If you are to be taken captive, into captivity you go; if you kill with the sword, with the sword you must be killed. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. (Rev. 13:9-10)John's call to faith is essentially a call to 'nonviolence or nonexistence.' We are called to either faithful discipleship of Jesus the Lamb in the way of nonviolence and life, or to the ultimate consequences of the way of violence and death.
Part IV: Major Theses for the Life of the Church
1 In light of the above First Principals and the two-part essay regarding Jesus' faith and apocalyptic preaching, I invite the reader to confess with me that the Church remains in sore need of reformation, especially to the extent that it is called to sacramentally be a presence of peace in a world torn by violence.
1.1 Martin Luther, under the threat of violence from the church of his day, called the church to return to faith in a God of grace and love. Yet he still seemed to miss the most essential point about this gracious God who sent the Son into the world to save us from our own human violence. This is not so much to blame him. He made a valiant effort at evangelical theology. But here's the point: an evangelical anthropology was still lacking, and so Luther's theological insights fell victim to our idols of violence, which have continued to support our human violence against one another. The process of doing theology at the time of the Reformation even became violent itself, succumbing to a constant over-againstness towards one's opponent's theology.
1.2 A fully adequate evangelical anthropology has not really been possible until, under the influence of the Paraclete's push for truth, modern science came into being,(29) with its abilities to research and study vast amounts of data and so can move toward more universal, global understandings of the truth about human nature and human culture. With the evangelical anthropology of René Girard we finally have an anthropology conversant with scientific hypotheses and adequate to the task of reformation in the Church.
1.3 So this is what the Church finally needs to see: that reformation around the issue of violence, especially sanctioned violence, is the pivotal issue for reform in the Church. Since Constantine made Christianity the imperial religion, Christians have been more aligned with the human way of violence than with Christ's way of peace.
1.4 At the beginning of the 21st Century, after the bloodiest century in human history, Westerners are so scandalized by the violence connected with the long history of Christendom (that period of Western history since Constantine), that they have forsaken the Christian faith in huge numbers. And I submit that our failure to be peacemakers is the number one reason for such mass defections. It is not only our failures in the face of massive bloodshed at times of war, Crusades, etc. It is also the smaller, everyday failures. When I converse with unchurched folks who once were churched, they almost always tell me a story of being deeply hurt -- most often by someone breaking the commandment on bearing false witness, namely, gossip. See James 3:5ff. for an account of the violent destruction wreaked by our tongues: that "the tongue is a fire..., and is itself set on fire by hell" (James 3:6). Doesn't this reference to hell make sense in terms of Satan the Accuser? But as disciples of the One who exposed the work of Satan, shouldn't we in the church have also done a better job over the centuries of not so often succumbing to the violence of gossip?
1.5 Of primary concern to the Christian faith should be the common perception in the modern world that the Christian religion is the most violent of all. This state of affairs ought to be a sign of how far off-course the church has veered, when it comes to the crucial reality of human violence. (See my sermon for Good Friday 2003.)
2 Re-formation of the Christian faith might be envisioned as happening around a focus on the "faith of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 3:22; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:12; Phil. 3:9; verses crucial to the original Reformation; see the webpage for Reformation Sunday). Christ's faith is the true way of being human in the world. The possibility of anyone else living in such faith is dependent on his faith.
2.1 First of all, we need to deal with a problem of Bible translation. We need to agree that the better translation of the Greek pisteos Iesou Christou in the above verses (Rom. 3:22, etc.) is "faith of Jesus Christ," instead of the more common translation these days of "faith in Jesus Christ." I first came across this issue of translation in Charles B. Cousar's A Theology of the Cross, (30) where he summarizes the point I am trying to make: "that the concern in Romans 3 is not between two human activities, obedience to the law or believing in Christ, but between a human activity and the activity of Christ." The "activity" in question in this essay is how to respond to violence. Human beings have a fallen way of responding, either fight or flight. Jesus Christ came with God's response, the only response truly different, and thus the only response capable of saving us from our violence. In Jesus Christ, God submits to our violence on the Cross and shows it to be impotent in the Resurrection. Christ was the one who was finally faithful to a God who "desires mercy not sacrifice" (Jesus' words in Matt. 9:13; 12:7, quoting Hos. 6:6). It is his faithfulness that saves us.
2.1.1 If the Reformation insight is that we are saved by God's grace, then the first focus of that gift from God should be on Christ's faith, not on ours. Again, it is an emphasis on Christ's activity that helps us most appreciate the graciousness of God's gift.
2.1.2 If the emphasis is the other way around -- namely, on our faith in Christ, as it has seemingly become since the Reformation -- then the tendency is to make a "works righteousness" out of our acts of believing and on the contents of our beliefs -- all abstracted away from the faithfulness of Jesus Christ in its historical incarnation.
2.1.3 And if the emphasis is backwards, then the faith of the historical Jesus can then also be readily exchanged for the "Christ of faith," that is to say, the Christ in whom the Church came to believe. This is Rudolf Bultmann's basic move in reading the Gospels, a move that has dominated New Testament interpretation over the last century. Instead of Jesus' faith, we talk about Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John's faith in Jesus. This is the same move that N. T. Wright is so earnestly trying to undo (see my summary of Wright's work in Part III above): that what Jesus believed about God takes a back seat to what persons believe about Jesus, an approach that is completely backwards.
2.1.4 If, on the other hand, we correctly translate and emphasize the "faith of Jesus Christ," then the historical incarnation of Christ's faith makes all the difference in the world. And we have characterized the faith of Christ in these "Core Convictions" as a faith in God's way of nonviolent love even in the face of the satanic powers of righteous violence and death. Jesus Christ's faith took him to the Cross, an event par excellence of righteous human violence; and his was a faith which was then vindicated in the life-giving power of the Resurrection.
2.2 Let's not get things backwards, then: Christ's faith in God comes first as the pre-condition of our faith in Christ. The role of human faith in Christ, therefore, is the secondary role of receiving the power of Christ's faith through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. This work can be most readily seen through the traditional "means of grace," namely, God's Word and the Sacraments. These remain basic to the life of the Church, and some brief remarks are in order in light of the proposed reforming influence of evangelical anthropology.
2.2.1 God's Word. My hope is that the work of René Girard and his students, myself included, is a sign of an encounter with Scripture renewed by the perspective of an evangelical anthropology. Does this perspective bear the fruit of renewing the church's encounter with the Word? I humbly offer my work on "Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary" as undertaken with this hope.
2.2.2 Baptism is a daily dying and rising with Christ so that Christ (his faith included) lives in us and we in him. Since we have already died and risen with him, we need not fear the satanic powers of violence and death as we have characterized them here. We are empowered to live in the faith of Christ such that we would sooner sacrifice ourselves to those powers than to become a conduit for inflicting them on others. With the help of Christ's faith through the Holy Spirit, we do our best in faith to live the way of nonviolent love.
2.2.3 Baptism is also an eschatological (the fancy theological word for "future-oriented") washing of our sin-born selves, such that we are simultaneously saints and sinners. As such, we are not the ones who will save the world. To the extent that we are saved, we have the exciting call to participate in God's saving the world in Christ. But we do not live the way of nonviolence as a means or strategy to ourselves bring about the fulfillment of Creation. Baptismal life is living the way of nonviolence as eschatological signs (sacraments) of God's reign of peace breaking into the world. In other words, we live nonviolently because we have seen the ending of the story, that it is God's nonviolent love in Jesus Christ which wins the victory. Our lives of nonviolence can continue to be signs of that victory in this world in anticipation of its peaceful conclusion.
2.2.4 The Eucharist is participation in Christ's kenosis, his self-emptying, that paradoxically fills us, such that we might be eschatological signs (sacraments) of Christ's self-emptying love as it fills the world. It is a participation, a liturgy, that anticipates and celebrates fulfillment of Creation such that we are nourished and filled for self-emptying, loving service in the as-yet broken world. I agree with Gandhi's assessment that "Poverty is the worst form of violence" -- which also fits the biblical emphasis on reaching out in loving service to the poor.
2.2.5 The Eucharist, in anticipating the fulfillment of Creation, is eschatologically inclusive of all. As St. Paul warns the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 11:17-34, practices of the Lord's Supper which exclude others cannot truly be the Lord's Supper. Instead of Holy Communion, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that they practice their own unholy communions to their own detriment and sickness. And so do we, to the extent that we exclude others. Holy Communion, akin to Jesus' own table fellowship with "sinners," is especially inclusive of all those people most commonly marginalized by humankind's unholy communions.
3 A re-formation of faith -- like the one I am calling for, that counts on the Paraclete's recent work of evangelical anthropology -- also effects a revitalization of faith's theological content. Crucial doctrines that have long become entrenched in the typical faith of Christendom can be seen in new light. Following is a short (non-exhaustive) list of such doctrines.
Рассказ канадца показался ему полным абсурдом, и он подумал, что старик еще не отошел от шока или страдает слабоумием. Тогда он посадил его на заднее сиденье своего мотоцикла, чтобы отвезти в гостиницу, где тот остановился.
Но этот канадец не знал, что ему надо держаться изо всех сил, поэтому они и трех метров не проехали, как он грохнулся об асфальт, разбил себе голову и сломал запястье.