For the week of January 31, 2009 / 6 Shevat 5769
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 10:1 - 13:16
Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28
So Moses said, "Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle." (Shemot / Exodus 11:4,5; ESV)
I don't like violence. I certainly don't condone it as entertainment and I dissuade my children from playing violent games. I advocate the use of peaceful means in the resolving of conflict on both personal and broader scales.
This is all to say that for me the subject of violence is an uncomfortable one. I take no delight when anyone, friend or foe, is hurt or killed.
I am also uncomfortable with the violence I encounter in the Bible. Death and destruction are found throughout it pages. In fact, according to the Bible, God himself resolves issues with violence. I know that some people think that this depiction of God is confined to the Hebrew Scriptures as if he is characterized there as a God of wrath, while the New Covenant writings depict a God of love. I won't take the time here to debunk that misconception. Let it suffice to say that the depiction of God in both the Old and New Covenant writings is consistent. The God of the whole Bible is a complex, integrated character expressing himself in a great variety of ways. His motive toward his creation is always love, but this does not preclude his resorting to violence to accomplish his purposes.
God's use of violence seems to have become a major stumbling block for many people today. That God would resolve a situation through violent means is sufficient cause to prevent these people from considering the possibility that the God of the Bible might be real.
This extreme distaste for violence also appears to be what influences some people in their approach to societal and international justice. They deplore capital punishment even for the most heinous crimes and seem to think that military action should always be avoided. During the recent crisis in Gaza, I got the impression that some people would have preferred that Israel should have remained passive while bombs indiscriminately fell on their citizens. I am not saying that we should not be grieved over the devastation experienced by the Gazan people, but simplistic, pacifist solutions to conflicts of this nature are no solutions at all. Certain situations call for violent responses. I cannot say whether Israel's tactics in this case were the correct ones, but to completely reject violence as a legitimate means of conflict resolution is certainly not biblical.
I have the impression that the extreme pacifists reject the legitimate use of violence simply because it bothers them. They don't like violence, so they reject it. They fail to see that violence is at times necessary in a world gone wrong. They may accept pain, suffering, and death as part of the human dilemma, but they refuse to accept it as a legitimate aspect of God's justice. That we might struggle with our imperfections is one thing, but that we may be accountable for our sin is too much for them to take. Human evil, if not reckoned with on God's terms, will face a violent end. The violence of our day foreshadows the final judgement for all humankind. Great injustice requires extreme - and at times - violent responses from people of justice. In the same way our sin requires a violent response from the God of justice, unless, of course, we submit to his mercy offered to us in the Messiah.
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