Jesus and Violence

As they say, I’m conflicted.

On the one hand I have the wherewithall, both mental and physical, both of which are God-given abilities, to protect myself. It is true, of course, that I can choose to use those abilities for good or evil and so the question arises, when, if ever, should I use force for the purpose of doing good?

And I’m not talking about using muscle to help someone to their feet.

I mean violent force.

When, if ever, is it “good” to use violent force?

Jesus certainly seems to be the consummate pacifist. His example seems clear. Indeed, one of the rare times he mentions weapons (Luke 22:38) is when he expects to be arrested and, so say some apologists, he wants the disciples to look like a band of criminals to facilitate his arrest. When he instructs the disciples to get swords and they say they have two of them, he responds, “That is enough.”

Jesus’ tone of voice in that phrase would have told us quite a lot about his feelings concerning weapons but, sadly, the printed word just does not convey it. We don’t know if he means, “Weapons are evil and I don’t want to hear anymore about them,” or “Two swords are sufficient to make us convincingly look like a band of criminals,” or even, “That’s a trivial detail; let’s get on to more important things now.” The available commentaries on this verse have different opinions. My bottom line has to be that I just don’t know.

I can rationalize the use of defensive violence, as opposed to offensive violence, on the grounds that if I fail to protect myself and am killed, I can no longer work to propogate, to promote The Way.

But I find no support for that rationalization in the New Testament. Clearly it is not in the written record of Jesus’ teachings.

Interestingly, that reference to swords does not appear in The Jefferson Bible which otherwise includes those statements and stories Thomas Jefferson felt were directly attributable to Jesus. Unfortunately, Jefferson did not include a commentary on why he omitted this particular verse.

But all that accepted, I still cannot get rid of the gut feeling that life is precious, that life is God’s work, that The Way says we should resist evil and promote life.

In the NIV, it says,

"When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, 'Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!'
His disciples remembered that it is written: 'Zeal for your house will consume me.'"

Some commentaries suggest this act of passion, this aggression, was an aberration and that Jesus would eschew such acts in spite of His actions that day.

But the fact remains that the Bible records this story of Jesus’ actions and, indeed, that it was even foretold. That is, to fulfill the prophecy, Jesus had to behave in this manner.

But Jesus fulfilling the prophecy is one thing. My using force or violence such as Jesus did, is another. I am not fulfilling a prophecy. I am not Jesus.

So, when is violence good, if ever? When is it not a sin to use force in resisting evil? Should we all go, without resistance, to be fed to lions?

Some say, “Yes.” Some say complete pacifism in the face of evil is part of The Way.

But I have to then ask, if I don’t take medications to fend off disease, I may die. If a wild animal, maddened by rabies, attacks, am I supposed to surrender my life to it? Or am I only supposed to be a pacifist with other humans? What about non-violent aggressions such as verbal or written accusations that are intended to harm my well-being, or being unjustly tried in a court of law – shouldn’t I defend myself?

What constitutes violence? Is physical violence the only violence?

I think not.

Watch the immediate effect of verbal abuse on a child.

Witness the consequent effect that shows much later in that child’s life of the damage to his/her life.

No, violence is not just physical. Violence can be perpetrated in many different ways without being physical.

I don’t think Jesus would condone verbal abuse.

I do agree that he would have attempted to combat it with gentle persuasion but, faced with it again and again and again, would he have acted out as he did in the temple? And regardless of what he might have done, isn’t the very continuation of life based on innumerable instances of acts every day directed toward the resistance of the destruction of life?

Ultimately, it must become a question of degree, of which acts constitute good resistance and which acts constitute bad (evil) resistance (to evil).

Certainly wars and fighting often just go on and on as each side retaliates for the other side’s previous retaliation. It only stops when one side either chooses, or is forced (!), to stop.

Is the forceful cessation of war a sin?

Or should we just allow ourselves to be killed?

When extermination of all those who believe as you do is the avowed goal of a militant group, when and how do you resist or do you just let them in and bow your head to their sword?

And, to go to the next degree, when does “defense” turn into “offense”? I’m thinking of the US reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Specifically, when evil has shown its intentions and continues to foment such works, when is life served by travelling to evil’s lair and exterminating it?

Oh Lord, the world is so complicated and your gift of Free Will so terrifying in its awesomeness. Please Lord, shine your light brightly so my cloudy eyes may see, shout your words so my deafened ears will hear, and guide my feet to the climb that will lead me to The Way. And take pity on my frustrated and confused mind: strike me dumb with Your truth, I pray.


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