What about the violent acts of God, both past and future? (That is, is nonviolence at the heart of God, or are we nonviolent because only God can be righteously violent?)
-Xanga Council of Christian PacifistsAnswer:
Provided by SirNickDon
A problem that Christian advocates of nonviolence often face is that the God of scripture seems not to be an advocate of nonviolence. While violence in the church (the Crusades, the killing of Quakers) can be fairly blamed on a departure from following the way of Christ, the violence God enacts throughout scripture (flooding the earth, striking Ananias and Sapphira dead, the book of Revelation) cannot be simply explained away.
This is made more problematic when several passages in the New Testament specifically call the disciple to imitate God while simultaneously calling for a nonviolent life. Matthew 5 tells us to love indiscriminately, just as God sends the rain and sun to both the good and evil. Ephesians 5 explicitly calls us to "be imitators of God, as dearly loved children, and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us."
So which is it? Do we live nonviolently with God as our example, because God has revealed himself in Christ to be a God of nonviolent, even suffering, love? Or do we live nonviolently because we trust God alone to be righteously violent? What's more, how can it be true that the fullness of the deity is revealed in Christ, if Christ's nonviolence is in primary contradiction to God's character?
Here are some observations.
There is no problem.
If I was a sculptor, I would be in a position to destroy every work I've ever made, and nobody could hold me to moral account. But let anyone else destroy what I've made, and I will be justifiably upset. God can exercise violence and take life as he will, and also command the church to refrain from taking life. The shortcomings of this observation are obvious, however. It may leave humans with no more dignity than a sculpture, for one. It also does not deal with the imitation texts mentioned above, or the problem of an internally inconsistent Godhead. So we need to think deeper.
A 'nonviolent God' would be a nightmare for the world.
While many Christian thinkers, including especially pacifists and Girardians, argue that God is fundamentally "a nonviolent deity," theologian Miroslav Volf, also a committed pacifist, has consistently and passionately argued against this understanding. To those who would claim God to be a pacifist, Volf offers this challenge. Imagine:
[Y]ou are delivering a lecture in a war zone. Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: A Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect non-coercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God's refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die.
According to Volf, God's wrath is an aspect of God's love. "If Go would not be angry at the injustice of the world, and act to punish it, then God would not be worthy of human worship."
But 'violence' is not accurate to God either.
Willard Swartley has argued compellingly that while scripture uses the term 'violence' in its various forms quite commonly, the term is never applied to God's actions except in two questionable cases (Job 19:7, Jer. 20:8). Rather, violence always figures as that which is enacted against God and his people, and as that to which God responds. Even an act of judgment like the flood is enacted specifically against violence, as God acts because "the earth was filled with violence."
According to Swartley, this shows that "God stands against violence, and violence is precisely that which ignites God's wrath and brings divine punishment upon humans. If we choose to call that violence and attribute it to God, we have slipped a step exegetically, failing to recognize a fundamental fact about Scripture: God "hates the lover of violence."
Distinction precedes imitation
That the New Testament calls disciples to imitate the character of God (which is not 'violent,' but which is actively opposed to violence) is secondary to the duty of not wanting to be God. Volf, again: "Preserving the fundamental difference between God and nonGod, the biblical tradition insists that there are things which only God may do." One of them is to exercise wrath (Rom 12).
The prohibition of idolatry is just as fundamental, perhaps more so, than the prohibition of exercising violence.
But Mennonite theologian James Reimer argues that the distinction does not negate the call for imitation.
God's means of achieving the ultimate reconciliation of all things are not immediately evident to us. God cannot be subjected to our interpretation of the non-violent way of Jesus. Our commitment to the way of the cross (reconciliation) is not premised on God's pacifism or non-pacifism. It is precisely because God has the prerogative to give and take life that we do not have the right... We o not avoid the reality of violence in ourselves and in our world, but we side with the dynamic power of peace and reconciliation which is mysteriously at work in the scrabble game of life, knowing that ultimately all things rest in God's providential and loving hands.
My thoughts, then.
To summarize, I believe that Christians are called to trust in God enough to allow God to be God, while we follow the example of suffering love put forward in Christ. We are only able to do this because we know that God ultimately settles all debts and puts all things right. Paradoxically, we know the center of God's victory is the self-relinquishment and suffering love of Christ.
You may think this may seem as much like a non-answer as an answer, and I think you may be right. But for now all I can do is live in the paradox that "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."
What are your thoughts on Christian pacifism in light of the fact that God, at least in the past, has shown Himself to be violent? Do you believe the two can co-exist?