There has been much talk of pacifism within Christian circles of late. In response, the often shocking and reactionary Mark Driscoll recently said, “Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist; he’s patient. .” The article, which you can read here, attempts to make the case for the physical use of force based on an argument from Exodus 20:13, “You Shall Not Murder.”
One of the conclusions he draws from that argument is that “If someone tries to murder you, and you defend yourself with lethal force in order to protect the lives of you and your family, that’s not murder.” I happen to agree with him on that particular point, but it’s not the purpose of this post.
The pacifist/non-pacifist argument has been around for quite some time, and I don’t see a unified stance coming from the church until “all things are reconciled.” (Colossians 1:19-20) One thing that bothers me in the conversation is what I see as a misuse of the word “violence.” After all, “violence never solved anything.” Right?
I don’t particularly think that violence and the physical/spiritual/mental use of force should be put on equal footing. In other words, while they may overlap at times, they are not synonymous.
A quick word study of “violence” in Logos Bible Software shows that violence is: that which destroys, injures, oppresses, rejects, subjects, violates, treats, forces, breaks, breaches, profits, or exposes, in a malicious manner.
Did you catch that last part? “In a malicious manner?” There is a malicious use of force which I would consider violence. But, there are situations in which I think the use of force in non-violent. For many who narrowly define the word violence, this proposition would simply be unacceptable. I understand . But, many who always equate violence with “the use of force,” also practice violence of their own. How? First, by acting superior because they think they are intelligent enough or spiritual enough not to be violent as defined by their self-imposed definition of violence. Secondly, they often use force, mental/spiritual/physical to tell you how you should live.
I can’t help but think that God used infinite physical force to crush his own Son for the benefit of others (Isaiah 53:10), Jesus will use infinite physical force in the judging of the world (Rev. 14:14–20), and the Spirit has used infinite deadly force in this church age. (Acts 5:1-11)
I won’t push those arguments to far, because it will lead us away from this post’s intent. Take a look at some familiar quotes:
“Nothing good ever comes of violence.” ~ Martin Luther “
“Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” ~ Gandhi
“People try non-violence for a week, and when it ‘does not work’ they go back to violence which hasn’t worked for centuries.” ~Theodore Roszak
“If you try to fix violence with violence, you do nothing but create violence.” ~ Tom DeLong
I think most of us would agree with the quotes above. Now consider these:
“Indiscriminate violence and mindless violence doesn’t solve anything,” ~ Friedman
“Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Nations and peoples who forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and freedoms.” ~ Robert A. Heinlein
“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” ~ Jesus
The second set of quotes is characteristically different from the first. I think the difference lies in whether or not the use of physical force is equated with violence in every case. A bit of a disclaimer: I am an ex-soldier, I am an ex-police officer, and an ex-bouncer. I have been all of these things in my Christian life. I believe, while difficult, that physical force can be used without being violent. I believe that physical force up to and including death can be used without sinning. Today, I am not “vested” in this theological stance until someone tries to hurt someone else I love. I don’t consider these hypothetical people my enemies, and in fact will most likely not consider them my enemies if they have some future intent to harm those close to me. I would just neutralize the situation, to the best of my ability, to eliminate the threat.
That said, I also believe situation dictates. There are times, I believe, when it’s holy, and righteous, and just to “turn the other cheek.” Likewise, I believe there are times when it’s holy and righteous, and just to prevent someone from hitting the cheek of another. The theological hardliner will not allow the Holy Spirit to lead in a situation requiring the use of physical force. I also don’t believe that all believers should run out and get pair of Nunchucks. As to just wars, justifiable homicide, and the like, I leave it up to you. But, I do have two questions:
1. Is “violence” and the “use of physical/mental/spiritual force” the same thing?
2. If you say yes, then was God the Father Violent to Jesus, His Son? If no, then when is the use of physical force against another biblically warranted?