Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

redemptive violence nad christian theology

8/1/07

 

A long standing tenet in Christian theology is the idea that God and Satan are involved in a titanic struggle of good versus evil with men as pawns in that warfare. God is destined to prevail ultimately but only after Satan has been condemned to eternal punishment along with a large portion of humanity past, present, and future. True believers, according to this theological concept, are commissioned by God to assist in this struggle, identifying and opposing evil in whatever way they can. Force or violence in the opposition of “evil” is therefore good, and those who use violence to oppose evil men are really doing God’s good work. By implication the use of force of violence by evil men is bad and should prompt forceful opposition from good men. Edmund Burke is often quoted as saying that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.  By extension the good man who does nothing to oppose evil is actually doing evil.

 

This tradition of opposing evil by force or violence certainly seems at odds with Christ’s admonition to love your enemies (evil men) and the Apostle Paul’s to overcome evil with good. Instead of embracing these messages, proponents of the use of redemptive violence want to take their lessons from the Old Testament law and the history of Israel. The Law of Moses called for violence against its lawbreakers. In directing the Hebrews to fulfill their destiny in the Promised Land, God called on them to fight against certain groups. These Old Covenant examples don’t seem as counterintuitive as the words of Christ and Paul. A non-violent response to evil just doesn’t seem realistic to the human mind.

 

In our present day dealings with those we perceive as evil, the term “Holy War” is encountered frequently. I ask myself if there as ever been a war which one side or the other did not perceive as ‘holy”. I can think of no US wars where the American people did not think they had God on their side. Ironically, even in the American Civil War, both the North and the South laid claim to God’s sanction and support.

 

In recent wars, the ethics involved have become more and more a subject of debate. Modern communications have exposed the general populace to the details of modern warfare. It is harder than ever to be insulated from the real carnage which such warfare involves. Many have come to realize that a soldier commissioned to fight our enemies is also called upon to make frequent gut-wrenching moral/ethical decisions while in the heat of battle. It is popular to second guess these decisions and then apply the moral standards of the society at large to these decisions and actions. As many soldiers have pointed out, war is a violent, ruthless business; and, when a society asks its warriors to kill in its behalf, the possibility of noble, honorable, and totally ethical behavior on the part of the combatants is impossible. Under the pressure of imminent life threatening personal danger, warriors will make ruthless decisions because society has sent them on a ruthless mission. Military training carefully crafts the warrior mentality which is in part a reliance on mob psychology. Mob psychology says that people in a group will resort to violence when members of that group would not do so individually.

 

All this eliminates the possibility of righteous war. War is not only hell; it is the business of practicing what is inherently reprehensible, ostensibly to sustain what is morally commendable.  It is the old adage- “The end justifies the means” played out to its ultimate end. Gandhi was much nearer the truth when he suggested that the end is inherent in the means.

 

Millennia of human conflict and warfare, including wars to end all wars, have not eliminated the problems wars supposedly address. War and violence are never enough and never the last word. Mankind is trapped in a process that history says will not work. Yet we continue to pour resources and lives down the drain, honoring military power as if it was God’s own.

 

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