Friday, March 15, 2013

The Problem of Non-Violence

Food for thought: the Koran forbids the killing of Christians as infidels if they remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus, which includes a strict adherence to non-violence. The name given to these devout Christians? Nazarenes.

There is certainly a Jewish argument to be made for capital punishment - there's just not a Christian one. Assuming we can get past the things Jesus said (you have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I tell you love your enemies...), we have to deal with what Jesus did.

This is where, I think, the spiritualization of salvation has some serious problems. Evangelicalism has often reduced the cross to a necessary spiritual transaction. Our souls need saving, thus Jesus has to die. He was a special case, not a normative human experience because only Jesus could do what Jesus did.

Beyond the issues of atonement at play and given the real truth of Christ's uniqueness, there's something deeper at work here.

Salvation is not purely spiritual. As crazy as many of you think I am, there's a reason it always comes back to the resurrection with me. Our faith, Christian faith, is not about going off to heaven to laze around on clouds and play soccer with Jesus. It's not about going somewhere else. It's about God coming here and making all things right.

There's something deeply physical about salvation. Buried deep within the reality of the cross is a visceral change in the make-up of all that exists. When Paul says that those who are in Christ are new creation, he is not speaking metaphorically; it is not a spiritual analogy. He means that those who are in Christ as substantively different - they are participating in a new reality. It may not be fully realized as of yet, but it has begun. The change is made, it is real.

If there is such a physical component to salvation then Christ's sacrifice on the cross is not purely a spiritual act. It is not simply a special case, it is a normative example of the way our physical self must be manifested in the world.

Christ has died. We will die. We must be willing to die.

Belief is only belief when it's backed up by action. So often Christians believe in an afterlife because it's a better alternative to the nothingness they suspect awaits them. We live in a world where science and reason dominate; it's difficult - even for those of us fully steeped in the Church - to imagine that there's some cloudy, harp-filled paradise up there waiting for us.

And so we run from death. We run with all our might because we're just not sure.

The cross presents a different path. The cross, with all of its various spiritual AND physical components, compels us to a different sort of belief, one that requires action. We must prove this belief by truly hating our own life. Hating in the sense that it is worthless to us, not because life has no value - life is indeed precious and wonderful - but because death is nothing but a blip on the radar of eternity.

It would be easy to enter this mindset and emerge with the "kill'em all and let God sort'em out" mentality. Death is just a phase, so who cares? Of course, then we also have to look at Jesus. He refused to throw himself off the temple and prove his greatness. No, this new creation operates differently. It's not about power and control or even reason and practicality. It's about loving your enemies.

I can't get my head around it. I work and try and I discipline myself in the hope I might someday do the right thing in a tough situation. But I'm still running scared. Running scared towards the cross as I am firmly committed to the idea that it's the only hope for the world - and running scared away from the cross because I can't bear the thought of facing pain and death when there's an easier way out.

This is the problem of non-violence, the problem of the cross. It's not a problem to be solved, but a problem to move in with. If you work your way through the jungle-gym of logic and come out on the other side, you've done something wrong. We are creatures of a new and redeemed world, living in the midst of a dying reality. We're not supposed to fit. It's not supposed to make sense. That's why it's called faith.

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