In order to know God intimately as the Pacifist He is, one is helped tremendously by being able to read (and interpret) the Bible from a pacifist perspective. Here, presented as a table are six issues discussed in the Bible. Along side each issue, I’ve listed the dominant Constantinian interpretation in column 2 and then, in column 3, how I understand the Bible on that issue from a pacifist perspective. Under the table there are brief reflections and links to further discussion on other pages.
|Issue||Constantinian interpretation||Pacifist interpretation|
|War||Justifiable for Christians||Unjustifiable for mature Christians|
|Hell||post-mortem torment||Place for the disposal of the corpses of Jerusalem’s defenders in AD 70|
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A dictionary will show a variety of meanings for “just” and “justice” heavily weighted towards the administration of Law and punishments. In interviews with victims’ relatives after an accused is sentenced for murder, whether they feel “justice” has been done or not depends on the severity of punishment, with the punishment typically seeming not to be severe enough to them. But does justice really revolve around mere retribution for those found culpable? Read more..
Two quick points here: firstly, I’m not a pacifist who expects everyone to stop answering the call to war at times of national emergencies. I know that most people don’t share my convictions & trust in God around death & national security. This makes war sometimes inevitable. Most citizens of most nations, when threatened by another nation, see war as the lesser of two evils. They want to preserve the culture, language, government & advantages they are used to. They may believe God wants them to trust Him and fight. They choose to “fight for peace.” To them I might say,
“I only expect mature (pacifist) Christians to share Jesus’ confidence that our Heavenly Father is calling us to embrace death – as the ultimate strengthening of our faith, the gateway to paradise and as the ushering in of the Kingdom of God upon Planet Earth with power. As a pacifist Christian, I ask no fellow citizen to go to war on behalf of me & my family. I don’t consider any threat to the priveleges/conditions my family & I enjoy (in any current version of society culture, language & government) justifies use of lethal force. Rather I see the non-acceptance of changes in secular power arrangements is what keeps the world fighting wars. As a pacifist Christian I work toward long term world peace for all and that entails, among other things, not fighting the next war or the next or the next. I believe God’s project is to make more and more of us like Jesus in this world – until war ceases.”
Point 2 – those who argue against Christian pacifism often quote Luke 3:14 in paraphrase and have John the Baptist tell soldiers not to “extort” money from citizens. But literal translations don’t make any mention of money – they just say “don’t commit violence.” I guess there have always been some military employees whose specialised roles do not involve them committing violence – but, for most, “don’t commit violence” will, I think, be incompatible with armed service for the state. I guess John the Baptiser left it to the soldiers themselves to work out whether they could do no violence in their jobs or not. (And Jesus & Peter left it to their centurions to do likewise.)
(By the way, I don’t condemn Christians who disagree with me but I pray our Father for their guidance and strengthening in the Spirit.)
Living comfortably in middle-class Australia, I didn’t have much direct personal confrontation with legal punishment or the violation of war (i.e. I was not impacted personally with hardships associated with the first two issues, above). When I became fist became aware of Constantinian fundamentalism (not that I called it that then) it wasn’t around justice or warfare. I revolted against Constantinian fundamentalism around the doctrine of Eternal Torment. As a chaplain’s assistant I visited a very gracious, and terminally ill, Catholic woman in hospital. I had just experienced the grace of God in an amazingly wonderful way myself (freeing me of interpersonal disconnection that had grown up through my repression of an experience of childhood trauma & abuse) and I could not countenance eternal suffering for this dear lady just because she was Catholic and probably didn’t know to ‘asked Jesus into her heart’ in a Baptist-kind of way. Rather, I suspected Evangelical Protestants may have misunderstood Scripture on the topic of Hell just as the Church had seemed incompetent in showing me the way to experience God’s grace!
So I looked for a possible misunderstanding or misrepresentation of Scripture. The first (of many) I found was the excessive weight of argument being carried by a single, seemingly very metaphysical word – “eternal” as in “eternal destruction“. Aware of the human weakness within local Church congregations compared to the absolute grace of God, I was not so frightened of Church folks’ fear of heresy. A much more open to asking questions like: Would a all-powerful God of love create a universe where many would never find their ultimate destiny in God fulfilled and instead would exist in torment for ever? Could that really glorify God? Could the rest of humanity carry on blithely in heaven despite the eternal suffering of so many, including close relatives?
It seems clear to me now that the Medieval Church imposed the concept of eternal, post-mortem damnation onto the Bible in order to serve the secular authorities by imprisoning citizens of the state in an intellectual-religious prison. Arguably, the meanest guards at this prison were the Fears: Fear that God might really be a God Who allows such a hell… Fear that free-thinking might judge the real God rather than just a false perception of Him, Fear of falling into heresy, Fear that God might damn one for heresy, Fear that one’s believing family & friends would think one backslidden. My experience, as one more prodigal who has “come to his senses” about the truth of Biblical universalism, has brought me much much joy in God (as well as a kind of normality as a human being). Nevertheless, there was, and is, an ongoing cost to pay in terms of church. My testimony is that the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life – but that it really does lead to life! Read more..
The Cross is so precious to me because I think it was the break through moment in God’s revelation to Humanity of how counter-cultural and even counter-intuitive is His way. The Cross – both the way Jesus approached Cross and His subsequent resurrection – helps establish for me that Jesus is Who He claimed to be. (The hope, the transformation, the goodwill and love He brings to many people – especially those likewise persecuted – also testify to me of His truth.) Alongside Jesus’ attitude to His impending, early and unjust execution, there is His exposé (captured in the Gospel accounts) of world systems and the revelation of God’s plan to overcome them “not by might, nor by power but by (His gracious) Spirit.” I reckon, except for how we make an idol of our own survival, all this would obviously point us to our own deaths as important parts of our loving Heavenly Father’s plan for us and the world, since “flesh and blood will not inherit the Kingdom of God” and “mortality must put on immortality” via resurrection from the dead. How counter-intuitive and counter-cultural to the dominant materialistic worldview!
The Cross is not, in my view, the centre of history. That honour belongs to the Incarnation which is a centre, I think, for Humanity’s eternal relationship with God. But “the message of the Cross is the power of God for transformation to everyone that has faith”. Despite the ubiquitous pollution of Constantinianism, the Gospel is still powerful enough to bring joy and comfort to many. But oh the joy and power to save of the unadulterated Gospel! Read more…
The Believer’s Righteousness
I don’t believe in the doctrine of Imputed Righteousness, just as I am not persuaded by the Constantinian version of ‘justification by faith’. I believe we are made ‘righteous’ or ‘good’ (whole, joyful, loving, spontaneous, free, compassionate, childlike, trusting, irrepressible – in a word, “Christ-like”) whenever we apply the truth of God that Jesus came to reveal. Far from a dry doctrinal question, it is the fundamental issue of human beings becoming fully human by learning to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals that because human beings are meant to be in close communion with God, those who are not in close communion with God cannot possibly be whole. We think this horrible, stressed, half-state is normal for human beings – until we actually spend some time with someone truly immersed, in truth and by faith, in God’s immanent love.
Faith and truth are key aspects of discovering the freedom of the children of God. Faith is involved in close communion with any person – one must believe in the real goodness of the other for the relationship to be very loving. In the same way, we must believe in the real goodness of God for our relationship with God to be very loving. And such belief is expressed, tested, refined and strengthened on a journey involving new situations, new challenges and, sometimes, long hardships (including the hardship of being counter-culturally pacifist). Read more..