Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I have been thinking long on this subject, and I am ready to state my conclusion:

Any act of violence done to any one at any time or place cannot be the way of Jesus no matter how inevitable or justifiable a person, authority, or nation may claim it to be.

Crucifixion Sketch, Nathan Simpson, 1991 (oil on canvas).

'...They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.' — Isaiah 2.4


  1. I'm assuming you are speaking on the initiation of violence. What would your thoughts be on defense?

  2. No, my comment was as exhaustive as it was intentional. As for defense, better love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for the one whom he loves (and we are called to have a love that is even for our persecuting, violent 'enemy').

    The Way of Jesus is that he did not defend himself, and he rebuked his disciples when they attempted to do so. All of his disciples (save Judas, of course) lived the same after the Resurrection, and the Church rejected violence as an option until she was given the legal right to exist--then she took great efforts to justifying all sorts of violent savagery, often in the name of 'defense'.

    Perhaps one may feel like he or she has no other option in certain situations but to react violently, but this cannot ever be wedded to the Way of Jesus. It is the way of humanity and it even has a sort of logic and common sense to it, however base. We are weak, frail, ignorant, and often lacking in creative responses to some of the most heinous acts of barbarity in this world. But the Way of Jesus opens new possibilities to 'beat our swords into plowshares'.

    That is to say, we turn to violence because we FEEL that we have no other option when what we lack is a wiser, more clever and creative and loving response that upholds the dignity of the one who would oppress us--because, after all, the would-be villain has that selfsame, noble and beautiful image of God in which we too were made.

    And this is precisely what Jesus was doing as he suffered with and for us--he was loving us and claiming stake to the image he made us in before it all began.

  3. you would make a great Mennonite!

  4. The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge, and pray God we have not lost it, that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
    Reagan speech at Normandy 1989
    Don McIntosh

  5. "Am I leading a rebellion, that you come at me with clubs and swords?" - Luke 22:52
    "Put your sword back in its place...for all who draw the sword will die by the sword"
    -Matt 26:52
    Our greatest example, Jesus our Lord and Savior, not only taught us a higher road, but lived it and has shown us that it is true and truth always wins in the end. He was able to call on legions of angels, but that would not fix the root of the problem, one's conscience. If we are to look for defeat, we look to defeat evil with love, not to fight evil with evil (Rom 12). Why do we feel we have to make things right? Is that not God's job? We are called to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute you, and "not to resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take you tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go a mile, go with him two miles..." You get the point.

    Why is it that when it comes to countries (lines made to seperate one people) do we feel it is okay to justify what the Bible clearly teaches against? We are justified to use force and to kill to make things right, to defend people and a piece of colored cloth (our flags). And this superseeds fighting with love and mercy as we are taught to defend His kingdom. That which we defend we are a part of. Which will we choose when the two collide, country or kingdom?

    I suggest to all reading Tolstoi's The Kingdom of God is within you, and Lee Camp's Mere Discipleship. They will make you think, as good books do.

    It all comes down to how we hope to change the world, by force or by love, reaching to their conscience so they will make the decision to love in return and do what is right because it is right, and not because of fear of power. With power we will only touch the surface, make things right on the outside. Oh but with love we will change all of their being, God will change.

    When did Jesus or the disciples ever use power to reach out to others? It was always in love, and that will mean we will suffer, as we were promised to (one of the promises we often forget). 1 Peter 2:20, Phil 2, Hebrews 2, etc.

    Obviously you can see I am deeply convicted by our mistake of using power for good over using love. It makes things less efficient, what we really hate. It is harder. It is slower. And what's worse, it takes the power out of our hands and puts it in God's so he can work in others. He did not call us to make all things right, he called us to love him, pick up our cross and follow in his footsteps.

  6. Ecclesiastes 3:8 says, “There is a time for war and a time for peace.” The Bible is very realistic. Sometimes war is the right thing.

    The Bible is very honest about this. There are many, many examples in the Bible where God commanded a war - where God said, “Go to war!” When you look at the great heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 - Joshua, David, Gideon, Samson - these guys were all warriors.

    When you study the ministry of Jesus, you see He never told Roman soldiers to leave the army. If Jesus had been a total pacifist, every time he saw a soldier, He would have said, “Leave your army! Come follow Me.” But He never once said it was morally wrong for them to be in the service. In fact, in Matthew 24:6, He said there will always be wars in the world until the Prince of Peace comes back.

    So, was Jesus a pacifist? I DON'T think He was! Twice in the New Testament, He cleansed the temple by force. The Bible says He made a whip, and He went in and cleansed the temple. He didn't politely ask them, “Would you guys, pretty please, get out of here?” He forced them out.

    Don McIntosh

  7. We love you, too, Don!...and even more now since we entered into this lively discussion.

    You said so many good things, so I'll try to be concise--it would be such a better conversation with a good beak dipping, that's for sure.

    You mentioned Normandy. WW II has been a difficult one for me. One of my heroes (Bonhoeffer) cleverly argued with pristine theology for the assassination of Hitler, and it landed him in prison and executed on the gallows.

    However, there is significant evidence that more than suggests the Christian faith of the Nazi soldiers. From the 16th century and Luther's Reform until the 19th century and beyond, Germany was the great theological center of the world. The Nazi's believed that they were bringing God's pure reign on earth, however misguided their conclusions. And they derived much of their inspiration and guidance from Luther's writings (one booklet of Luther's, for example, was called 'The Jews and Their Lies'. It suggested to do to the Jews precisely what the Nazis did. Moreover, the beginning of the Nazi genocide movement was on Kristallnacht--the 9th and 10th of November. The anti-Jewish pogrom was to culminate on the 10th in order to honor Martin Luther--it was ML's birthday).

    The Nazis believed that they were purifying the earth and inaugurating Christ's eternal Kingdom. Maybe Hitler and Goebbels believed in this less in the faith sense (though, up to the end, they both paid church taxes and founded new churches), but they certainly used it as propaganda to 'rally the troops'. It is in the unabashed obedience of the majority of Germany--in the name of Christ--that we see that they believed they were following the will of God.

    Yes, you could argue that they were going out to conquer. But, in their minds, their conquering was a liberation--much like our pre-emptive strikes in Iraq (we wanted to conquer the old Regime in order to liberate).

    I would like to believe that 'our boys' were justified in what they did, that they did not die in vain but that they sacrificed their lives for a far more noble cause...and, indeed, I do believe this.

    But so did the mothers of young Nazi soldiers as they prayed that God would keep them safe against the enemy (i.e., us and our allies) and that he would grant them victory.

    What I mean to say is this: because we have faith that what we are doing is the right thing, that we do it on behalf of all humanity, and that it is even the will of a just God does not necessarily make it so.

    When we go to war, we go to great lengths to convince ourselves that what we are doing is right, just, noble--how else could we convince ourselves to kill another human being? Part of this necessitates that we demonize the enemy--that we dehumanize them, make them seem to us less than human, less faithful (religiously speaking), more evil, etc.

  8. Yes, Eccl. says, 'there is a time for war, a time for peace'. However, this is not a moral statement. He is not saying that war, at the correct time, is justifiable (we are so good at convincing that this war at this time was THE time for war. Who holds us accountable to that?). I suggest that the time for war is over because Christ came to inaugurate the time of peace. It was declared: Glory to God in the Highest! Peace has come on earth! Goodwill for all humanity!

    These heroes in the OT were not such because they were warriors. It was because of their faithfulness to God (Hebrews 11). It is interesting that David was denied the honor of building the Temple on the grounds that he shed too much blood. If it these wars that he fought were so righteous, why did God not allow him to construct the Temple?

    My view of violence in the OT is that God was using the ways of human beings to demonstrate their futility. Violence, no matter how seemingly justifiable, ends in more violence. Peace cannot be had by violent means or other clever ways invented by humans. God comes and embraces all that is wrong with us and puts it to death--once and for all--that we might be able to take on his Way. Which is precisely what happened on the cross: Jesus disarmed all the powers by being disarmed.

    In short, God meets us where we are--in every bit of all our societies--to lead us to a better Way.

    True, Jesus never told the Roman soldiers to stop soldiering, though it is interesting: after the Resurrection, when many Roman soldiers turned to Christ, they came to the conviction that they could no longer serve as soldiers. Many of our brother Roman warriors died horrendous deaths for refusing to serve Caesar in the ways they used to before meeting Jesus. They could not reconcile the two.

    Jesus came to inaugurate a Way that loves the enemy, prays for the persecutor, and blesses the one who curses--making it possible to beat our swords into plowshares, and we are still learning to do this. He could have said to the soldiers what he said to Peter, 'Put down your sword. I have come to bring peace. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword' (as Brian noted). He didn’t because he was teaching the Way to his disciples, whom he would later command to multiply and teach it to others.

    Jesus in the Temple--being a pacifist in no way means being passive (Bonhoeffer's struggle). This is why Jesus had to act (and why we must act). He had to purify the Temple because he could not remain passive while humans robbed God and exploited the poor in a place that was to be a house of prayer for all peoples. He was right to do what he did. But, driving people out with a whip and chord is not the same thing as killing them, especially in terms of 'for God and country' (actually, what Jesus did could not have been more antithetical to nationalistic impulses wedded to faith).

    All this to say: In my first statement, I intentionally did not say that any violence at any time to any one is morally wrong. Perhaps there are moments when it is necessary or morally acceptable. What I did say, however, is that it cannot--under any circumstances--be equated with the Way of Jesus. Perhaps WW II was morally good (I like to believe that it was)--but Jesus shows us a Way that is morally better. He teaches his Church a superior way, that of love for one's enemies.

    God uses the decisions of persons and nations for his purposes--this includes war and violence (after all, he is God the Sovereign...what could deter him from accomplishing what he is determined to do?). It seems, however, that he would much rather that humans not kill or not be violent towards each other, else why would he promise to put an end to it? Yes, he said that there will be wars and rumors of wars until his return. But that is the way of the world (the tares growing up with the wheat, as it were); we, however, follow a different and better Way, One that makes peace possible because the Prince of Peace has risen and will return--may he find us looking for and living out that Way of Peace.

  9. to quickly add another example...if we were to base our lives in Jesus on actions in the old testament through our heroes of faith in the old covenant, than we would be justified to continue to sacrifice animals, because it was a holy actin the old testament. also, abraham left greatly blessed materially after lying and offering sarah as a prostitute basically (though he said his sister, but it was for the same fear).

    point being, the very point which all of Hebrews tries to tell us, Jesus is far superior to any other messanger beforehand (prophets, fathers, angels - Hebrews 1), and the gospel he brought is far superior to the previous (Hebrews 2:1-4), and He has brought us into a new time under a new covenant.

    The sermon on the mount makes our calling all the more clear, everything is based on what they already knew under the old covenant and Jesus calls them to more deeper and holier understanding and way of life. "You have heard eye for an eye...", "You have heard the ancients were told, 'you shall not murder...'" and he always follows by taking it one more step. "Rabbi, who is our neighbor?" What are we to do to our enemies and those who persecute us? The Bible clearly tells us how we are to respond to those who persecute and those who are our enemy. No where does it say we as the church are to really on the government.

    This is no longer a quick reply is it.

    We are to submit ourselves to government officials, yes, because God puts them there and uses them all...even Babylonia, the great Satan of the Hebrew people, to teach his children.

    I think in the end we want to justify murder in war, force to make "right" our world, because then we do not have to follow Christ all the way onto the cross, just up to it (from Mere Discipleship). We will follow Christ all the way up to the point that it really costs us our lives. I know I do it...I don't want to, but I do.

    I struggle with this as a leader as well. I can force people to do things because I am in a position of power, but a true leader inspires others to to right and doesn't manipulate them through power and intimidation. Again we do not always prefer this because it is not immediately effective and efficient in our time orientated society. This drives us gringos crazy because so many countries are not time oriented, but relationship oriented. But in the end what is more important? I prefer to build people, edify.

    I think I am a little off course. So to bring it back around. The church we are called to correct and even judge, but not those who are outside. So Jesus has every right to judge and correct them. He flipped tables over, the ones used to sell animals for sacrifices and change money (a whole system to make money and not to honor God and bring his people back to him). And Christ banished them. He even killed a tree for not bearing fruit. But it never says he ever lifted a hand to a person, or used any power toward a non-believer. Correct me if I am wrong.

    This kind of reminds me of Obama calling out the wrongs of our country and saying we must correct them. Many people have said he should not talk about the country like that, but praise it for all it does and how great we are...that is pride in it's most concetrated form, not seeking to better but recognize how great we are (Pharisee and the sinner prayer).

    Like we needed to bring politics into it to make the conversation more alive right? I use the example because if we don't clean house from within who should? Jesus cleaned house, but never did he use force to hurt anyone physically or force any non-believer.

    love you guys. and i love this conversation. i have been going over it in my head for about 3 years now and i keep getting more and more convinced that violence, force, and power are not they way to the conscience, to saving souls, even the most "atrocious". Paul was a terrorist, right?

  10. I wrote really fast earlier and I just reread it...my orthography was really bad (like putting really when I wanted to put rely). i hope more people get in on this, because I want to hear more opinions and get my brain working again. I miss great conversations like these.

    When you guys coming to Peru?

  11. this has been a good discussion, and i do hope for more responses. i've been thinking through some other topics that i will post soon--may they generate more fruitful and interesting conversation.

    we've no concrete plans for a visit to Peru, though we would like to visit in Jan or Feb.

    how's the baby coming along?

  12. I certainly agree with the central premise that the only effective means of changing people's lives is through the power of the gospel by means of a radical expression of love of Christ. I Cor 10:4; John 18:36

    Christian Germans. He makes the moral equivalence argument that Germans and Allies were "fighting for God". This ignores the contemporary history that when the Germans took over a country, they systematically stole the country's resources, restricted their freedoms and enslaved or murdered their people. The allies liberated, stabilized their governments, then handed it back to their people. By the 1950s even the Germans themselves were not making the moral equivalence argument.

    Self defense. The passages that he references in Luke 22:52 and Matthew
    26:52 are in the context of Jesus arrest and crucifixion (John 18:36). If Jesus did not intend for his disciples to defend themselves, why would he instruct them "if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one" (Luke
    22: 35-38)

    Old testament violence. He draws the remarkable conclusion that OT violence is "God's way of using human beings to demonstrate their futility" The bible says that God deferred the genocide of the Amorites by 400 years until "the time of their iniquity is complete" (Genesis 15:16) He instructed Moses to wipe them out because he wanted his people to be holy, because "They will turn your sons from following Me to follow other Gods." He wanted his own people to be "Holy to the Lord Your God." (Deut.7:1-6, 20:16-18.)

    Violence and the Government. The quote on the blog: "why is it that when it come to countries...do we feel it is OK to justify what the Bible clearly teaches against?"

    Because God created nations (Genesis 10) and has ordained government (Proverbs 21:1) to be "His servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the evildoer....,government does not bear the sword for nothing." Romans
    13: 1-6.

    We are able to go into Sierra Leone to preach the gospel, build clinics and do good work because God's servants, in the form of a battalion of British commandos went in first and administered God's judgment on rebel evildoers by means of sniper rifles, mortars and Chinook helicopters.

    IAM has a lovely women's center in Kurdish Iraq because a group of US Marines, their allies and airmen administered God's judgment against Saddam and other evildoers first.

    Is their contribution diminished by violence? I don't know. Is their sacrifice (many who have given all) equal to mine, who has risked only time and money? I think not.

    And finally
    Beating swords into plowshares is a Kingdom prophecy, when the Lord Himself will judge between the nations. (Isaiah 2:3,4)

    Problems with Jesus and violence comes into particular difficulty in the prophecies of Revelation, which depicts Jesus the King orchestrating scenes of unspeakable violence - "with Justice He judges and makes war."
    (Rev 19:11).


  13. I apologize for taking so long to respond to the latest post. I have been excitedly busy with preparing for and then engaging in my new internship. I hope that the lively discussion hasn't dissipated too much. Because of space, I can only respond to two points for now. I have chosen the first two of Jerry’s comments. I hope to comment on the rest, if interest seems to remain.

    Now, in regards to my statement on German Christian soldiers, I was not making a moral equivalence argument. I did not say that both were 'fighting for God.' Rather, my point was that both believed they were fighting for God, which was a response to Don's original statement (for context). To accuse me of moral equivalence is to neither understand the term itself nor the essence of my argument. I think Mr William James would be ashamed of such misappropriation of his term.

    Indeed, what I am arguing is that the very term 'Christian soldier', irrespective of a national prefix, is an oxymoron. Again, my original statement was: no form of violence can be equated with Jesus the Christ. It is not his Way. You can be an American soldier, a German, Russian, Indonesian, whatever soldier. But your warring cannot be justified by and, therefore, equated with the Way of Jesus.

    Maybe war is logical—even commonsensical—to the realist. This is the way it must be so long as there are ‘evil doers’ in this world. But we are not called to be realists or pragmatists or to chiefly value the efficient. We are followers of Jesus—and it is a slow, humble, kenotic Way (i.e., it is self-emptying). Jesus came to break in a new reality—he came to open up new possibilities for peace, but on his terms not on ours (Jn 14.27). And, yes, Isaiah 2.3, 4 (and Hosea 2.18) are Kingdom prophecies—the Kingdom Jesus claimed to have inaugurated when he walked among us. Now, it is we who must obey the command to ‘beat our swords’. It is a difficult and complicated task. Our would-be plowshares still have the look of a sword, which is why we still pick them up to destroy. But we are commanded to put the sword on the anvil and go to the formidable task of shaping it into the tool that gives life.

  14. On, my response to the reading of Jesus' comments to his disciples in Luke 22: Unfortunately, it is a very tragic misreading of the text to align it with justification for Christian violence. Moreover, such a reading certainly fits nowhere else in Jesus' entire life and/or ministry. To begin, we fail to realize that Jesus had penchant for irony. So let's put the passage in its appropriate context; perhaps we may see exactly what Jesus was getting at.

    Jesus went to great lengths to inculcate that he was to be the Suffering Servant, not a violent Zealot insurrectionist. The reason why, as is clear in the narrative, is that his disciples so desperately wanted Jesus to be the armed revolutionary--the apocalyptic Messiah who would once and for all remove the Gentile yoke of oppression and inaugurate his earthly Kingdom (which to them, of course, was highly nationalistic—read, for example, the dispute over greatness in 22.24-30). In short, Jesus was to fail to meet their expectations as an anticipated warrior-king, conquering with sword and driving out the pagan with those who pledged their allegiance to him (Lk 22.31-34).

    He grew weary and frustrated of their density—their foolishness and slowness of heart to believe (Lk 24.25).

    Their crime (hence the fulfillment of 'being found with transgressors' in 22.37) was their lack of belief, their failure to trust Jesus. The mandate in 35-38 recalls when he first sent them out (9.1-6). They were to learn to trust in Jesus, his ability to sustain them in their missional efforts and to provide for them. They experienced the faithfulness of Jesus for three and some years. Now they are at the end and Jesus sees that they still don't get it. This makes sense of his question and their response: When I sent you out with nothing, did you lack anything? No, they replied.

    So Jesus says, Take matters into your own hands, then—provide for yourselves and get you some swords because Scriptures say that I am to be found among the unfaithful, the untrusting (he was referring to his disciples).

    Now here's the pathetic part. The disciples say, Look, we have two swords. Two points to make here: TWO swords? Really? 13 men (not skilled in the art of war) with TWO swords to take on the trained Temple guards and professional soldiers, and Jesus says, It is enough? Quite the disappointing revolution. Either Jesus was insane or there is something else he means by 'It is enough' (we'll get to this in a moment). The second point, the Greek word translated 'sword' is 'machaira', which is more like a dagger usually used for killing animals and skinning them (perhaps for cleaning and gutting fish?). It was certainly not the broad or long sword used for battle.

    And Jesus said, It is enough? If we interpret this to mean 'that will suffice', then we have at least two problems. One, he was going to do something miraculous, which he did not do (remember, he actually rebuked Peter for using it?). The second problem flows from this: Why would he rebuke Peter for wielding his little dagger later if he was commanding him to take it with him earlier? That makes no logical sense whatsoever.

    Maybe there is another way for interpreting 'It is enough'. The idiom 'esti hikanos' can mean, that will suffice. But it can also mean 'Enough!' similar to when a parent has had enough of his children's fighting. A good translation in Spanish would be 'Basta!'. This seems to fit more fluidly, logically, and theologically. It is what God said to Moses in Deut 3.26 (as translated in the Septuagiant) when he (God) broke off the conversation because Moses was not understanding God’s point anyway.

    Jesus is saying, Enough of this--let us be on our way. The next scene is the Mount of Olives, the Betrayal and his arrest.

    To use this narrative as a pretext for Christian involvement in violence is as silly as the disciples’ naïve impulse that they could inaugurate the Messianic Kingdom with their fisherman’s knives.

  15. Nosotros,

    This is from Joel 4:9-10

    Declare this among the nations: proclaim a war, rouse the warriors to arms! Let all the soldiers report and march!

    Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak man say, "I am a warrior!"

    The complete opposite of your initial old testament Isaiah reference.

    And yet even the Apostle Peter carried a side arm.