See thread over at Scott Freeman's place.
A couple of other thoughts, since folks always obsess over the temple incident:
(1) maybe Jesus lost his temper and was human - not setting an example for us,
(2) perhaps there are things Jesus can do, given his deity that we are not capable of sufficient power or judgment to attempt to do (e.g., die on a cross for the sins others; walk on water; raise the dead…) - and perhaps having the right and the wisdom to drive people from the temple is not an example of how to handle anger (remember, this was _not_ self-defense on Jesus' part), but an example of God's affront at sin…
(3) could it be that our focus should be on all the things Jesus said and did and taught and instructed as well as all of those disciples who wrote in His name afterwards - not on a single incident that, based on the comments above, we have little contextual understanding of.
Ultimately, violence is always about two (2) things that operate in a vicious, deteriorating cycle:
(1) Fear - we are afraid; the greater the violence, the greater the fear that drives it; and we are afraid of our fear - afraid to admit it; or to accept it - which is the only way to eliminate it, by the way. So instead we seek…
(2) Control - we long to suffer under the delusion that we have the slightest control over what happens to us - see comments above about protecting our families - we really want to believe that we can protect ourselves and those we love from sin, evil and pain. Of course, we cannot. And the only protection of ultimate value is love and surrender. But as Greg notes, we do not believe - or, at least, we don't believe enough.
It all comes down to these two things: we are afraid and we long for control. Jesus' answer to humanity was to trust God, to love God; to surrender the lust for control and the self-deception that we can obtain it by our own power, wisdom and might. Because such self-deception will lead to idolatry, self-obsession, injustice, lack of mercy, and, of course, more violence.
All the Dukakising is pointless, too. If I had a gun in my hand and my daughters were attacked, I think I would not hesitate to fire. Of course, this is irrelevent on both moral and political grounds. The question is not what would I do, but what would God have me do.
Then let's think about what God has done.
Take the temple. Some cite Jesus' rage as an example of his authorization of violence. But does that even make sense as an example of righteous anger or vengeance or self-defense? Wasn't it under God's sovereign rule that the Romans were occupying Jerusalem at that time? That the Israel of the OT was under the bootheel of the Emperor? Wasn't it under God's watchful eye that Israel , before and since Jesus' outburst at the temple, suffered unbelievable torment, devastation, torture and violence practically beyond comprehension? If the temple outburst is an example of God's rage on behalf of the righteousness of Israel, if anything, it constitutes the most anemic response in human history. More likely, this was more about political provokation for God's ultimate purposes than anything else.
Now broaden the perpsective to all of humanity.
God didn't protect nearly three thousand innocent people from the rabid acts of September 11th. He hasn't violently intervened to protect over three thousand American soldiers engaged in a war ostensibly designed to stop the kind of violence unleashed on September 11th.
Nor the six million Jews exterminated in Europe only a few decades ago. Or the Japanese women and children erased by the atomic bombs thereafter.
Or the innocents in Rwanda and Darfur.
He doesn't protect the innocent women and children in the path of raging tsunamis or hurricanes or cyclones.
He didn't protect his own child being tortured and killed.
Nor those who would come after Him in His name…
He gives us no instruction to "keep and bear arms".
No instruction to fight injustice with anything other than prayer and love.
No marching orders but humility and sacrifice and long-suffering.
Those wishing to construct a picture of a retributive, vigilante God - a God who responds to injustice and violence with force and calls his followers to his example - are simply lacking in any evidence for it beyond a couple of apocryphal citations in Acts or the writings of warring tribes in ancient Mesopotamia.
In fact, God seems to be totally silent (unless we count the lengthening list of despots throughout history who claim to speak for Him) on the idea of "fighting back" in either self-defense or "pre-emption".
Do I like that? No. I want a Bruce Willis God - a God who diverts the paths of the madman's bullets to protect those innocent Amish girls. A God who slams the would-be assassins with heart attacks or massive aneurysms or a passing bus before they board the planes. I want a God who obliterates cancer; who protects the innocence of children.
But, folks, where is that God?
And if we're supposed to be acting in his stead in that regard, what an incredibly lousy job we're doing - and how utterly unprepared and ill-equipped He has left us to that task! No instructions, no encouragement, no directions in that regard whatsoever. Humility, love, forgiveness, mercy, the other cheek have not proved to be effective weapons in the war on terror. At least not as we measure effectiveness.
We focus on outcomes - we live and believe the ends justify the means. God, on the other hand, seems utterly, totally and enragingly unconcerned with what we perceive as the outcomes (the course of the disease; the results of the surgery; the wake of the bullet, the usefulness of the extracted information) and entirely obsessed with our means along the way.
Where does that leave us?
As an aside, on the topic of Hell, I think we've also got some ancient and pagan ideas that have been syncretized/baptized into our concepts there. I'm not taking a theological position here, but read, as food for thought, C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.
Is Defending the Defenseless a Biblical Mandate to Disciples?
Where is that either commanded for believers or demonstrated by God's behavior? God and Jesus seem utterly unconcerned with stopping the injustice to those around them. As individuals, we are not commanded to step in and by force defend the weak. Rather, we are commanded to love and serve them and treat them with respect. But no violence or force is commanded, mentioned, exemplified or justified.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I don't think it's so much that God "saw the light" as that humanity finally "grew up" and we can look back now on that war-like, bloody civilization and be thankful we've shaken off that sinful behavior - along with slavery, gender inequity, age inequity and race inequity - though on the latter three we still have a ways to go, I suppose.
Just to further make the point, isn't God the ultimate person "who [is] able to protect those who are not" able to protect themselves?
Yet He does not.
Why is that example less compelling - given that it's immeasurably more demonstrable and substantial - than the example of Jesus' rage at the temple?
It's less compelling because we want to be able to express rage and anger and enact vengeance. Though Jesus was probably doing none of these.
What about the reference Jesus makes to the person who would harm a child – that they'd be better off with a stone tied round their neck and cast into the sea – isn't that violent?
On Jesus' statement about the person who harms a child, it's easy enough to see that Jesus is referring to the state of that person's soul - a la Epictetus: "You ask what punishment there is for those with such a spirit? There punishment is to be as they are." Jesus is saying that anyone with a spirit that would harm a child is already in Hell - the soul of a person with such brokenness and distortion is a living torture - they would be better off to not exist than to exist with such a spirit of evil. He is decidedly not advocating violence of the summary execution by drowning of evildoers!
Isn't Jesus' outburst at the temple a reaction to the injustice he sees there?
What was going on at the temple was minor compared to the injustices being suffered all around Jesus at the time - folks being slaughtered by the Romans; Jews under military rule by the Emperor, etc. But none of that inspired anger in Jesus? He's worried about some poor sap marking up doves by a few denarii to make a living?
This is what inspires Him to intervene?
No, this was not about righteous indignation - we're misappropriating Jesus' action to rationalize our own prejudices.
It is just preposterous to say that God is unconcerned with stopping injustices.
First, I agree. But remember that this discussion is about whether violence or forceful intervention is justified by God. So my legitimate question is that in light of the undeniable presence of overwhelming evil and injustice in the world, why isn't God intervening in some manner to stop it - if forceful intervention is a God-like characteristic. Please note that last.
If you have evidence that God is stamping out evil and righting injustices and eliminating suffering and protecting children, I'd love to see it.
I absolutely believe God is powerful, all-knowing and loving. I also believe He is not intervening to stop evil because that is not His way. Ergo, not our way. More on this below.
I think we're wrapping our thinking up in that one misinterpreted example of Jesus' actions at the temple. I'll wait for Scott's post on that next week.
Where does Jesus teach, encourage, authorize or use force or violence as a model of discipleship? Where does Jesus tell his disciples, after the temple incident, to "go and do likewise"? This is just our rationalization.
We want it to be true because the other way doesn't make sense to us…
If Jesus saw a child molester, would he just let him pass by – with no punishment – no seeking to right the injustice?
I ask in reply, where was God when the molestation took place? Did He lack either authority or power to intervene? Did He not care?
We're continuing to ignore the elephant in the room.
God lets this stuff happen not once or twice, but millions of times every day. Yet no one is stricken dead. No one drops over before the act is accomplished. The police are blocked in traffic; the parent leaves the child alone too long, etc. All these opportunities for God to directly intervene or to grease the skids for someone else to. But He doesn't. The gunman could've run out of gas on the way to the school house. A freak hailstorm might've knocked him unconscious. And so on…
If you had 1/1000th of God's power - and the knowledge of a child molester about to molest, and the power to intervene - even non-violently, would you? Wouldn't you believe it would be sin to not do something?
So why does God fail to do so thousands of times every day? Where is the defender of the defenseless?
The options comes down to some pretty tough choices (with thanks to David Hume): (1) God doesn't have the power, (2) God doesn't care (Jon's concern above), or (3) God has a different way of seeing the world that places those events in a radically different perspective. (And free-will defenses of God's inaction don't work because that would apply to you and me as well. And as for us being responsible to intervene - Jesus didn't; and last time I checked, none of us can stop hurricanes or tsunamis or see into the future or a person's heart or be everywhere at once…)
So if you choose (3), then it gets really tough to justify violence in the name of justice since God doesn't give us any example or direction to follow that path.
Even the example of the child-molester offered above fails to ask the right question: "Would Jesus stop a child molester from molesting?" Why don't we ask that? Because we all know that Jesus isn't stopping the children being molested - and the evening news reminds us of it every day.
So instead we ask about what Jesus would do in the aftermath. Why? Because that's where we always are - standing over the wreckage and trauma and suffering - bathed in anger and doubt and fear and rage. And we want someone to pay.
But Jesus' only recorded responses regarding the punishment of criminals - in direct affronts to the penal justice system of the day - were "go and sin no more" and "today you will be with me in Paradise".
So much for Jesus as heavenly warden.
But we stiffen the punishment, lengthen the sentences, increase the executions - in hopes of slaking our rage and fear and controlling our future.
But we aren't in any final sense protecting others since all human existence is fraught with pain and suffering and ultimately death. (Interestingly, Lewis (see The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses) uses this same perspective to argue in favor of non-pacifism by saying that war does not quantitatively increase pain, since human existence is filled with pain anyway and we are all going to die, so war doesn't make that any worse).
Nor are we ultimately increasing the pain of evildoers.
And didn't Jesus "just let sinners go" all the time? Name one sinner he struck dead or had imprisoned. Instead He forgave them. Embraced them. Just because the sins mentioned in the NT are the "more understandable" ones we don't find totally repugnant (theft, adultery, drunkenness, etc.) doesn't unmake the point.
Jesus' response to sin and suffering was weeping, surrendering and dying. It was not retribution, punishment or violence. His reaction was not anger and violence.
Isn't it really naive to think that if we take the path of peace each and every time, everything is going to turn out okay?
I think it seems naive because we're convinced that we know what the right outcome is - even though God doesn't seem at all concerned with the "right outcome" from our perspective.
I agree that things would look radically different if the way of peace were followed. Look at the Moriari, for example.But the question is whether we will trust God and follow His example precisely when it means that we don't know what's going to happen and especially when doing what He says results in unexpected (and, likely, unwelcome) outcomes.