On Sunday I gave my best shot at our final instalment of 'Twisted; Caricatures of Christianity’.
This week we asked the question, ‘is the God of the bible bloodthirsty and violent?’
Towards the end of my talk I quoted Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf who writes from his personal experience of the Bosnian war and the horrific genocide that took place. He asks;
“When your brother has been gunned down by local militia, where can you find the strength to forgive? When your mother has been gang-raped, where can you find the ability to not retaliate? When you hold in your arms the lifeless body of a slaughtered child, where can you find the conviction to not pick up an AK-47?”
If justice is in God’s hands, we don’t have to take it into our own.
Paul writes in the book of Romans,
'Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’ (Chapter 12 verses 19-21)
Jesus said we are to ‘love our enemies’ not kill them. He calls for a radical response in the face of violence, abuse and hatred.
- The world says “Get even” – Jesus say’s “Forgive them”
- The world says “Take revenge” Jesus says “Take it on the chin”
- The world says “Give as good as you get” Jesus says “Give to those out to get you”
- The world says “Hate those who harm you” Jesus says “Love those who hate you”
From this, I conclude that it is never justified to further Christianity through the use of violence or war. That the ‘holy wars’ fought in the last 2000 years to advance the Christian faith in the world are not simply wrong-headed, they're an evil distortion of Christ’s teaching and the means by which he said his Kingdom would advance.
Saying this provoked a question from a number of people, which I unfortunately didn't have time to deal with at the time:
Should a Christ follower ever join the military and take up arms to fight?
Great question and it doesn't have an easy answer. To be honest, I’m still processing this and looking to read, think and reflect some more. In the meantime, here’s some links to a few blogs that might help you as you process the question; to fight or not to fight?
Here’s one by Matt Hosier framing both sides of the argument: http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/just-war
Another by Andrew Wilson voicing the pacifist side of things: http://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/war-peace-part-1
And finally one on why John Stott changed his mind on pacifism: https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/trevinwax/2013/09/12/why-john-stott-changed-his-mind-on-pacifism/