Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
As I now understand it, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that the God of Israel was faithful to the promises that were made to Abraham. As the story of Israel unfolded, additional promises were made to David and to the people of Israel through the prophets. Hopes began to formulate and swirl around how all these promises would come to pass. Various Jewish sects arose with different understandings of how these promises would come and who they would come to.
These promises and hopes were fulfilled in the person, work and way of Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of Israel. These promises continue to be fulfilled, and their tangible benefits and blessings continue to be enjoyed, when and where the people of God remain faithful to the person, work and way of Jesus Christ. As the Messiah, Jesus ended the hostility between Israel and its Gentile neighbors and provided a way for all to join Israel in peace. All people became able to worship the one true God and participate in and enjoy the unfolding of the promises made to Israel as one diverse people. Israel now awaits the second coming of Jesus Christ, the final consummation of all things, and the bodily resurrection and judgment of all people.
In regards to non-violence, a number of the promises made to, and hopes of, Israel are especially important. From the beginning of God’s promises to Abraham, it is clear that Israel was always to be a blessing to all nations. Additionally, a variety of passages reveal that it was expected that all nations would come and worship the God of Israel, and that Israel would be returned to the land where it would enjoy peace and safety with its Gentile neighbors.
But how were these specific promises to come about? Far from being a blessing to its Gentile neighbors, Israel had a long history of violent and turbulent relationships with them. Israelite military victories had only provided temporary peace at the cost of breeding further animosity with the Gentiles nations. Israel had also been taken out of the land and scattered multiple times, and Rome was only the most recent Gentile power that had taken ownership of the land promised to the beleaguered people.
It is my belief that all of the promises to and hopes of Israel, including the ones that relate to non-violence, were fulfilled in the person, work and way of Jesus Christ and they continue to be fulfilled and enjoyed by the people of God who remain faithful to the person, work and way of Jesus Christ. But if this is the case, how did Jesus fulfill these hopes and how are they fulfilled and enjoyed now?
Jesus brought about these promises and blessings in part by living and teaching a way of life, the Way of Jesus. The Way of Jesus is a way of long-suffering justice, of costly mercy, of self-denying love, of sacrifice, of grace, of lavish sharing, of forgiveness with no limit, of embracing “The Other,” of humility, of solidarity with the poor and oppressed. It is a way that trusts God for one’s daily bread instead of hoarding out of the fear of future scarcity. It is a way of very tangible love and grace towards one’s enemies even to the point of forgiving them as they kill you. It is the way of non-violent active resistance, a way that does not stoop to the level of the oppressor in its indefatigable pursuit to free the oppressed.
So how did this Way bring about the promises made to Abraham? This Way eradicates the fears at the root of Israel’s lack of peace and need for war.
For some time, Israel had been stuck in a fearful and vengeful cycle of violence with its Gentile neighbors. While there had been times of peace, this fear was understandable. Uncircumcised Gentiles were currently exploiting Israel and had in the past attempted to completely stamp out Israel as a people permanently. In reaction to this, many in Israel were feverishly defending the borders of their community through violence. Others became focused on man-made laws that acted as boundary markers that determined who was “in” and who was not. These reactions only deepened the cycle as it encouraged ignorance, fear, and hatred of those that were on the wrong side of the boundary markers, even as it gave outsiders reason to hate and fear Israel.
Practicing the Way of Jesus set Israel free from the fears of death and scarcity. In a community of gratuitous sharing that takes care of the poor and marginalized, who fears never having enough? In a community of people who practice love for their enemies, who fears violent reprisals? Freed from these fears, they were also freed from the injustice, the idolatry and the wars these fears inevitably led to. This freedom from fear enabled Israel to take the dramatic step of welcoming those who had once been bitter enemies into the people of God as brothers and sisters without requiring them first to adopt the traditional marks of the people of Israel, most importantly circumcision.
The key to Israel’s lasting peace, the way Israel saw these promises and hopes fulfilled, was by following the Way of Jesus, embracing “The Other,” choosing the costly ways of peace, and ultimately following God into a new understanding of Israel. The new re-gathered Israel became one that allowed for rich diversity even as it patiently demanded change as is taught new comers who the God of Israel was, how to worship that God, and what that God expected of them.
Additionally, practicing the Way of Jesus is part of how Israel was and is a blessing to all nations. Where the people of God treat people as Jesus treated them and live as Jesus did, this produces tangible benefits for the community itself and everyone around it. What person would not be blessed by having even a small community that truly practiced the Way of Jesus nearby? Such a compelling and powerful community draws many into the story of God, to Messiah Jesus, and ultimately into the people of God. This in turn allowed Israel to see the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise that all nations would come to worship the God of Israel, a promise that continues to unfold.
In this Gospel, non-violence is not an optional or debatable matter for those who follow Jesus Christ for three basic reasons.
First, the Way of Jesus, what Jesus modeled and what Jesus taught, is fundamentally a way of sacrifice that gives up one’s life for the sake of others, including and especially one’s enemies. It is not a way of violence that takes the lives of others for the sake of security, personal or corporate profit, xenophobia, revenge, nationalism or any sort of ideology or idolatry. To abandon this Way is to directly disobey Jesus’ teachings and example.
Second, the Way of Jesus was part of the way that Jesus, as the Messiah of Israel, fulfilled the promises made to Israel. If followers of Jesus abandon this Way, they reject Jesus as the Messiah, they stop enjoying the blessings the Way of Jesus brings and they cease being a blessing to others as they should. In other words, they stop being the community that should perpetually fulfill the unique hopes and promises fundamental to Israel.
Third, the two fundamental reasons wars are fought are the fear of scarcity and the fear of death. Followers of Jesus are free from these fears, so what cause do they have to participate in wars? If they abandon the Way of Jesus and participate in wars, they return to the cycle of violence Israel escaped from. They voluntarily enslave themselves all over again to fears they have been and should be free from, costing them and everyone around them dearly in the process.
Because non-violence is then inherently part of the way one follows Jesus and part of the way the promises to Israel have been and continue to be fulfilled, following Jesus and serving in the military are simply incompatible. Military service involves participating in a larger system of violence that is sustained by a culture of violence. One simply cannot pursue one without compromising the other. Followers of Jesus must choose which they will serve and which has their ultimate loyalty. It is either the Messiah, or the military. On this issue I have become convinced there is no middle path.