Violence Visits bin Laden: Is Might Ever Right?

I apologize in advance for the length of this post - but the recent American military action bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, and the ubiquitous interpretation of the event from Christians prompts me to write, and perhaps write too much.  :)

"The Bible says..."

If there's one thing I've learned from the brilliant Third Quest theologians, it's that we must guard against the all-to-common habit in Christendom of taking a bit of the Bible and arbitrarily turning it into a "timeless truth".

The main reason we must guard against this habit is that the Bible is not merely a book of "wise sayings", such as "Confucius says, 'Don't eat yellow snow!'".  

As I've often said, it doesn't matter whether you're in the year 2000 B.C., or in the 1st century, or in 2011 or in 3050 - just don't do it.  


Why?  Because whatever time period you're in, whatever the culture, and inside whatever historical narrative you're playing your part - yellow snow is only yellow for one (very disgusting) reason.  

"Don't eat yellow snow!" is therefore a timeless truth.  It makes sense in just about any context you can conjure up.

HOWEVER, the Bible just is not that sort of thing.  The Bible is a single, connected story that binds the past, the present and a glorious promised future into a cohesive "meta-narrative".  

Each part of the Bible must be allowed to make sense in the time and context in which it was written.  Each verse of each chapter of each book of each culture of each historical period must be seen as the outworking of the Will of a single Author.  

The Bible is like a Broadway play written by Yahweh himself.

It must not be chopped up into anecdotes or sound bites or timeless truths.  When well-meaning Christians do so, the majestic Judeo-Christian narrative falls to pieces.  This results in new, anachronistic and sometimes bizarre theological trajectories that lead Christendom to ridiculous places.

And again, I owe all the above understanding to meticulous readings over the last 10 years of the brilliant theologians I often quote on this site.

But in times like these - when evil runs rampant and threatens to obliterate the innocent - it seems that Christians and even Christian leaders are tempted to forget all of the above, and take one of two sides - either pacifism or warmongering.  

It's as if we lose our theological and philosophical minds, and rush to whatever position is most expedient to us.

I submit to you that both pacifism and warmongering miss the mark by a country mile.  Let me be more direct:  "Christian Pacifists" and "Christian Warmongers" ignore both the trajectory of the Judeo-Christian story as well as the realities of living in our broken world.

For example, "Christian Pacifists" take the unique Messianic work of Jesus done in the 1st century (done for a particular purpose to fulfill a particular vocation at a particular time in the history of both Israel and of the whole world) and make "timeless truths" out of his sayings.

A favorite statement of Jesus used by these well-meaning but misguided folks is the famous "put down your sword - he who lives by the sword dies by the sword" saying given when Peter cut off the soldier's ear.

"See Mike", I can hear them saying, "Jesus says right there that we must never own swords!  So get rid of your guns, brother!".

And I say, "Nonsense!".  Notice that in Luke 22:36-38, just before his betrayal, Jesus tells his disciples to buy swords!

I'll say it again - Jesus told his disciples to BUY SWORDS!

So, my well-meaning friend - which statement of Jesus are you going to rip out of its historical and Messianic context?  Let me guess, you'll choose the one most expedient to your purposes.

If you're a "Christian Pacifist", you'll proudly proclaim that "Jesus told Peter to put down his sword, so I must put down mine!", and you'll ignore the bit about buying swords.

If you're a "Christian Warmonger", you'll run out and buy swords "because Jesus said to buy 'em" and you'll ignore the bit about putting them down.

Do you see the error in both positions?  Both positions IGNORE the rest of the metanarrative.  Both positions impose a preconceived pacifist or warmongering position on "whether violence can be right" onto the text.

Both positions create foolish trajectories for Christendom that reach logical conclusions either of Evil running rampant over the civilized world (pacifism) or of misguided religious zealotry bombing everything in sight (warmongering).

By the way, be aware that God advocated the use of force in the Old Testament, and he's promised to bring judgment in quite forceful ways to the Earth as he brings his Kingdom at the end of the age.  If you doubt what I'm saying, try reading Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah in the OT as well the book of Revelation in the NT.  

And yes, I've done my fair share of study on the ancient usage of apocalyptic language. Quite simply, there's no viable way you can read the OT and Revelation, and then say with any sensibility that the "concrete referent" of all that fiery judgment language (including Jesus leading his army to defeat the armies of the Beast) is merely God waving a magic wand to make all the mean people into nice people.  

That's just silly.

No, what we need is a more nuanced response to evil.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw exactly this as World War II played out.  

We need to recognize that we're not yet in that great Kingdom that Revelation promises.  We can't wish it into being with our foolish, wimpy pacifism.  We can't bomb it into being with our arrogant, ugly warmongering.  

Even Jesus said that only Yahweh knows the time when he'll send Messiah back to the planet.

And on that great day, when the Righteous Judge appears - the elegant Judeo-Christian story says that he will judge the wicked, remove Evil from the planet, abolish Death, renovate the cosmos and rule in absolute Justice through those of us that follow him.

So in between the Now of this broken world, and the Not Yet of that coming Kingdom - I propose just such a nuanced response to Evil.  That is, a careful restraint (no warmongering or greedy self-interest!) that at the same time is willing to pull the trigger when all else fails - to stop Evil from overwhelming the planet.  

Now is not the time to beat our swords into plowshares, neither is it the time to re-launch the Crusades. 

Now is the time to pray that our leaders, with their finger on the big red button, will be filled with the Spirit - for they may need restraint or they may need to push it.  

Now is the time to pray that the brave men of Special Operations, and their leaders, will follow Messiah and be filled with the Spirit - for they are tasked with wading into the muck of this world and cleaning some of it up.  

Now is the time to fully, soberly and prayerfully recognize our individual duty to use our particular gifts and skills to bring justice in whatever measure we can to this little planet - for if we do not, then Evil will prevail.

And now is the time for us to live ever more in anticipation of the Kingdom to come - when Justice with a capital "J" will arrive once and for all.


Sam Andrews said...

Any grown man that would 'turn the other cheek' to an evil person that broke into his home, and is actively assaulting members of his family, is not a man, but a coward. Evil must be confronted, and the only way to do it properly is to prepare. One must be prepared both physically and mentally.

Once you can get past the simple truth that God is a God of the living, not of the dead, perhaps you may realize that God wants His creation that loves Him TO LIVE! I don't believe that the Sun, planets including earth, and the rest of the universe were hung there for no reason at all. God has demonstrated a pattern of destroying the parts of His creation that do not fulfill their intended purpose.

To use violence to destroy part of God's creation is a direct breach of God's sovereignty. To ignore those that destroy God's creation, is the moral equivalent of pulling the trigger yourself. The needs of the many in creation, certainly outweigh the evil desires of the few who seek destroy God's handiwork.

Buy a sword to protect your family, not to attack another family. Confront evil, don't participate in or enable evil. Man up and use some love and common sense or pray that Christ returns before you have to make any real choices.......

Mike Aleckson said...

God wants his creation to live. Yes - that's it. Life and more abundant life. The tendency in the church is to make that statement mystical, when it likely should be taken at face value.

Thanks Sam!