nonviolently resisting God (part 3)

Continuing an essay I'm writing...

Jesus had great faith in the power of God. He experienced it daily, and based his promises on it. The power of God clothed the lilies and fed the birds of the air, it calmed storms, healed diseases, and even raised the dead. And Jesus preached that the power of God would provide and protect and unfailingly bring justice, just as all the prophets had promised. The God who had parted the Red Sea to lead his people out of oppression would also send “the son of man” in power to gather the sheep and expel the goats, ending every injustice and giving his people peace. This faith in God’s power went hand in hand with Jesus’ nonviolence. As Peter wrote, Jesus was able to reject violence and suffer patiently because “he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” Paul trusted the power of God in the same way, writing that we should repay no one evil for evil, but instead "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink,” because the justice of God was sure. “I will repay, says the Lord.” The faith in God's power that Jesus demonstrated allows us to follow his example of nonviolent love, trusting God to ensure justice. As Miroslav Volf wrote in Exclusion and Embrace:
Without entrusting oneself to the God who judges justly, it will hardly be possible to follow the crucified Messiah and refuse to retaliate when abused. The certainty of God's just judgment at the end of history is the presupposition for the renunciation of violence in the middle of it. The divine system of judgment is not the flip side of the human reign of terror, but the necessary correlate of human nonviolence.

Unfortunately, many Christians inspired by the principles of nonviolent resistance seem to have become uncomfortable with a powerful God. Or a Jesus that returns with power from God to judge and forcefully impose justice. Violence is deemed unethical for both man and God. But to hold to these principles requires Christians to reject large portions of the Old Testament testimony about God, as well as the promises of Jesus about his return. And, more importantly, it rejects an aspect of God that Jesus held on to in his own nonviolent suffering. The powerful hands that Jesus entrusted his soul into as he died on the cross. Hands more powerful than the rulers that condemned him, or the soldiers that executed him. The hands that would raise him from death and clothe him in power to end every evil, as the prophets, and Jesus himself, promised us. We should not suppress this aspect of Jesus' faith, central to his practice of nonviolent love.

We must not let the principles of nonviolent resistance determine the extent to which we follow Jesus. We must not let the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance tactics make us forget that Jesus came, not to force evil men to submit, but to inspire each of us to give ourselves in obedience to God, freely, in love. And, no matter what the ethics of nonviolent resistance say, we must not deny the power of God, nor God’s freedom to use it any way he chooses to bring his promised justice. Above all, Jesus showed us the place of God and the place of man. We must not turn our resistance against God.

(This complete essay can be downloaded as a RTF file here.)