The Myth That Redemptive Violence is a Myth: Part 2

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One of the ways we get discombobulated in the debate over whether or not violence is ever acceptable is that the definition of redemption that is used is often extremely narrow. The redemption people are talking about is the redemption that Jesus brought on the cross…nothing more, nothing less. I will say that is a really good standard to use. There is no greater love shown than that. It is the image of self-sacrifice and love.

There is more to redemption in scripture than the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

Think about the story of Ruth for a moment. In the Old Testament book of Ruth we have the story of a woman whose husband died and she is left a widow. Being a widow makes her particularly vulnerable in the world she lived in. Judaism had regulations for people in this situation including Lev 19:9-10 that told the farmers to not harvest the edges of their field so the poor could glean the grain and Deut 25:5 gives us a regulation about the dead man’s closest relative (presumably brother) marrying her and continuing the bloodline of her first husband. This second regulation was known as redemption and the man who took on that role was the “kinsman redeemer”. Now, when we think about redemption we don’t often think about Ruth because we have come to see redemption as something that pertains solely to salvation and nothing more. We have limited the definition of redemption down and missed the full range of meaning in the Bible. There is more to redemption than ultimate salvation. The way the word for kinsman redeemer is “goel” which can mean anything from someone who redeems someone to someone who avenges a wrong done to someone else. In Ruth’s situation, redemption was very real and meaningful but had nothing to do with salvation. It had everything to do with bringing her justice, deliverance, full life, and rising up her status so that she would not be mistreated as a widow by those who would potentially take advantage of her vulnerability.

Now take the store clerk from the last post. She is an innocent bystander going about making a living, offering a service, etc. Here come the guys who wish to do her harm and someone sticks around to make sure she is protected and cared for. In the Old Testament, redemption has to do with deliverance, either from sin or from someone who is out to do you harm. Often in scripture redemption/deliverance is from humans/enemies. God often uses real people to bring about that deliverance (at times even in violent ways). Obviously, the difference between them and us is that God directly told them to do those things and we aren’t privy to that direct word of God.

Now, back to Jesus on the cross. I said there is nothing more loving or self-sacrificing than what Jesus did on the cross. When I think about my own ability to protect my family and loved ones I see it as completely loving and self-sacrificial. I don’t see it as coming from an attitude within me of breathing out murderous thoughts just waiting for someone to cross me so I can blast them. I believe there is a way for violence to be used in a way that is entirely loving and self-sacrificial because it puts one’s own life on the line order to make sure the innocent and helpless live to see another day.

9 Responses

  1. Matt,

    Ephesians 4:32 tells how our lives become redemptive: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

    Just how did God, in Christ, forgive us?

    He faced the violence against Him without complaint and without striking back, even in reviling words when He was reviled. He accepted the violence and responded by praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

    What is more, this is precisely the way Stephen responded when the Sanhedrin dragged him outside the city, gnashing their teeth at him in anger as they stoned him to death. He prayed, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”

    Today, our gut reaction is to respond in kind. I jsut read an article in Christianity Today Online in which Nigerian Christians are debating whether to respond with an eye for an eye or by turning the other cheek in response to Muslim bombings and shootings of Christians in worship.

    We all recognize the command to love our enemies as God loves them to be the most difficult command in the Scriptures. It is difficult because it is unnatural. It is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. It is part of the “second command” to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and to love one another as Jesus loves us. When we realize that Jesus loves us as His Father loves Him (see John 15:9), we begin to understand how God in Christ forgives us, and why the cross is the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen.

    That is precisely why Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, even as He denied and emptied Himself in becoming obedient even to the point of death. It is this death to self that makes love redemptive. For the life of me, I do not see how violence is redemptive. I do see how suffering wrong as we follow Jesus is redemptive. And this does not mean that our suffering adds anything to the redemption we have through the cross.

    I am currently reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Much of it is a sad story of how Christians became warriors instead of lovers. We hear much of the persecutions of Christians by Pagan Rome. We do not hear so much about the persecution of Christians by other Christians from the fourth century on. This continued up through the Protestant Reformation – with Catholics persecuting Protestants, Protestants persecuting Catholics, and Protestants persecuting other Protestants. Today, our “persecution” of other Christians is mostly restricted to hurling anathamas at one another in much the same way the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox hurled anathamas and bulls of excommunication at each other – except that theirs was often accompanied by actual physical (not just verbal) violence as well. I wonder. If the political climate was different, would our anathamas also become physical violence? I have known several who have lost jobs because they preached on unpopular subjects – such as racism (in the 1960’s and 70’s). Today the job-losing subjects are different, but are still there. Isn’t that also violence against another?

    And when is violence ever following Jesus? I am not saying that I would never use violence. I am questioning whether to do so would be following Jesus.

    1. “And when is violence ever following Jesus? I am not saying that I would never use violence. I am questioning whether to do so would be following Jesus.”

      There is the tension right there. Some things are best worked out when two seemingly opposing things are held in tension against each other. We have the tension that arises when we are placed with the decision of how do we love our families and love our enemies when those two things are put into a situation where it feels they are mutually exclusive and yet we are called to both. We know shooting someone sure doesn’t appear to be loving and yet it is the part that loves my family most within me that would make me quickest to defend them.

  2. Jesus demonstrated a very interesting response to a ‘store clerk’ moment when the mob wanted to stone a woman they were shaming…and rather than escalate the issue with a larger mob, or a ‘bigger gun’…he returned the adrenaline-rich potential energy that was ready to pounce, by slowing down the whole situation. Quiet, calm assertion distracted and derailed the activity that was about to happen to someone who actually wasn’t innocent (but who we might agree if we were the judge..doesn’t deserve the sentence they were about to provide at their own hands).

    I’m not saying that solves all mob violence…but adrenaline is a drug in our system that can potentially interfere with reason, and it definitely leads to fervor. Jesus didn’t use the rush of adrenaline to redeem this woman and deal with the nearly violent men persent. The Holy Spirit gave him words, and a gentle action like drawing in the sand.

    I appreciate the thoughts provided by all in these recent posts. I appreciate the respectfulness of those who are in disagreement. In this world of fb and blogs and tiny news bites on various ‘news’ sites it appears so easy to escalate to the mob type word-violence which is so hurtful…I have wanted to just turn it all off.

    Love people. That’s what Jesus did. Actively, sometimes quietly, and to the end He will love me. He loves me. What am I to do – love people.

    1. Barb,

      Thanks for sharing. You always have such insightful things to say. It is my love for my family that compels me to feel the need to protect them. That is the difficult/tension I find is how do you find the balance between loving your family and loving your enemy when your “enemy” puts your family in jeopardy?

    2. Let’s pray for the Spirit to be our guide and council in all our thoughts and actions – that we may not only take captive thoughts, but take captive our human tendency to just ‘react in kind’…our impulses should still keep us from taking a step off the narrow path. What does that look like in the face of an unexpected quick event? God knows.

      I don’t think Jesus spit back at the mob on his way to the cross (for probably lack of saliva, but really out of self-control). Earlier he restored the ear of the guard that Peter cut off when Peter showed impulsive, (?righteous) violence in the face of his dear innocent friend about to be wrongfully taken to the mob. Was he employing stand your ground? Jesus simply quitely restored the ear and walked away with the guards.

      I can remember being wrongfully abruptly sent to the office in high school – and while turning all shades of shameful red thinking “what did I do?” and wishing I could just blurt out I was innocent of what she yelled at me I did to deserve the shame of it…I just got up and went realizing it would be worse to argue at that heated moment. (Hearing my girlfriend yell out ‘what did she do?’ as I left is still a fond memory and I was surprised she didn’t soon join me). I was so grateful later my mother believed me. Our Father knows.

      I’m glad you were in the store that day…and I pray those with evil intent will never even lay sight on my precious little girl – may opportunity be thwarted before paths cross. Even so – the Lord is sovereign. It is well, it is well with my soul.

  3. Matt,

    I found your example of the store clerk as wonderful caution against the overuse of violence. What if your family had gone into the store with guns drawn? What if you had threatened those men with violence? Though you may not have intended it as such, your response was an excellent non-violent response to a violent situation.

    I’m not ready to write off each and every use of force as inappropriate. I do think, however, that such things need to be seen as the absolute last response, not the first one.

    One other thing to keep in mind: non-violent responses won’t always “work.” That is, the violent hand may carry the day, as we often see in the New Testament (and the Old, for that matter). That doesn’t mean that evil has won. It only means that the battle needs to be examined in different terms. The way Jesus faced the mob in Gethsemane didn’t “work.” But it was part of the greatest victory the world has ever seen.

    1. Tim,

      Thank you for your input. I know you have thought about this a lot. I really appreciate you weighing in.

      Let me elaborate on the difference between espousing a culture of violence where violence is the rule as opposed to a culture of love and self sacrifice where violence is the absolute and even then, not always called for final option. A culture of violence says violence is the answer to our ills. That is not my mindset. A culture of violence says use whatever power you have however you want and let everyone else get out of the way. That is not my mindset either. A culture of violence says, those guys are up to no good, pull out your gun and let the chips fall where they may. Not my cup of tea. Any responsible gun owner will tell you that a gun is the absolute last resort. There is a HUGE responsibility that comes with owning a firearm and you have to have great discretion or it is best to not own one at all.

      I just want people to hear me clearly when I say that I believe there is a time and a place for violence to be the reaction that is called for in a given situation once certain conditions have been met. This is not a haphazard thing for me. This is about being protective, being patient and being prudent and even humble about the whole thing.

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