Transcending the “Need” for Violence

June 2012

In preparing an article on the wars in the Old Testament, I re-read Peter C. Craigie’s The Problem of War in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978). He made some interesting statements about the “need” for violence in this fallen world, the primary of which is that nation states cannot exist without violence: violence in form of the police force to subdue internal violent forces; violence in the form of armies to repel external violent forces; violence in form of extortion, rhetoric and invective to feed the machine of government, win elections and keep the plebes in line. And often the Church sees herself as “needing” to act the same way.

In the conclusion to his excellent little book, Craigie points out that Jesus Christ transcended the need for violence by submitting Himself to the violence of the state and her religion. Through His death and resurrection, our Lord transcended the need to use violence to overcome the violent. In the same way the Christian is called to transcend the need for violent opposition to violence by accepting the violence practiced upon him or her and turning that acceptance into victory.

This can be easily applied to our Evangelical need to pummel every Christian into agreement with us. Just considering the recent Rob Bell Love Wins (New York: HarperOne, 2011) controversy makes this point: if Christians had been silent rather than ranting and raving and assassinating Rob Bell’s character, then perhaps his heretical views would never have come to the fore (and he would have proceeded with his character assassination himself). It is better for us as Christians to act in humility towards our brothers and sisters, heretical or orthodox, shedding tears and exposing our broken hearts, than in using violent language and attitudes to cow them into submission. “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1 – HCSB)