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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An End to Vanity, an End to Violence

Violence, when you think about it, is useless; it usually only begets more violence; in fact, simply stated, Newton's, Third Law of Motion; 'for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction', is very applicable in this situation. Violence sometimes seems necessary, and often the only answer, but I believe we've all heard the phrase, 'violence is not the answer'. I believe that is true; while it can be AN answer, you're probably just as familiar with the saying, 'violence never solved anything' ( seems like Gandhi would have agreed with this statement ), it's also true that it has been our ( humanity's ) way of life since day one. As Newton averred, 'every action has an equal and opposite reaction'; this is the human way,: it is human nature, when someone threatens, or even takes action against you or yours, to react with equal, if not more, force! This is not necessarily wrong; sometimes in order to protect our stewardship ( 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' ), it may be necessary, in fact, the only clear course.

One of the most violent, unjust, and poignant, events recorded in our Scriptures ever perpetrated against a singular individual, was the mock trial, flogging, and crucifixion of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, the Son of God.
Recently, and there are other portrayals like this, Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' really brought to our remembrance the violence of this event, beginning with His flogging ( I don't think you can watch this with tearing up ), and ending with the cross being dropped into the ground, further tearing at the wounds in His flesh ( pass the kleenex, please ). Without denying that Jesus was sent to die for the sins of His people, to redeem them back to true covenant relations with Himself; I believe that one reason that Jesus suffered such a violent separation on the cross was to show how violence was so utterly useless, and needless. Again; this is not to deny the fact that, as God's law required the death of a perfect human being to satisfy His justice; Jesus' ordeal was indeed necessary, according to the law. Could Jesus, as God, have paid the ransom for His people and redeemed them with having to suffer that ignominy, both that of having to suffer the normal existence ( although I think He rather enjoyed it ) of a human being, and then being crucified, put to the most cruel death? Well, when you come right down to it; He probably could have, but He chose to do it in such a way that we, as mere, finite human beings could understand the magnitude of what it meant to break the Covenant.

As I said; I'm not denying the fact that, according to God's holy law; Jesus' death on the cross was necessary to atone for the transgressions of His people, although it probably could be argued that God's law, like His Covenant, was always about the spirit ( principle? ), rather than the letter.

Anyone who has read anything of the early history, especially, but really, the entire Scriptural record of the dealings of God's typical old covenant 'children' can attest that theirs was a very violent time, and in fact, that much of their violence was carried out at the behest, the command, even, of God Himself. There can be no denying the fact that God commanded them to 'kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately' ( Numbers 31:17 ), and that 'the LORD delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand; and they killed ten thousand men at Bezek' (Judges 11:4 ). The history of the 'children' of Israel is, without doubt, one of the most violent on record, and, unlike those around them, was perpetrated in the name of a loving God. No doubt the nations around them attributed and sanctified their atrocities to their 'god', but Israel's God, we know, was the true God, the Creator of 'heaven and earth'. Theirs ( ours ) was a God of mercy and love, unheard of among the other nation's 'gods'. As the 'god's' of the nations required a blood sacrifice ( usually human ), the God of the Hebrews, who also required a blood sacrifice, asked only for the blood of some poor, hapless animal. This, of course, was merely a picture of the sacrifice of God's own Son, because as the author of Hebrews wrote; 'For [ it is ] not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.' ( 10:4 ).

Reading the histories of Josephus, though, really brought out for me, the violence, especially in the latter years of their history, of these covenant-breaking 'children', some of which was committed in the name of God, but none of which was attributable to, or glorified God in the least. I'm not what you would call a history 'buff', or even all that knowledgeable in those areas ( I can sure 'Google', though ), but, from what little I have studied about it; Christianity, during the 'Dark Ages', and into the 13th and 14th centuries ( and beyond ) has committed some terrible atrocities against mankind, all in the name of God!

Beginning in the 12th century; awful practices were carried out by the Roman Catholic Church, although officially, secular 'police' did the dirty work, in the four different Inquisitions, which 'office' was founded to root out heretics. Really though; I believe that this was pretty much anyone who disagreed with Roman Catholic theology, or practice. Although Germany was never touched by the Inquisition to the extent that medieval France and Italy, then later, Spain, Portugal, and even Rome itself experienced it; I believe that Martin Luther probably experienced some of the 'fallout' from those dark days.

In the late ninth and early tenth centuries, and operating at much the same time, though in different areas of the world, the crusades were officially launched by the Roman Catholic Church, although, at that time, it may have simply been 'the Catholic Church'. As I said earlier; I'm not much of a history buff, and it not being my purpose here to give a history of the violence that Christianity has fostered throughout the centuries, suffice it to say that much of the horrific violence committed in the name of Christ over those 'Dark' years, in particular, but even for the past millenia, can be attributed, I believe, to a misunderstanding of the teaching of Christ, for instance, when He said, 'turn the other cheek'!

Jesus by no means meant that Christians are to be wimps, much the picture that we get today, from those who advocate 'turning the other cheek'. Earlier; He said 'blessed [ are ] the meek, for they shall inherit the earth'. Jesus told His disciples, not to be weak doormats, but to be meek, 'wise as serpents, [ and ] harmless as doves', always acting, not reacting ( that's usually where violence comes from ), in submission to God, seeking to fulfill His Purpose, and not our own. I believe that much in the way of defining the origins of 'a history of violence', particularly when it comes to Christianity, is a misinterpretation of the command in Genesis 1:26-28, to 'have dominion': if not in so many words, most Christians, from Genesis on, have seemingly understood this to say, 'take dominion'. This; I believe, was never God's intention, and Jesus' words, and for the most part, actions, in the Greek Scriptures, show that violence is not His way. When Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple, one could say that He was being a bit violent, but I don't believe that by doing so, that He was advocating violence. Scripture does not record Him assaulting anyone, anyway. Although He instructed Peter and the other disciples to go out and purchase swords ( for self-defense? ); He later rebuked Peter for using it in a violent way, for taking a preemptive strike, and cutting off the ear of the high priests servant.

'There is no truth or mercy or knowledge of God in the land. [ By ] swearing and lying, killing and stealing and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed.'

God's court case against idolatrous Israel, revealed by the prophet Hosea, included the charge of spiritual adultery, and indeed, that was His main complaint, but I believe that His words above also show that it was for their violence as well. The Israelites, through their covenant-breaking, had become a nation of violence, just like the nations around them, lying, stealing, committing adultery, and even murdering, all things forbidden by the 'Ten Commandments'. God even instituted cities of refuge that someone who killed another without meaning to, could flee to, in order that the violence might not continue!

As we continue in chapter 4; we read that God's just vengeance on His covenant-breaking people can be pretty violent, but truly; there is a difference between His justice and violence! I'm not saying that justice can always be carried out without violence of some sort. No; the violence that I'm talking about is unwarranted violence, and wrongful violence, like the 'bloodshed upon bloodshed' that God complained about, above; violence of the sort perpetrated, 'from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah who perished between the altar and the temple' ( Luke 11:51 ) against the innocent and the righteous. This sort of violence is what God truly condemns, and it is this sort of violence, although not the only sort, about which I write. As I said earlier, in other words, maybe, 'sometimes violence is the only recourse'! Sometimes, in order to defend our stewardship we must counter violence with violent action, whether it be warding off blows ( though not necessarily returning them ), or whether it actually comes down to taking a life, violent action is required! Violence, even in these situations is not always needful, though it is our nature, even as Christians, to meet violence with more violence. By the nature of Christ, or God, in us, we can dispense with, or overcome these violent tendencies, and rather than reacting, which is really what defines violence, we act as Christ did, with love, grace, and mercy.

We have witnessed many times, because of needless violence, that, as Hosea prophesied of his people, the 'land' has mourned. Ten years ago, our own 'land' mourned because of a wicked act of terrorism brought on by, you guessed it, needless violence; in fact, some of the same sort of violence that was related earlier in this article.

In Jesus' crucifixion; I believe that God was not only meeting the just requirement of the physical 'letter of the law', and paying the ransom for the sins of His people with the blood of His Son, but also provided a lasting image for those who witnessed it, of what the kind of needless violence that they had perpetuated throughout their long history led to; more needless violence!

From the beginning, though, God spoke out against the innate violence of man: aside from the first act of murder, God unleashed the flood in Noah's day against a world of wicked men, because of their violence ( Genesis 6:11-13 ). Throughout Scripture, 'violence' is denounced as belonging to the wicked and to the faithless, and in Isaiah 60:18; God revealed through the prophet that 'violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders; but you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.' Those who understand the covenant context of God's Promise realize that He is not speaking of an end to physical violence, although that may come ( 'Amen'! ) , but of the spiritual rest and peace that came, and come, in Jesus. As this peace and rest, along with the mercy, grace, and love of God is worked out in the lives of His people, there will, I believe, come an ever-increasing end to even physical violence!

Amen: through the blessings of the New Covenant, may this be, as we, the married Church if Christ, put an end to the violence in our own lives. May we begin, instead of reacting, begin to act upon the grace we have been shown, and show forth the Light of God in our inmost being!

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