So yesterday a popular pastor (that I’m not going to name, but you probably know who he is) posted a blog about the 6th Commandment (do not kill) that hulked out into an apologetic for a God that metes out divine justice with violence. Should I have just not read this blog? Absolutely. I make all kinds of mistakes. Here is the line that I haven’t been able to shake:
Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist; he’s patient. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning.
Once the wick is burned up, he is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow.
My initial response was to imagine a translation of the Bible according to this theology (sample: “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, ‘That’s my boy!’ And surely the Lord high-fived Simon Peter.”)
But that “Blood will flow” line has been bothering me in a way that I could not just respond with a joke and move on. I find the idea that God responds to evil in the exact same way that humanity has tried to counteract evil—a repeated action that seems to enflame evil rather than eradicate it—to be incredibly troubling. In fact, I would argue for all of its power, fury, and wrath, it is an incredibly low view of God.
When I read this pastor’s words about Jesus slaughtering his enemies, my mind went immediately to Isaiah 55. People often like to quote the ninth verse of that chapter to remind us that God’s ways are higher than ours and we use this basically as God’s Get Out of Jail Free Card. What we don’t often do is look at the verses surrounding it.
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
It’s the context of mercy. Now I know that a lot of Isaiah also talks about God’s wrath and justice, so it would be a dishonest to simply cherry pick a passage and move on. But in those prophecies, God’s punishment is coming to bear through the Babylonian people; an action which God does not find righteous or good either. There is no pleasure in the slaughter and devastation found in Isaiah.
Back to the verse: God’s ways are higher than ours. For eons, humans have tried and failed to solve their problems by violence. Do we not think that God in all of God’s infinite wisdom, power, and imagination could not bring justice in a way that wasn’t copying thousands of blood-soaked years of human script? What was Jesus suffering on the cross other than God bringing about victory over evil in a way that no human ever would have seen coming?
Jesus is why I have a hard time believing that God is eager mow down the creation made in the divine image. Christian orthodoxy says that we can know what God is like when we look at Jesus. Jesus was compassionate. He taught that one could respond to violence with creative means that neutralized it. People wanted him to lead a human revolution. They wanted him to be king and overthrow Rome. They thought that was the only answer to their particular riddle of evil. God’s thoughts were just higher than their thoughts.
This famous pastor is right about one thing: Jesus isn’t a pansy. His reasons are just out of place. Jesus was the bravest individual that walked the earth partly because he didn’t respond with violence when he suffered the cruelty of this world’s evil. He lived a better way, a higher way. Jesus was not a pansy because he walked out the far more difficult path of not taking revenge and of forgiving those who did great violence to him.
I have a hard time believing that when all is said and done, Jesus is going to pull off that mask and go to town decapitating people. I could be wrong, but I don’t see the Son of God doing that. Revelation is loaded with symbolism. It is human understanding of cosmic matters that go far beyond our imagination (it is also deeply tied into the context in which it was written, which is another matter for another time).
I understand that violence and evil are complicated issues. I am not a Pollyanna about that. However, I think we often root for God to bring the pain because that is what we want. I think that by insisting that God holds tightly to the human rubric of combating evil, we are boxing the Almighty in. We are dragging God’s higher ways down to our fallen human ways.