Sunday, August 19, 2012

Should a Christian Harm Others In Self-Defense?

Whether a Christian should use violence in defense of one's nation or family is greatly debated.  While the Bible as a whole doesn't fall on one side or the other, the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament is very clear:

Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. (Matt. 26:52)

If anyone is destined for captivity, to captivity he goes; if anyone kills with the sword, with the sword he must be killed. Here is the perseverance and the faith of the saints. (Rev. 13:10)

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.  "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
 (Rom. 12:17-21)

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 (Luke 6:27-36)

For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
 (1John 3:11-14)

Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
 (2 Cor. 10:3-4)

Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." (John 18:36)

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

These verses teach us the following:
1. The one who has faith in God does not take up the sword (the ancient equivalent of a gun) to defend oneself, because to destroy with a weapon fates one to be destroyed violently-- it perpetuates the cycle of violence, instead of shalom which is the kingdom of God.

2. The principle of God's kingdom is to love everyone, without exception, even those who do you or the ones you love harm.  Jesus was Peter's first love, but Jesus said it wasn't appropriate to defend him with the sword.

3. To love everyone without exception means to harm no one.  Jesus makes harming/killing the opposite of doing good (Mark 3:4).  The child of God is to do good at all times, never to harm.  To do evil is to be evil.  To harm an evildoer is to be an evildoer.

4. The child of God is supposed to have exceptional love, not the normal everyday love.  To love and to consider the well-being of the one who harms you is the distinction of the child of God.  To only love those who consider your well-being is the way all people act, good or evil.

5. It is a distinction of God's kingdom that the only one who acts in defense of the Kingdom is God himself.  God takes vengeance, God does harm, God defends.  The child of God is to depend upon God alone for his  defense, and not take it up himself.

6. The child of God is a soldier: a soldier in the spiritual realm.  The child of God fights an enemy: Satan and his forces.  The child of God wields weapons: weapons of the spirit.  The citizen of God's kingdom is not to take up weapons of this world, nor to fight in wars of this world, but to act powerfully in the spirit world. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Radical Politics of Jesus

The followers of Jesus follow Jesus as their political ruler (i.e., Lord), and the Kingdom of God as their nation. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t involved in the nations we are born in and live in. We are deeply concerned about them, and we recognize that our current welfare is tied to the welfare of the nation we live in. We want peace in our nation, and we want everyone around us to have well-being. This means that we are involved politically. Some of us, by our convictions in following Jesus, do not get involved in partisan politics, or even vote. This doesn’t mean, however, that we are passive. Rather, because we follow the way of Jesus, and that way is the way of political involvement.

Jesus was very involved in politics. He was so involved that the political rulers of his nation—the Sanhedrin of the Jewish nation—determined that he had to be killed. But Jesus never voted, nor did he gather up people to depose the existing rulers. Nor did he participate in making himself well-liked so that he would be declared ruler, nor did he gather an army together to take over the land he called his own. Yet he was very involved—he called himself the King and spoke of his kingdom deposing the evil rulers. In the same way Jesus was politically involved, so his followers are—to this very day.

Political Context: The Unheard Underdogs
Before we discuss the ways Jesus was (and we should be) politically involved, we need to understand the context of Jesus and of Jesus’ followers in the political world. Jesus came from a backwater of Israel, where no one of political significance hailed from. He proposed an unpopular, idealistic platform. He also gathered around him as his party a group of ne’er-do-wells, whom no one with any clout paid attention to. Jesus spoke for those who would never be listened to, and proposed changes that would bring the lowest of people to rule over the highest. Finally, his political strategy for victory was to be persecuted, and so win the favor of only one person—God himself. Although this political context was extremely unorthodox, it worked for him.

Over the centuries the true followers of Jesus obeyed the same context and followed the same political strategy. They were unknowns, representing the weak and helpless, with only God on their side. They had idealistic platforms—the same as Jesus’, actually—and remained unpopular to the majority of people. Nevertheless, they were significant enough to be persecuted by political leaders and to be hated. And in this way, they created political change. Some of the communities who enacted this strategy are known today—the Waldensians, the Franciscans, the Anabaptists, the American Civil Rights Movement. Their strategy was direct and effective—without voting, partisan politics or military might.

How can it be done?
How can such a strategy succeed? How can the unheard of nobodies, even with a charismatic leader, make political change? They follow the method of Jesus’ political involvement, as follows:

Kingdom teaching
Jesus began his ministry with this statement: "The kingdom of God is near—repent and believe in this message" (Mark 1:15) In saying this, Jesus was proclaiming to all current rulers and authorities, "A new nation is about ready to invade. The current rulers have been declared inadequate, and a new rule will start." This upset the rulers, but it also gave hope to the people that the oppression they were suffering under was about to end. And Jesus was offering this new, just, rule to anyone who repented from their injustice and believed in him. Even so, political change is right at the door—for whoever depends on God to believe in Jesus and to do righteousness.

Call to Personal Transformation
Jesus enacted his political change, not by creating a huge social movement, but by dealing with people one by one, calling them to a moral transformation by the power of God. Jesus called people to freedom and well-being, not by the salvations of the world—economics, authority or human laws—but salvation by the power of God (Zechariah 4:6). Jesus said that those who followed him would not only have lives pleasing to God, but also pleasing to themselves—they would have righteousness, peace and joy, all handed to them by God (John 16:20; Romans 14:17). Thus, those who follow Jesus could all truly say, "I am better off than before I followed Jesus."

Speaking against injustice
Jesus made it clear that the rulers of his age were oppressors of the needy, and opponents to those who do good. He pointed out again and again how their laws did nothing but support their personal interests, and cause difficulties for the poor and lowly (Matthew 22-23). This speech did little by itself—the rulers did not listen to Jesus and change their ways, rather it entrenched them in doing their evil. But it displayed them before the people and before God as evildoers, unwilling to change before the word of God.

Most people think of prayer as a religious act, but it is actually the most powerful political weapon that exists. God is the king of the universe, and the Bible says every ruler gains authority or loses authority on his say-so (Daniel 5:21). God is very involved in human politics, and those who can have God listen to them have the greatest political power on earth—greater than any vote, or army. Through prayer, rulers can be set aside, nations can be thwarted and political powers can be overthrown—all by the power of God.

Righteous suffering
The difficult question is: who does God listen to? Does he listen to presidents and prime ministers, or popes and cardinals? Not at all—rather he listens to the lowly who obey his commands. Those who are truly submitted to God and who chose to depend on him, although they have other options available to them—they are the ones God listens to (Matthew 11:25; I Corinthians 1:26-31). Those whom God listens to especially are those who suffer for the sake of following him—he will make changes more readily for them than anyone (Luke 6:22-23; Revelation 6:9-11). And so Jesus—and his true followers—will accept the way of suffering and death in order to make the world a better place for the lowly in God.

Healing and Deliverance
Again, most people understand healings and exorcisms by the power of God to be in the realm of religious power. However, in the ancient world, those who had power over spirits were seen to be politically powerful. For this reason, Jesus’ enemies tried to discredit him (Matthew 12:22-24). You see if Jesus had authority in the spirit realm, that meant that he deserved authority in the earthly realm and would gain it, eventually. Even so, today, as the followers of Jesus heal the physically and mentally ill by the authority of Jesus, it shows that Jesus has greater power than doctors and psychiatrists, and that the whole basis of the health care system is shown to be wrong. That is a powerful political statement—and one that is demonstrated, not just spoken about.

Community example
Finally, Jesus established a community as an alternative nation. Jesus created communities of the lowly, with leaders who seek humility instead of power, with a law of love displayed to all, with people doing good to their enemies instead of perpetuating hatred and everyone giving to the needy in their midst (Acts 2:42-47). He did this for two reasons—first of all, it would show the nations of the world how much better a society ruled by Jesus is than by the powers of the world. But also, he established the communities to take over leadership of the world when his kingdom arrived. When the power of God takes over the world, the lowly people of Jesus, living in peace and benefit to everyone, will take over leadership, while the corrupt rulers of the world are thrown out, forever. (Matthew 5:3-10; Luke 6:24-26)

Use Your Political Clout—
Be Like Jesus!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Just War

Who is a just war just for?
It isn't just for the soldiers who have to live with mental and physical handicaps for the rest of their lives.
It isn't just for the families of innocent civilians who were casualties of a just war.
It isn't just for the millions of homeless who are displaced in a just war.
It isn't just for the victims of famine, revolution and irrational hatred, which are natural results of a just war.
However, just wars make politicians, who have the power to begin a just war, look awfully good. 
Perhaps a just war just isn't just.