June 5, 2011

The Bible And The Government

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.


Mason said...

Thanks for this response!
I get what you're saying, though as I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear I think the call to nonviolence applies to both Church and State.
Have you read much of Luther? Your proposal sounds quite a bit like his Two Kingdoms theology, so there might be some good resources out there if you want to pursue it further.

Jc_Freak: said...

I have read Luther actually, though I only vaguely remember his two kingdom theology. I don't know why I didn't think of that while writing this, especially since Barth got his love of dialectic from Luther. Ah well. Thanks for the response!

Matt said...

I must disagree with you here, though your argument is very well articulated. If violence is wrong, if it defiles, if it is sin, then by nature it cannot be necessary. "The wages of sin is death" tells me that if we believe violence is defiling (i.e. sin) then all we do by using violence is bring more death into the world.

I do question whether violence is by nature evil, something that I cannot begin to argue here.

Anyway, solid argument, but I'm not sure it holds water.

Jc_Freak: said...

Actually, I was very careful to not call it a sin. I really can't biblically speaking because God can't sin, and He wouldn't tell us to sin, yet He has killed, and has told us to kill.

But as a human being, it does defile me: it makes me dirty. I now have to be cleaned. That is my point.

It is like I am clearly out a trash dump to turn it into a farm. Most of that work defiles my hands, and and none of the stuff that is defiling my hands should have been there to begin with. But one day, when it is all cleared away, that defilement that was once necessary can be put behind me, and I can live the rest of my life clean.

Christopher Bastedo said...

1 - To offer another way to say what I think you're saying: The OT deals with NATIONS while the NT deals with INDIVIDUALS/GROUPS OF INDIVIDUALS. What an individual should do when faced with another individual is different from what nations must do. (as opposed to "state" vs. "not state" issues.

2 - Is there another word to use besides "defiled" to discuss what happens in war? Because "defile" is a word frequently synonymous with sin in the NT. Perhaps there is a context difference bewteen OT Hebrew and NT Greek?

SLW said...

One thing I definately [sic] 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.

That is very well put, and I agree with it. Does it preclude a member of the church from being in government?

Jc_Freak: said...

Excellent question SLW! I don't quite see how it would prevent one from becoming a Congressman or what have you, but I personally had trouble with joining the military when I was young because of my faith. And yet, at the same time, I have personally had no problems with people who I know who are Christians being in the military.

I think it is a matter of personal conviction. God Himself formed a military for the preservation of Israel and David, who was of God's own heart, was a passionate warrior. So I would say that it isn't incompatible, but I personally have trouble reconciling the two in my own soul.