The Violence of God

I am not a fan of Brian McLaren. He is one of these “welfare state=sanctified community, if not the Kingdom of God” kind of Christians whose thinking is a statist and nationalist as that of the conservatives he opposes. For him, the nation, and not the church, is the sanctified community, which makes him no different than a flag waving “God-and-country” Christian (who usually end up putting country first). Since the state is violence, to invest one’s-self in the state and the outcomes of its actions is to invest in violence. To endorse it and support it. Something I believe the church has no business doing. Liberal Christians are deeply invested in state violence. Indeed, they cannot be liberals without their faith in the role the state plays either in humanity’s salvation or sanctification.

But this is not a bad piece. I agree, more or less, with McLaren’s essential statements here:

And the staggering reality is that Jesus didn’t kill anybody — something that can’t be said about Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, or Mohammed (no disrespect intended to any of them). He didn’t hit anybody. He didn’t hate anybody. He practiced as he preached: Reconciliation, not retaliation. Kindness, not cruelty. A willingness to be violated, not violation. Creative conflict transformation through love, not decisive conflict termination through superior weapons. Courageous and compassionate resistance, not violence. Outstretched arms on a cross, not stockpiles of arms, nuclear or otherwise.

Where do you primarily find God on Good Friday?

If God is primarily identified with the Romans, torturing and killing Jesus, then, yes, the case is closed: God must be seen as violent on Good Friday. The cross is an instrument of God’s violence.

But if God is located first and foremost with the crucified one, identifying with humanity and bearing and forgiving people’s sin, then a very different picture of God and the cross emerges.

McLaren forgets John 2, where Jesus makes a whip and chases the money-changers out of the temple. But generally, he is right, and I agree with him when he says that “God is with the slaves, not with the slave-drivers. God is found in the one being tortured, not the ones torturing. God is found among the displaced refugees, not those stealing their lands. And God is found in the one being spat upon, not in the one spitting. A very different scandal indeed — and a very different cross, with a very different, but no less profound, meaning.”

But I don’t think McLaren’s thinking on this is sophisticated enough. He posits four “ifs” about God:
  • God is violent, and since human beings are made in God’s image, we are commanded to use that violence in some times and places.
  • God is violent, but God’s violence is holy and righteous in a way human violence cannot be. And thus, while humans can be violent, it is only under God’s explicit command.
  • God is not violent, and is always a regrettable violation of God’s image within human beings.
  • God is not violent, and thus human beings are never commanded to use violence.
Where I think he falls short in this is his desire for an objective understanding of God. God is. But what if our ability to know and understand God is limited solely by our being finite, that the infinite’s ability to communicate with the finite is limited by the finite’s ability to perceive the infinite? What if, in our encounter with God, we cannot help but perceive God as violent in times and places, simply because God is God and we are humans? Just as we cannot help, in our sinfulness, but to hear God tell us we are being abandoned (Judges 10, for example, or Hosea 1), there are times and places where we cannot help but encounter God as or in horrific violence. Scripture and personal experience attest to this. That makes God no less a God of love, but it does mean that we must, in faith, keep remembering that God is love and is present as love to us even in the worst we do and even as the worst rages around us.

One thought on “The Violence of God

  1. It’s really very simple:1. God exists because the universe could not be created out of nothing, and science confirms this more and more every day. Also, everyone (even murderers) understand what is morally “right” and “wrong,” so there had to be a moral law giver. That’s God.2. Because (and this is a PREMISE) good is superior to evil, then God, the Supreme Being, MUST be good and therefore He loves us.3. Violence, vengeance, temper tantrums, jealousy, and insecurity, are human flaws. When these are attributed to God in the Bible, one of two things must be true: A) Either the Bible is simply WRONG in those respects – whether it was originally wrong or became wrong in man-made, mass-controlling translations; or B)we misinterpret the meaning of those passages.God is not angry. He does not hate us, he does not PUNISH us. “Justice” is a man-made concept, as is the need for Jesus to have “died for our sins.” We all make it to a great afterlife eventually – even Hitler, folks, get over it already! Read Jesus’ parable with the workers: as long as you get the pay you negotiated, why do you care if the employer pays someone else the same amount for doing a fraction of the work? THAT’s the message worth repeating.

Comments are closed.