Category Archives: Pacifism
Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2008) 234 pages including end notes.
I have not mastered the art of making proficient book reviews. If you have read any of my other reviews they are basically extended comments about why you should obtain the book for yourself. A proper book review includes summaries of the author(s) main arguments and an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Like I said, I’ve never really been taught how to do that exceptionally well, and I’m lazy to boot. But, that having been said, I will try to evaluate this book a little more carefully.
How is that for brevity? I was guided in a study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Dr. Stassen as a part of my Doctor of Ministry work at Fuller Theological Seminary. I read and loved his Kingdom Ethics. I appreciated his Living the Sermon on the Mount although it was written on a much more popular level and I felt like he oriented the book a little too much toward the popular reader. I was excited to purchase this book, which Dr. Stassen edited, as a continuation of his discussion on the importance of “Just Peacemaking” in a world that has basically gone mad.
This book simply disappointed on so many levels. I will attempt to share with you some of my frustrations.
The book begins with a 40 page introduction that needed an introduction. It was kind of like turning on the TV and hearing the announcement, “We now return to our regularly scheduled programing already in progress…” There are five names associated with the writing of the introduction, and it genuinely reads like the product of a committee. The first eight pages contain a rambling discussion of terrorism with no real context to frame the discussion. It is not until page nine that a coherent discussion of Just Peacemaking begins. The rest of the introduction is valuable, but perhaps overly lengthy. The purpose of an introduction is to introduce the subject. At 40 pages the introduction was a chapter in and of itself. As I said, the introduction needed an introduction.
The first chapter, “Support Non Violent Direct Action,” written by John Cartwright and Susan Thistlewaite, was, in this blogger’s estimation, simply dreadful. Not only dreadful, but profoundly contradictory. The authors state as the lead of the second paragraph, “Nonviolent direct action is a strategy that lances the festering boil of violence and produces healing without resort to war.” (p. 42) All well and good, if not a little flowery in the language. What “nonviolent” actions do the authors recommend? The first is boycotts, which they define as “…a concerted action designed to isolate an individual, group, or nation in order to express disapproval and to coerce change.” (p. 44) I nearly gagged on my coffee when I read that sentence. Let me get this straight – we are to lance the festering boil of violence by isolating and coercing people that we disagree with into behaving the way we want them to. It gets better. The lead of the next paragraph reads, “After 1880 the term soon came into common use, broadening to describe and include all forms of nonviolent intimidation.” So, now the priests of nonviolence have encouraged their followers to use isolation, coercion and intimidation to achieve their goals. I almost put the book down right then, but I soldiered on. (Pardon the pun).
The next nonviolent action the authors recommend is a strike. They suggest that, “Strikes have often met with considerable violence on the part of both business owners and government.” (p. 47) I suppose the authors have never heard of, nor read about, the horrific violence that strikers have used against business owners and non-workers alike. Oh well, if you are going to advocate coercion and intimidation, a little violence might not be too bad. Except that the whole point of the chapter was supposed to be “nonviolent” actions. This chapter was clearly the worst of the book, and if you can get past this entry, the rest of the book is not that bad.
The next chapter, “Take Independent Initiatives to Reduce Threat” by Glen Stassen is quite good. It is brief, to the point, and well written – all hallmarks of Dr. Stassen’s expertise. The third chapter, “Use Cooperative Conflict Resolution” is a little bit longer, but still valuable. I found the fourth chapter, “Acknowledge Responsibility for Conflict and Injustice and Seek Repentance and Forgiveness” written by Alan Geyer and Donald W. Shriver to be particularly valuable. Once again the chapter was direct, fairly brief, full of legitimate examples, and the concepts espoused fit directly into the title of the book, Just Peacemaking.
In the second (chapters 5 and 6) and third (chapters 7 – 10) sections of the book the second major flaw of the book was revealed. These chapters read like a manifesto produced by the Democratic party of the United States. The only American Presidents who received any positive mention were Democrats, and Jimmy Carter was clearly the favorite of all the authors. Ronald Reagan was vilified at every opportunity. Likewise, the Palestinians and their cause received all the positive comments, whereas the Israelis were never described as anything other than land hungry war mongers. I do not doubt but what the Palestinians have a legitimate complaint against the colonization of their land. But the one-sided nature of the treatment in this book made it sound like the suicide bombers and the indiscriminate missile firing of the Palestinian terrorists are somehow justified. The political stance of the authors was utterly transparent. And that was unfortunate in a book that was designed to be about Just Peacemaking. You cannot be a peacemaker if you are lobbing verbal hand grenades at your political opponents.
After finishing the book, especially the last sections, I could not help but think of the irony that the authors of the book really needed to read chapters 2-4 of the book and put those principles into practice in their own chapters. The authors of chapter one just need to re-write their chapter from scratch.
Okay, so I am not an accomplished book reviewer. I usually only review those books that I genuinely love and want others to read. I made an exception here, not that I do not want people to buy this book, but only that if you are interested in the title of the book that you purchase it carefully. If your politics are even moderately left-of-center you will probably love the book. The more left-of-center your politics the more you will like the book (if you can get past the theological arguments and the references to the Bible). But, if you are like me and have somewhat to moderate right-of-center politics and you are fairly conservative in your theology, this book is a frustrating read.
I will recommend you purchase the book with the above caveat in mind. If you are interested in the “new paradigm” of Just Peacemaking (a concept, by the way, that I approve of whole heartedly) then this is a good resource. The middle chapters are good, and the later chapters do have some good points. I simply wish the authors had checked their politics in the coat room when they entered the conversation hall. It would have made the book much more valuable, and also much more enjoyable to read.
We live in a world of comparative justice – or comparative injustice if you will. By that strange term I mean that all we experience as justice, or injustice, is compared to others. We know what we think justice should look like, and “compared to _______” what we see is either very just or very wrong.
Jesus lived in a world of comparative justice as well. Consider the following:
There were some present at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners that all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:1-5, RSV)
We know little, if anything, about the two incidents that Jesus referenced. But obviously they were current topics, and the people to whom Jesus was speaking understood them quite well. The first was obviously an example of murder – Pilate had a group of “Galileans” killed while they were offering their sacrifices (at the temple in Jerusalem?). Why they were singled out as “Galileans” we are not sure. Was it because they were insurrectionists, or believed to be plotting an insurrection? Or were they just “out-of-towners” who got mixed up in an ugly case of mistaken identity? And what of the unfortunate 18 who happened to be in or under the “tower in Siloam?” Were they meeting there as a part of a plot? Or did the tower just give way as they happened to be gathered in the shade of the tower?
We have a lot of questions to which we may never know the answers. But one thing is quite clear – Jesus does not buy into “comparative justice” or injustice. Twice he asks, “Do you think this group worse that another?” and twice the answer is “No.”
We watch Tim McVeigh detonate his bomb in front of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City and we recoil in disgust. We watch two airplanes being flown into the World Trade Center and we react with hatred and revenge in our hearts. We watch as two bombs are detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and we are repulsed.
And every day bombs are detonated in crowded markets and in busses and in places of worship and we hardly notice. Every day (it seems like) President Obama agrees to use another secretive drone to bomb a target in Iraq or Afghanistan and scores of innocent bystanders are killed and if there is any reaction in the United States at all, it is simply to say, “Serves them right.”
I remember in some bygone conflict (Desert Storm I or II, or in Afghanistan, even I lose track) there was a member of the media that was killed. Dozens of American soldiers had already died with barely even a mention or without hardly a whimper raised by the TV talking heads. But when the media person was killed you would have thought the entire world had come to a crashing end. There were pictures on the TV, dozens of stories about how this person was trying to make the world a better place through journalism, about how it just wasn’t fair for such a young person to die, blah, blah, blah. Comparative justice. According to the TV types, it was okay for soldiers to die, maybe even expected, but it was NEVER expected or okay that a reporter or camera person to die.
In comparative justice, it is okay for our enemy to die, but never okay for one of ours to die. It is okay for other children to be cut in half by a roadside bomb, but never in America. It would be okay for our American President to use a secretive drone to bomb innocent bystanders into eternity, but what if it happened in Boston? Or New York? Or Dallas?
Jesus would not buy into the idea of comparing the value of deaths. A death was a loss of a human life to Jesus. There were no “greater” and “lesser” sinners in his eyes. There were none who did not deserve their deaths. No, for Jesus we all stand guilty. We all deserve the death that awaits us.
Or, I guess I should say the death that awaited us. Because, you see, Jesus stepped into the middle and “took the bullet” that was intended for us. We have the opportunity to live eternally because he died temporally (in time) on that cross. But his death was not without meaning; not without a warning.
“Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” I don’t think Jesus was talking about physical death here and was telling us in to how we can avoid murderous tyrants and creaky towers. I believe he was using two tragedies to tell us that a far worse death awaits those who continue to live in rebellion to God’s Kingdom.
The bombings in Oklahoma City, New York, Washington and Boston were horrific, make no mistake. But let us also be very clear. God does not view the death of an innocent American as any worse than an innocent Palestinian, an innocent Israeli, an innocent Iraqi, or an innocent Afghan. Let us dispense with the comparative justice concept. The murder of any human being is a stain against the image of God – for every human was made in the image of God.
And that should make us be very careful as we consider our response to whoever it was that murdered and maimed those people in Boston, as well as the victims and the families of the latest drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
A bit of a warning here for those readers who are not members of the Churches of Christ, the group that is most widely recognized as the most conservative wing of the American Restoration Movement. If you are not familiar with our history or our struggles this post may sound strange, if not worse. If you care to read on I do believe that what I say, or rather ask, is beneficial for any group, any disciple of Christ. I am writing from my own experience, my own heritage. Therefore, I do feel I have a right to voice these concerns.
As a member of the Church of Christ I have felt a special blessing. I have been raised from an infant in a heritage that treasures the written Word of God and seeks to measure all matters of faith and practice by this outside measuring tool. In addition, the history of the early church is often researched to illuminate various issues and to provide guidance where the Scriptures are silent, or are at least open to more than one interpretation. This is how we have lived and worked and studied and worshipped.
This dual basis of authority is seen in virtually every aspect that makes the Churches of Christ “unique” or “different.” In the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper we see where Scripture and the history of the early church point to both the immersion of adult believers and the weekly remembrance of the last supper. In matters of worship, where specifics are not readily forthcoming, we believe that the history of the early church validates our understanding of acapella singing and an emphasis on the preached word. In church organization we believe that each congregation is autonomous and that each congregation is to be led by a plurality of male leaders, known variously as elders, bishops, or overseers. We refer to ourselves as the Church of Christ (or little “c” church of Christ for some) as we do not want to be known as a denomination, but as an identity – the church which is known as being owned by Christ. The capitalization of the “c” has caused no small amount of ink to be spilled, and I do not wish it to be a symbol of denominationalism.
I know what to do if I was to challenge or to reject any or all of these identifiers, plus a number of others. Integrity would demand that I would say, “Listen, I love my heritage but I no longer believe ‘x’ ‘y’ or ‘z’ and so I am leaving the fellowship.” But what do you do if the church leaves you? What if you are standing where you think you need to stand, and you look around and everyone is looking at you as if you just cursed your mother?
I know I spend a large part of my life confused. But that is where I am right now. I am confused. Bamboozled. Flummoxed. Gobsmacked.
Part of my confusion may be my own limited point of view. Maybe I am just not seeing the whole picture. But it appears to me that a huge number, perhaps a majority, and perhaps an overwhelming majority, of members of the Church of Christ see absolutely nothing wrong with using violence and weapons of violence, perpetuating the cycle of violence, and even demanding that others perpetuate the cycle of violence all in the name of “self-defense” and the right to own guns.
There is nothing in the Scriptures which teach this – particularly the New Testament. Jesus clearly and repeatedly renounced violence and the use of weapons of violence. The early church, as evidenced in the book of Acts, certainly did not condone using weapons of violence and did not use them. Stephen and James went to their deaths as martyrs, not casualties of war. The other apostles and early disciples were arrested, but none resisted with force. What we see from the pages of the early church historians validates this adherence to a policy of non-violence.
The modern response to this biblical and early non-biblical evidence is, “well, of course they did not resist. They were in the minority. If they had resisted they would have all been killed.”
Oh. So the nations that have been trying to exterminate the Jewish people have not been able to do so because the Jews were more numerous and had better weaponry? From the days of Mt. Sinai until today? Is that your understanding of history?
It is far easier to exterminate someone who is unarmed than someone who is well armed. At least that is the argument that is being made to promote a violent response to violence. Why then was the church able to survive and even grow when their response to violence was pacifist? The church has grown the fastest in times of persecution. So, what exactly does that do to the argument that we must use violence to protect ourselves?
This turn of hermeneutics is a fascinating method of doing theology – especially for a movement that is known for being a biblicist movement. “Avoid weapons if you are a minority and will lose, because that is what the Bible teaches, but the moment you attain majority status and have access to better weaponry it is perfectly okay to use weapons of violence because that is what the Bible teaches.” I think I lost something in the logic there.
What I see happening is this discussion/debate is ultimately a battle over power. Those who own guns and teach that we ought to use them as a response to violence believe that they are in the ultimate power position and they refuse to consider leaving it. They do not want to surrender their power. And believe me, if you have a gun and I do not, or if you have a bigger gun than I do, you are in the power position. That is what is being taught, and it apparently is being followed by a great many people.
But, and correct me if I am wrong, did not Jesus teach a reversal of the power equation? Did he not come to surrender his power? Did he not come to teach us that the only way we are going to have peace on this earth is if we learn to do things God’s way? And is the cross not the ultimate image of the reversal of power? Is not the cross the picture of the Son of God surrendering all of his Divine power in order to bring peace and salvation to a violent world?
If you arm a half-dozen men (and women) in your congregation to guard against a violent encounter, you may never have that encounter. But you will not have peace in your assembly. You will have overcome evil by means of evil. You will have overcome the use of violence by the threat of greater and more lethal violence. That, by its very nature, means the absence of peace. You may not have open conflict. But the fear that destroys peace will always be present. It will always keep peace from your assembly. And, if I understand Jesus correctly, that means you lose.
So, what I am wondering is, what do you do when your church leaves you? I still believe in defining doctrine and practice by first examining Scripture and then by confirming my conclusions by examining the history of the early church. That is what I was taught, it is what I believe, and I cannot leave that position in good conscience unless someone teaches me that I have been wrong.
Now I am being told that Jesus’ words of non-violence, that the early church’s use of non-violent resistance and the clear evidence of the first couple of centuries of church writings are all to be ignored because of the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the overwhelming need to arm ourselves for the purpose of self-preservation.
I am experiencing a major case of spiritual whiplash here. Everything that I was taught is being rejected, and everything that I was taught to reject is being promoted.
Am I wrong here? Did I, as Bugs Bunny so famously did so long ago, take a wrong turn in Albuquerque?
Who moved? And where am I supposed to go now?
Sometimes serendipity is serendipitous. I have arrived at this passage just as the state of Arkansas has joined several other states in allowing individuals to carry weapons into a church building. The irony of some local yokel carrying a loaded gun into a worship service for the purpose of “self-defense” is simply too vast for me to comprehend. I’m glad I’m not asked to make this stuff up.
The traditional teaching in this passage is easy to identify – “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” This is the lex talionis which allowed an aggrieved party to punish the guilty up to, but not exceeding, the range of the crime or affront. Although it is often viewed as permissive, or even mandatory (you must pay back an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth) the original intent was prohibitive. If someone knocked your tooth out, the most you could exact in recompense was a tooth. You could not retaliate violently for a minor offense. Of course, give humans an inch and they will take a mile; so the limitation soon became a freedom and then a requirement.
Jesus, however, not only slows down the descending chain of violence begetting violence, but he actually reverses it! Beginning in v. 39b he gives a series of imperatives that force people to react to evil in novel ways. A humiliating slap does not invite a responding insult, but the offer of further insult and humiliation. A lawsuit does not create a counter-lawsuit but a surrender of more than what is at issue. Forced labor becomes an opportunity for unexpected service. Begging becomes an opportunity for giving. These imperatives (commands, by the way) are so counter-intuitive. They are counter-cultural. They are radical. No one in the United States in their right mind would think of such bizarre behavior. Not today when the mantra is “Stand Your Ground” and “Bring Your Favorite Gun To Church Day” (with a potluck sure to follow).
The key to the passage is found in v. 39a. Dr. Glen Stassen, in his article “The Fourteen Triads of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-7:12) [Journal of Biblical Literature, 122/2 (2003) pp. 267-308] has a wonderfully brief but profoundly loaded discussion of this partial verse. The phrase is most often translated, “Do not resist the evil one.” However, Dr. Stassen notes that the Greek construction of the phrase can also legitimately be translated, “do not resist by evil means” or “do not resist violently.” The question is, is such a translation valid in this passage? Is Jesus telling us to never resist an evil person, or is he telling us to not use the tactics of the evil person to respond to a real or perceived injury?
First and foremost, if Jesus told us to never resist the evil one, then he clearly violated his own commandment. He resisted many evil beings, beginning with the Satan himself, and continuing through a ministry in which he confronted and resisted many individuals who were bent on evil. He scolded the Pharisees. He resisted Herod. He challenged those who would stone an accused adulteress. He cleansed the temple, throwing out the money changers and those who were taking advantage of the poor. He repeatedly cast out and defeated evil demons, or spirits, within helpless humans. Jesus clearly and often resisted evil and the Evil one. So, strike that option out.
Second, if Jesus taught that his disciples should not use violent tactics against the violent people, it would seem that we would find traces of that teaching throughout the remainder of the New Testament. Well, consider Romans 12:17, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes.” Or how about 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.” And then there is 1 Peter 2:21-23, “For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth; when reviled he did not revile in return; when suffering he did not threaten, but committed himself to the one who judges justly.” (all quotations from the HCSB).
Nowhere is there a command of abject nonresistance. But everywhere there is the teaching of rejecting violent means to achieve retribution.
As such, v. 39a is a truncated form of the “vicious cycle” that we see throughout the rest of the sermon. But we can see the process playing out in front of our eyes every day. First you get in a fist fight. Then your opponent brings a knife. Then you bring a gun. Then he brings a bigger gun that shoots more rounds. Then you get body armor and a bigger gun with more violent ammunition. On and on the vicious cycle continues.
Jesus’ answer to this mayhem is simply to stop it at the first volley. If someone punches you, turn around and walk away. Don’t escalate the violence. If necessary, be the one willing to absorb the violence.
Jesus died on a cross, people. After telling his disciples to put their stupid swords away.
So, I’m just wondering where in the Bible, especially where in the New Testament, do we as disciples of the crucified one get permission to take up violent weapons and use them against perpetrators of violence. I am not speaking of duly sworn and highly trained peace officers. Check the statistics. The overwhelming majority of those peace officers spend their entire careers never having removed their weapons from their holsters. Many who do are traumatized for the rest of their lives by the experience.
Do we really want some “Dirty Harry” wannabe packing a loaded handgun into a crowded auditorium? Honestly?
And, with our ears focused on this radical sermon from the mouth of Jesus himself, dare we even suggest that such behavior would be a pleasing response in the eyes of our God?
Occasionally I think my atheist friends do have something to add to the conversation. Lord, save us from your followers.
(Not really necessary, but possibly valuable contextual note – Dr. Stassen is one of my professors in the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary. Although not a part of the D.Min. program itself, he is guiding me through a study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I purchased this book to get a more complete understanding of Dr. Stassen’s work, and as a valuable resource on the Sermon on the Mount.)
Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2003. 491 pages plus a comprehensive (!) bibliography.
Followers of this blog know that I have been involved in a detailed study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As a part of that study I have also been involved in a debate (with myself, as much as anyone) concerning the topic of pacifism and the Christian’s response to (a) American nationalism and (b) the military in general. I have been reading as widely as I can and still keep my focus on my current responsibility to stay focused on Bonhoeffer. This book by Dr. Stassen and Dr. Gushee allowed me to do a little of both.
This book is primarily a book on Christian ethics. Having taught a course on ethics at the college level I was very interested in the subject. It is also a study of the Sermon on the Mount. And it is also an examination of the moral complexities of our culture, and how the church can speak to those moral problems. If you are interested in any or all of these subjects then I highly recommend this volume. I do not really have a “star” rating system, but if I did this book would have the highest number of stars available.
One thing I look for in books is the even-handedness of the author(s). The chapter on “Just War, Nonviolence and Just Peacemaking” is, for me, a classic in the art of presenting both sides of an emotionally charged and complicated issue with fairness and equality. I would say that this chapter is worth the price of the book, but that would be to disparage the other chapters, which I feel are also worth the price of the book. However, because it addressed several of the questions I have been asking I felt it was especially valuable to me right now.
As a volume on Christian ethics I was impressed with the directness with which Stassen and Gushee addressed the most difficult issues facing the (primarily western) world and the church today. They address abortion, euthanasia, biotechnology, racism, marriage and divorce – all of the “hot-button” issues that bedevil, and sometimes pollute, our conversations. The reason why these issues are dealt with (and dealt with in such a straight-forward manner) – the authors follow the Sermon on the Mount as their primary text! Imagine that – a book on Christian ethics written by professors at Christian institutions who actually base their study on the text of the Bible. How refreshing.
On a technical note, one aspect of the Sermon on the Mount that Stassen and Gushee introduced to me was the “triadic” structure of the Sermon. I don’t want to attempt to explain the entire concept, only to say that Jesus (through Matthew) structures his sermon according to a pattern of a description of “traditional righteousness,” then a description of a “vicious cycle” of downward behavior and then concludes with a “transforming initiative” of Kingdom Ethics. Their argumentation is impressive, and it opened up for me an entirely new way of viewing the Sermon. They challenged me to another deep study of the entire gospel of Matthew viewed through this lens of “triads” and I hope to do so in the near future (along with completing my D.Min., spending more time with my wife and daughter, curing cancer and developing a cost-effective method of transportation to the moon. Well, okay, at least spending more time with my wife and daughter.)
As I mentioned before, I wholeheartedly recommend this book. You may not agree with everything the authors suggest. (Avast – Dr. Stassen even criticized Dietrich Bonhoeffer! I almost wanted to put the book down at that point. However, I soldiered on and eventually practiced forgiveness as the good Drs. suggest. However, criticism of Bonhoeffer is still a burr under my saddle.) The conclusion I came to as I read this book is that if the principles advocated in the book were actually practiced in the church we would see a radical change in the world. As the authors repeatedly stress, the Sermon on the Mount is not a list of unattainable platitudes. It is the path that Jesus set forth for his disciples to follow. The imperatives in the Sermon are transforming initiatives (author’s words) that the disciple of Christ is commanded to follow.
As I noted, the book is quite large and requires some dedicated reading. This is not because of complexity, but rather due to its richness and depth of involvement. If you read this volume with an open mind it will change the way you view the Sermon on the Mount, Christian ethics, and the disciple’s responsibility to the world.
My bottom line – add this book to your library!
As I have been working through the subject of pacifism and what it means to be a disciple of the Prince of Peace I have been struck by how easily the conversation can become one sided. That is, it seems a disciple claims to be either an absolute pacifist or a fire-breathing militarist. In my own journey I have come to see how Churches of Christ have moved from a general view of pacifism to a flag-waving, patriotic militarism. There were many reasons for this move, but the end result is that we have lost much of our early message. Now, we are just one small voice in a vast crowd. We have gained political respectability at the cost of biblical authenticity.
To speak of pacifism in the Church of Christ today is to be a lonely voice indeed.
But, on the other hand, to speak of the need for a strong defensive military is to be excluded from those who view any form of power to be a sin. Patriarchy, capitalism, the military – every “ism” that is seen as setting one person against another is a sin. To defend any use of power is to be a heretic in the church of the postmodernist.
So, you are sent to Hades if you do, and condemned to Gehenna if you don’t. That leaves a very thin margin if you want to be in the middle.
Disjointed thought #1 – is power always a sin? Let’s look at this another way. Is sex always a sin? Is eating or drinking always a sin? Is industry and hard work always a sin? The answer is no! Sexual relations, bounded by God’s intent and infused with his blessing, are never a sin. Outside of those bounds sexual relations are a sin. Eating and drinking, for the purpose of enjoyment and to replenish the needs of the body, cannot be described as a sin. Gluttony and drunkenness are sins. Working to provide for yourself and for your family is not a sin. Working to feed your greed and avarice is a sin. Why should power be viewed any differently? Power, when bounded by God’s intent and when infused with his blessing is a righteous gift. Power, used outside of that intent and devoid of his blessing is satanic. But the concept of power itself is neutral.
Jesus, while on this earth, exercised power. He taught his disciples. He cast out demons. He rebuked the Pharisees. He cleansed the temple of the money changers. He demanded allegiance from his followers. He rebuked Satan and Peter. He used the power God gave him, within the bounds God set for him, and for the purpose of achieving the goals set before him. Power in and of itself cannot be viewed as a sin.
A police force that uses its power to abuse, threaten and persecute the citizens it is supposed to protect has violated its invested power. A military that uses its weapons in an offensive, “strike first, kill them all and let God sort them out” mentality has violated its invested power. But a military unit, just like a police force, that uses its power to liberate an oppressed people, or to prevent war from breaking out or from escalating is using its power in a necessary manner. It would be far better to need neither a police force nor a military. But show me a city or town without a police force or county sheriff. It cannot be done. Sin exists. Violence exists. Rape, murder, theft, assault, even traffic violations exist. Remove the police and you would have anarchy and vigilantism. Remove a properly assembled and properly defined military and the same would result on a world-wide scale. Or, at least, that is how I see it.
Disjointed thought #2 – Can violence ever be redemptive? In other words, is violence always a sin, can nothing ever good come from violence? On the one hand this question seems so easy to answer. Never! Violence always begets violence. Spank a child and create a mass murderer (or so goes the common thinking). Violence and redemption are two diametrically opposite concepts, and never the twain shall meet.
Except, is that true? Or, more to the point, is it biblical? Does that thought come from the word of God?
Abram rescued Lot with violence. God “redeemed” the land by destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. God redeemed his people from Egypt in a series of violent interdictions. God punished the people of Canaan by the conquest of the Israelites. God “redeemed” his people by punishing them with the Assyrian and Babylonian armies.
And, the coup de grace, God redeemed the world through the violent death of his Son.
Yes, I know, that last example is one of selfless surrender on the part of Jesus. Jesus willingly went to the cross, and the crucifixion is hardly the example of a necessary police force or a military unit. But, you cannot speak of the atonement without coming face to face with the fact of redemptive violence. It just does not work. Without the cross there would be no redemption, and to argue that God could have worked it without the death of his son is specious. Yes he could have, but he did not. Jesus absorbed all the violence of the violent world to teach us that we should not have to resort to violence any more.
But the rapist and the burglar and the murderer and the drunk driver still exist. Therefore we need a functioning police force that has been given the right to use appropriate power to apprehend the rapist and the murderer and the drunk driver. And the Saddam Husseins and the Adolf Hitlers of the world still exist, and as much as we hate to admit it, they want to murder entire nations of people. Are we to let them exterminate the Jewish nation simply because Jesus said, “Love your enemy?” How exactly does loving Iran or Iraq mean that I have to hate the Jews?
Until someone can prove to me by reference to Scripture and by clear human experience that violence can never be redemptive, I will argue that while it should always be the avenue of last resort, sometimes violence must be employed to redeem an oppressed and victimized people.
Disjointed thought #3 – I see blatant hypocrisy on both sides of the issue. On the one hand are the militarists that claim to only want peace, but their actions prove that all they want is a new nuclear submarine or the carpet bombing of some third world country to solve a civil war in which we should not even be involved. On the other hand are the absolute pacifists who decry the use of any kind of military force, yet will call the local police to break up a domestic dispute down the street. Although hypocrisy is the blight of virtually all human endeavor, we must be constantly on the lookout for it, lest its hidden power rob us of our greatest arguments.
David Lipscomb was absolutely correct, in my opinion, in passionately arguing against the Civil War. Christians simply should not have gone to war and killed other Christians over what was, at least initially, a purely political question. However, beneath that political question was a deeply moral one, and that was the question of slavery. Had Christians followed the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, there would have been no slavery question. Here is where I see the pacifist view as being the correct one. Those individuals most deeply imbued with the spirit of shalom had come to the conclusion that owning slaves was sinful. They freed their slaves and refused to do business with those who owned slaves. Slavery could have been ended without a single shot being fired. However, nationalism and economics trumped theology, and hundreds of thousands of Americans died trying to prove God was on their side.
I am not so sure about Adolf Hitler, Emperor Hirohito, Benito Mussolini and World War II. Perhaps it could have been averted. Certainly the allies did not have to levy such oppressive reparations against Germany at the end of the first World War. If the Christians in Germany had rejected Hitler the war would never have started. If Neville Chamberlain had stood up against Hitler maybe he would have backed down. If Winston Churchill had listened to Bishop George Bell and others maybe an agreement with the conspirators in Germany could have been reached and Hitler could have been arrested and tried on grounds of treason or insanity. If, if, if, if, if. Obviously the best time to end a war is before it ever begins. But, what happens when a war does start? What happens when the concentration camps start filling up? What happens when the rape camps open? What then?
I don’t have all the answers. I never claimed to have all the answers. I am reading some good books written by some devout Christians who are leading and shaping my thoughts even as I write this series of posts. My position will evolve over time as I am presented with arguments, both good and bad. I simply want to call for an end to the acrimony in this debate. The absolute pacifists need to declare a truce in their war on the flag waving militarists. And the war hawks need to put their swords back in their sheaths and quit beating the drums. Unless we start talking to each other our arguments are not going to have any effect.
As the preacher once said, (to paraphrase a bit), of the study of pacifism and militarism there is no end. However, at least for the time being, this series does have and end.
May God lead our conversations to the foot of the cross. Amen.
After taking an admittedly all too brief survey of both the Old and New Testaments and what I believe to be one of the over-arching themes of the Bible, I came to the conclusion that what was missing in my re-evaluation of pacifism was the context of my own story. So, although I had originally intended this series to only have four parts, I am going to have to alter that somewhat, and address a couple of issues I had not originally planned to discuss. So, in this post I will share my own journey as it relates to the subject, and then hopefully my next post will focus on what I consider to be a real crux in the matter of pacifism vs. militarism.
I came of age politically during the dark days of the Nixon presidency and the even darker days of the Carter debacle. Nixon was morally challenged; Carter appeared to be morally sound yet was vacuous when it came to leadership skills. Nixon taught us that power without morals was disastrous; Carter taught us that morals without power was no better. Enter, then, Ronald Reagan. I was truly a Reagan believer. When I heard Reagan I felt America had the leader it needed – one with firm moral convictions and yet had the power and the will to lead. It was heady times. America was to be blessed with a new dawn. With the right guy at the controls everything would be straightened out. How could it not be?
Except, it wasn’t. Reagan (and his understudy, Bush) left and we had eight years of Bill Clinton – a lying, promiscuous opportunist who had all the charisma of Reagan with all the moral failings of Nixon. The country veered sharply back to the right and Bush’s son George W. By this time politics had utterly demoralized me. I came to realize that power, regardless of whether it had a moral foundation or not, was not to be trusted. Barack Obama was the final nail in my political coffin. Whether the nation swings back to the right and elects Mitt Romney is, on a fundamental level, inconsequential. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I see no political solution to our problem. Our problem is moral. Our problem is not liberalism nor conservatism. Our problem is SIN.
It was exactly during this period of time in which the political pendulum was experiencing such radical swings that I was introduced to the writings of Barton Stone, and more importantly, David Lipscomb. I read Lipscomb’s Civil Government and was transfixed. I had never read, or heard, an explanation of human government such as Lipscomb’s. But it fit. Lipscomb explained the late 20th century perfectly, even though he was writing at the end of the 19th century. I experienced a second transformation that was every bit as liberating as my first. But, come to find out, I had not arrived at my final destination.
Sometime during all of this “metamorphosis” I was introduced to yet another theologian, this time a young German Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As I read Bonhoeffer another light bulb came on. Something just clicked. Here was the “yang” to Lipscomb’s “yin.” Where David Lipscomb provided a correction to my one-sided and dangerous views of American politics, Bonhoeffer gave correction to Lipscomb’s one-sided (and just as dangerous) spiritual isolationism. It was not that I decided Lipscomb was wrong. Far from it. I believe Lipscomb was closer to the heart of Jesus than any theologian since the apostle John. I just believe that Lipscomb, as are all of us, was a child of his times and he did not stop to consider the extremes to which his position could be taken. In brief, Lipscomb never could have imagined an Adolf Hitler.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood Hitler. And, as I read Bonhoeffer I see a man struggling to want to believe what Lipscomb taught (although Bonhoeffer never read Lipscomb), but was also struggling to deal with the personification of evil itself. Bonhoeffer realized that to do nothing was, in effect, to give free reign to evil. But, the only solution that eventually was open to Bonhoeffer and his co-conspirators was assassination. Bonhoeffer’s most anguished writings concern this very question – not right vs. wrong, but is it ever acceptable in order to achieve some measure of good to do an evil act.
You see, the biggest problem I have with the whole “pacifism vs. militarism” question is that we have created a false dichotomy. The greatest danger is not that we are pacifists or militarists, the greatest danger is that we believe that these are the only two choices. A position of absolute pacifism denies the ability to engage the world exactly in the place it needs to be engaged – where evil seeks to destroy that which is good. On the other hand an absolute militarist does not seek to engage the world either! The militarist only seeks to exercise brutal power to achieve his (or her) goals. The absolute militarist annihilates, the absolute pacifist capitulates. Neither one truly engages the world.
This dichotomy has human legs. Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler and had the murdering little corporal sign a document that Chamberlain heralded as “peace in our time.” Chamberlain was, in one way, responsible for more deaths than Winston Churchill. And yet, and this is a part of World War 2 history that not many people know, Winston Churchill could have saved the deaths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of human beings if he had simply listened to the voices in Germany that were calling for his help. If he had simply responded, in a quiet and back-door method, to the conspirators in Germany that he would be willing to deal with the conspirators if they could eliminate Hitler then the war would have ended years sooner. It might not have even meant the assassination of Hitler, simply his arrest and eventual trial. But NO, Churchill was bent on the utter destruction of Germany. He got his wish. Germany was crushed. But the world lost one of the clearest voices for peace and pacifism that it has ever been blessed to hear. The world does not care much for prophets. Lipscomb’s writings have been all but expunged from the approved teachings of the American Restoration Movement. Bonhoeffer is viewed as a quaint, but somehow misguided and therefore dangerous, Lutheran misfit.
In my ongoing journey as a disciple of Christ I am becoming more and more convinced that Lipscomb and Bonhoeffer were on the right path. Neither was perfectly correct (as no mortal can be). But these theologians, separated by an ocean and just a few decades in time, shared one deep conviction that brought them very close together. They both believed that as disciples of Christ we are to be pulled forward by our vision of the reign of the Prince of Peace. If the crucified one is the vision before our eyes, we cannot be ignorant of, nor uncaring toward, his mission to deliver this world of evil. Sometimes that means we love our brothers and sisters (who might temporally be called our enemies) to the point that we refuse to take up the sword (Lipscomb), and sometimes that means that we love our brothers and sisters so deeply that we have to take up the sword to defend and deliver them, even though the use of that sword brings us under the judgment of God (Bonhoeffer).
I am, and I must be, a pacifist, as I understand it in the biblical and New Testament sense of the word. I am not an isolationist, as I believe that to be “salt and light” in the world I must actively seek to replace evil with good wherever I find it. But neither am I an absolute militarist, as there is really very little that separates the actions of Barack Obama from a Saddam Hussein or an Adolf Hitler. Yes, that is harsh. But if we do not challenge Obama in his indiscriminate use of targeted assassinations and armed Predator drones, when will we challenge him? And at what cost? Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. I want Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death at the hands of the Gestapo in 1945 to mean more than that. But, even his death is meaningless if we fail to learn the lesson of the death of Jesus the Messiah at the hands of the Jewish leadership and the Roman legions 1900 years before that.
So, you have my story, and I have but one more chapter to add to this discussion. Next up, the myth of the myth of redemptive violence.
As we transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament we do far more than just turn a page from Malachi to Matthew. We change political, economic and cultural worldviews. The world that Jesus saw was controlled by the Pax Romana, the Roman peace, and it was bound together, however loosely, by the Greek language. “City nations” no longer existed as such, although the Romans did give a considerable degree of latitude toward local police forces, so long as the over-arching dominion of the Roman legion was maintained. All of this, at a minimum, must be clearly understood or when we start attempting to examine Jesus’ (and the apostles’) teaching on the Christian’s responsibility toward the government and toward militarism in particular we lose the overall message of the whole story of Scripture.
Let me digress just a moment because I feel this point is so important. While I believe completely that Jesus is the Christ, that he is the pinnacle of all human history, and that all Scripture must be interpreted through the lens of his life, I DO NOT believe that Jesus radically altered the message of God’s story. That is to say I DO NOT believe in a divine dualism, a bifurcation between the Old Testament God of war, hate and vengeance and the New Testament God of love, peace, and “can’t we all just get along.” I would suggest that at the core of an absolute pacifist’s understanding is a radical rupture of the fabric of Scripture. The Old Testament God of war and bloodthirstiness died on the last page of the book of Malachi, and the new God of gentleness, love, peace and kindness was born on the first page of Matthew. What occurred was a change in human culture, but not of the nature of God. If we confuse the two we lose the meaning of the Bible and all that remains is a neutered and fundamentally meaningless New Testament.
So, what DOES Jesus have to say about pacifism, (the seeking of God’s shalom) either in word or deed? Actually, surprisingly little in a direct sense, and an amazing amount in an indirect sense. I will assume, for the sake of argument, that we are all familiar with the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount concerning our need to love our enemies, his command to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. I will cover these topics in my next post, but for the present I want to stress the theme of engaging evil in the New Testament, whether in a spiritual or physical manifestation.
Note first – in his “first sermon” in the gospel of Luke, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2 where the evidence of the coming of the kingdom of God was “freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release of the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Now, in good Evangelical American fashion we have spiritualized each of these components to mean “prisoners of sin, those blind in sin, the oppressed in sin, and the year of the Lord’s favor in saving people from their sin.” However, this was not the way the first audience of Jesus heard these words, and it was not the way Luke intended them to be read. The entire gospel focuses on exactly those individuals who needed “redeeming” in a physical sense - the poor, the outcast, the physically infirm and, interestingly enough, women. Luke’s gospel is a gospel of liberation – from sin to be sure. But a “spiritualized” reading of the gospel is a heretical one, and I am sorry to say that we have prefered the heresy to the truth to a dangerous extent.
Second, in the Sermon on the Mount, the piece de resistance of the absolute pacifist, Jesus links peacemaking with persecution. This point should not be lost in translation. Peacemaking is hard and sometimes dangerous work. It involves putting oneself in-between two (or more) parties who are in conflict and that is never a safe or comfortable position. All too often we end up getting pasted from all sides. The ministry of Jesus bears this out – he was hated by the demons he cast out of their victims and he was hated by the religious leaders for doing so on the Sabbath. If you involve yourself in the movement for peace you will get hurt – and very likely from every side in the conflict that you are trying to heal.
Third, notice that Jesus was no opponent of conflict. The cleansing of the temple (Matt. 21:12-13 and parallels) reveals to us that physical intervention is not, in and of itself, a sin. Once again, we commit the heresy of a dualistic Christ if we hyperbolize this event into a “casting of sin from the life of the Christian” or if we excuse the event by saying, “well, yes, Jesus did this but he was the Son of God and we are not.” Each gospel records this event – one of the few that receive attention by all four gospel writers. We must include this event, and its meaning, into the discussion.
Fourth, the healings of the demoniacs often involved physical descriptions that indicate a violent releasing of the victim. There are shrieks, moans, throwing to the ground, etc. When Jesus confronted the forces of evil it was a battle. Jesus did not compromise with the demon and propose a “can’t we just all get along” method of dealing with the demon possession. Paul says that Jesus has or will destroy the forces of evil (Rom. 8:37-381 Cor. 15:24-25, 1 Tim. 1:10).
Fifth, in Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, the gospel writers never portray him as searching for a middle ground, a place of compromise where his message could stand alongside theirs. It was either His truth, or no teaching at all. He came to interpret God’s will, not the Pharisees’ tradition. Some truths simply cannot be negotiated away. We cannot back away and surrender truth in the name of “peace.” Peace, when it means the surrender of truth, is no peace at all.
Sixth, in James 2:14-26, the “servant of the Lord Jesus Christ” makes the explicit claim that, if a person has the power and the ability to effect the “redemption” of a person (either by food, clothing, or other form of intervention) and he or she does not do it, then he or she cannot claim to have faith! Two examples from the story of faith are given as examples – Abraham and Rahab. And, note: both examples include a form of violence – Abraham in the willingness to sacrifice Isaac, and Rahab in the protection of the spies in a time of war. Marcion and Luther were (and are) not the only people who want to erase the book of James from the canon, whether literally or just by never mentioning it. However, as a “servant of the Lord Jesus Christ” I believe James had something of value to add to the texture of the biblical story. And what he added was an admonition to use the power that we have when it is appropriate and needful that we use it.
Seventh, and finally, in Philippi Paul did NOT invoke his Roman privilege against unjust imprisonment and punishment, but in Caesarea he did. Why? Is there not a meaning to his method? Does it not mean that in some circumstances it is appropriate to “turn the other cheek” and in some circumstances it is appropriate to exert legal defences? How else can you read the text? That Paul was right in one circumstance and wrong in the other? In other words, I believe that in some circumstances I can, by the leading of Scripture, act in one way and be confident in the grace of God and in another similar circumstance I can act in a completely different manner and still rest in that same grace of God. The difference is not in the situation (I AM NOT A SITUATION ETHICIST!), but rather in my interpretation of the situation and in how I can best present the gospel at that moment.
As an all-too-brief summation, I want to stress again that I want to incorporate the entire “warp and woof” of Scripture in my understanding of pacifism and the disciple’s response to evil. It is bad theology and inappropriate hermeneutics to take one passage of Scripture (even a saying of Jesus) and build one’s entire lifestyle on that verse. I want to accept at face value what Jesus said when he said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” But I also have to accept that when Jesus was faced with evil (either spiritual or physical) he confronted it, and if necessary he defeated it. The apostles were just as forceful. Where light shines in a dark world, the darkness is defeated, not negotiated.
There can be no equivocation between the message of Christ and the power of Satan. To suggest such is to surrender that which is ultimately good to that which is evil. Now, how I have come to understand that reality in my own personal life will be the topic of my next post.
One of my great fears in even attempting to discuss a topic like this is that it is simply too complicated to cover in a readable blog-sized post. The material is too vast – and too richly contoured. But, having promised that I will attempt to do this, I will try my best to present my thoughts in as concise a manner while yet getting at the basics of what I want to communicate. Just be forwarned – I am not claiming comprehensiveness here. I know someone will find a verse, or ask a question that exceeds the scope of this post. It will be what it will be.
So, first, take a concordance keyed to your favorite translation and trace the usage of several key terms. Look for terms like “deliverance,” “deliver,” “save,” “salvation,” “redeem.” “oppress,” “oppression,” and related terms including past tenses and so forth. Now, armed with these texts, notice how many times in these verses God is the subject. It becomes a primary theme in the story of the Old Testament. (As an aside, make special note of how many times these terms are used in the Psalms, the record of the worshipful response of the people of God to the mighty acts of God. This is truly food for thought).
Now, notice in the contexts in which these terms are used, even with God as the subject, how many times God employs human beings as the method in which he saves, delivers, redeems, etc. It is absolutely true that God has delivered his people without the use of human intervention – Isaiah 37: 33-37 happens to come to mind as I read the story in my daily Bible reading recently. But the fact that God can deliver without the intervention of human beings only highlights the many places in which God uses humans to deliver, redeem, or save other people. Even in a story in which the miraculous power of God is clearly the focus of the story (i.e. the Gideon saga, Judges 6-8), God used Gideon and his soldiers as his agents to deliver his people.
I might mention here the exodus story which becomes THE story of redemption for the people of Israel. God could have simply wiped out the Egyptians in one cataclysmic burst of energy, but it was through the leading of Moses, Aaron and Joshua that God delivered his people. The miracles were evidences of God’s matchless power, but it was through the human intervention of these men that the people were led to freedom, and eventually conquered the promised land.
Notice also the story of Abram rescuing Lot in Genesis 14. On one level this is a minor story to relate, and yet it is in this story that we see one of the great themes of Scripture spelled out in minute detail. Pay attention to the pivotal paragraph:
One who had escaped came and reported this to Abram the Hebrew. Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eschol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram. When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out the 318 trained men born in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan. During the night Abram divided his men to attack them and he routed them, pursuing them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.” (Genesis 14:13-16, NIV)
Notice Abram had no “standing army,” but when he heard that his relative Lot had been taken captive he formed a military unit of trained men and went out and “redeemed” his relative by the use of military tactics. However, and this is a key point of this story, it is obvious that God is working through Abram at this point as the rest of the story relates the meeting of Abram with Melchizedek, an event that will be replayed in the Psalms and in the book of Hebrews as a major aspect of the ministry of Christ!
Here is the sum of my argument so far: I am convinced that one of the great themes of the Old Testament is that God desires peace, Hebrew shalom, for his people. As such he is concerned with anything that threatens that shalom, in particular the oppression of innocent people, and he is actively involved in freeing those oppressed people from whatever it is that is destroying them (sin or human captivity). One way that he does this is through miraculous powers which do not involve human agents. However, it is also clear he uses human agents to work with him in the process of releasing the bonds of the oppressed (see the repetitive cycle of events in the book of Judges). He also uses human agents to punish nations he wants punished, whether they be the nations conquered by Israel (Deut. 9:1-6) or the nation of Israel itself (Amos 2:4-16, Jer. 4:11-17 among many others).
What does this have to do with my understanding of pacifism in the 21st century? Just this: We must hold one of three opinions regarding the nature of God. One is that the stories in the Old Testament have no bearing on relating the true nature of God whatsoever; they were written by a bloodthirsty warrior people who wanted to justify their blood-lust and therefore turned the picture of their god into a mere reflection of their violent nature. Two is that God was somehow a violent warrior God in the Old Testament, but at the moment of the birth of that little baby in the stable in Bethlehem God had a major change of heart and suddenly became an absolute pacifist. Therefore we have not one God, but actually two Gods; the bloodthirsty, hateful and avenging God of the Old Testament, and the kind, meek, lowly and tender God of the New Testament. The third option is that God is unchanging, that what he reveals about his nature in the story of the Old Testament is the same nature that he has in the New Testament and therefore the same nature that he has today. If we do not understand that nature it is not because God is unfathomable (although, I would say that he certainly is beyond our comprehension), but that we have simply misread the nature of God due to our own prejudices.
We can still make a god out of our own wishes and desires, just as surely as Aaron formed that golden calf at the base of Mt. Sinai. We can make God to be a god of war (as all good Klingons and many Republicans would suggest) or we can make God to be an absolute pacifist who has never, ever, ever, even thought about the use of force (as all good Vulcans and many Democrats would agree).
The issue is not what we want, but what has God revealed about his nature. From the great themes of the Old Testament I am absolutely convinced that God is vitally and profoundly concerned with the well-being of humans on this earth; that he takes man’s inhuman activity against other men very seriously, and that either by his own powerful right arm, or by the sword of Abram or Gideon he acts to deliver people who are being oppressed.
Next, we turn to the New Testament to see if this image continues or is radically altered.