“In God We Trust.” But we trust more in our guns and in our violent ways of enforcing our ways. It’s been that way consistently, regardless of the governmental or economic system in place, in every culture since human history has been recorded.
We trust in violence and we persecute those who advocate any alternative in dealing with social and interpersonal disagreements and problems. Even our films and television shows constantly rehearse the necessity of violence as the only effective way to bring about “justice” (retributive justice) and to ensure our safety.
Even our Scriptures proclaim violence as a way of maintaining order. The Holy Writ attributes violent jealousy and vengeful wrath as a part of God’s character and nature.
Well, at least part of the Scriptures do.
Many of the Hebrew prophetic writings project a compassionate God whose love engenders faith and loyalty in those who seek Him (sic). But most readers of Scripture and practitioners of Christianity choose to ignore those parts, or at best to privatize them. The most common (almost unanimous) assimilation of that message is that God offers love and compassion only to those who are faithful to Him and who jump through His hoops. God’s love is conditional; and that message continues to leak through even our loudest pulpit-pounding about God’s grace. And those who are outside God’s grace are still doomed to violent retribution by this “loving” God.
The greatest tragedy is that so many of us use Scripture to justify our trust in violence. We have approached the Scriptures on a legalistic all-or-nothing basis, when the Scriptures themselves are not presented as such. Too often we have seen the Scriptures as self-contradictory, and then proceeded to “protect” the Holy Writ from itself by inventing all sorts of incongruous rationalizations and justifications to avoid what we see as contradictions.
But, instead of contradictions, the Scriptures present an ongoing courtroom-like debate among God’s people. On one side is the testimony of those who see God as a hero/warrior who competes with other gods over people and territory. Even after Judaism—or at least most of the religious leadership of Judaism—had become monotheistic, that God image persisted.
On the other side is the counter-testimony of those who understood God as one whose love is universally inclusive. They called upon Israel to be a “light to all nations” (Isaiah 60:1-3, et al).
The reader is the jury, and must decide which testimony to believe. Historically, God’s people consistently have chosen to reject the vulnerability of love in favor of the seemingly more secure use of violence and retributive justice.
Jesus made the unpopular choice. He chose to reject the violence in the Hebrew Scriptures and chose instead to lift up love: compassion, restorative justice, reconciliation and enemy love. And the power people of his time found his message so confronting to their own lives that they killed him. Power people still persecute all who challenge them.
At best, again, we privatize those words of Jesus that call for restoration and healing and love, and we wrap them in conditions. As a society we still trust in violence. We think it keeps us safe; we think it makes us strong.
The problem with a system built upon strength and power is that eventually somebody stronger always—ALWAYS—comes along. Love does not need power, for love is the strongest force in the universe. God is love (I John 4:8).
For all these reasons, it will not be enough simply to point out the harm that comes from violence. That harm will simply be called “unfortunate-but-necessary collateral damage.” We will need to demonstrate to the world that there are viable nonviolent alternatives to dealing with societal problems—“ways that are not only effective, but in fact are more effective than violence at resolving conflict and keeping us safe.”
There are numerous historic manifestations of effective non-violent confrontation of injustice and evil. Even in my own life-time names like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela come to mind. Yes, Bonhoeffer’s and King’s non-violent strategies, like Jesus’, cost them their lives; nevertheless, their effectiveness in weakening the evils they confronted is unquestionable. I know no one who denies that love is risky. And those who have challenged violent defense and retributive justice continue to be persecuted.
Maybe we’ve been asking the wrong questions: instead of asking, “How can we be safe and protect ourselves?” maybe we should be asking, “How we can be loving as Jesus was loving?”
That’s the way I see it through the flawed glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,
 Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did (San Francisco: Metanoia Press, 2014), Kindle edition, Location 2289.