I recently read a post over at Mason's blog that talked about the Myth of Redemptive Violence. Mason is a strong pacifist, and I have a lot of respect for him (that's why I read his blog). However, this is an issue that I have often disagreed with him about, and I just want to explain my thoughts in more detail.
First off, I think that violence is alien to the Christian perspective. Christianity is by nature pacifist. Jesus taught about loving your neighbor, turning the other cheek, and forgiving those that do you wrong.
Second of all, violence is very common in the Old Testament. The only OT book I can think of which is devoid of violence is problably Song of Songs (maybe Job since the only violence is done by looters).
At first glance, this appears to be a contradiction. Personally, I think this is a dialectic.
Barth Having Both
Barth was a early 20th century theologian, and one of the theological greats of our time. Oh, and he loved dialectics, and often pushed them. A dialectic is a kind of theological mystery: something which is clearly true, but impossible to explain in words. Specifically, it is when to opposite things are equally true in such a way that you can't simply explain how the work together. Instead, you need to affirm both and let them live in tension.
In the case of violence: violence is bad. It is unilaterally bad. It is also sometimes necessary. Perhaps I simply read too many comic books, but sometimes someone just needs to be stopped. Nonviolence is great when you are the one in the crosshairs, but when it is someone else, I don't see how it is justifable to not do whatever you can to protect that person.
However, that doesn't mean that it justifies you. Maybe in human courts, but if you strike any person down, even for a righteous cause, you have defiled yourself. I agree with Mason that the idea of redemptive violence is a myth. David's hands were so defiled that he wasn't allowed to build God's temple. However, just because something defiles you, it doesn't mean it shouldn't have been done. After all, the priests were often defiled while performing sacred acts. How much more would one be defiled after striking down on made in the image of God?
Ok, On To Government
One thing I definately believe though is that the Church should be pacifist, and the government should not be. It is the government's principle job to protect its citizens. That is why it exists. It is the Church's job to represent Christ: self-sacrifice.
I believe in the seperation of Church and State, because the Church should be holy, and cannot be defiled in the necessary tasks of governing a fallen world. One of the reasons why the Catholic Church became so corrupted was because it became a political entity. One of the reasons why the NT is so pacifist is because it never deals with state polity. One of the reason why the OT is so violent is because it deals extensively with state polity.
Both must coexist, and remain in tension. As long as humanity remains unsubmitted to God as the one true king, violence is going to remain being an ugly reality. It is one we should never approve of, but it is one that we also cannot avoid.