Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Nonviolent God

I believe God is non-violent.

What I mean by this is that God is the endless source of forgiveness, effervescent love and relentless mercy. God is not the scales of justice, karma or vengeance, rather God is total unconditionality.

No strings attached.

No hidden exchange clause.

God is the source of all non-violent, non-coercive, non-manipulative Relationship.

I believe Jesus is God and so through the lens of Jesus I seek to see everything else and how we might know who God is.

Of course any language about God, any words spoken or written, any theology or philosophical insight, any experience or otherwise, any thought, anything ever said or otherwise about God carries with it the conditional, the limits of human projection and the limits of language, naïvety, the inability to speak of God. When we say 'God is Love' we do not know what we are saying; human love, although a beautiful glimpse, simply cannot comprehend or express the love of God. We are always speaking utterly inadequately when we say anything about God.

That does not mean, however, that we cannot say anything, for in Jesus the Word has become flesh, God has revealed God's Self to us in the Person of Jesus. Again, however, what we say of Jesus often falls radically short of who Jesus is and thus who God is.

Take Jesus' call to forgiveness:

'Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if someone sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."' Matthew 18:21-22

Jesus' use here of 'seventy-seven times' is a type of language that means 'unlimited'. In other words Jesus is stating that there is no limit to forgiveness, no amount of wrongs, no wrongdoing can ever limit the forgiveness that is to be offered by followers of Jesus to others.

Unlimited, unconditional forgiveness.

Why would Jesus say something like this? Because this is what God is like.

God's forgiveness is limitless, unconditional, without any need for sacrifice or blood. God simply forgives and forgives and forgives.  God is the God of mercy not sacrifice.

This is why we can speak of God as non-violent, of relentless mercy and limitless love.

Now those who approach Scripture as inerrant or infallible - some atheists and people of faith do this all the time - will point to passages like Noah and the Flood (and there are many other passages that speak of God commanding violent punishment upon sinful people) and highlight how it was God who opened the doors of the sea and wiped out 'all living things'; not exactly the model of limitless forgiveness is it? So we are apparently confronted with a problem. How do we 'square' these inconsistencies?

Some have sought to say about the Noah story that the text does not say God was angry but grieved. We are still left with the problem though that God wiped everyone out, whether it was through anger or sadness, God still did it.

So some have said it was simply the best that God could do.

Some have said it is purely analogy and should be read a such in light of Israel's own story of captivity and deliverance.

Yet René Girard offers us the greatest insight into the violence of the Old Testament; the unveiling of the scapegoat, the projection of human or environmental violence upon the divine, the justification of our violence in order to restore a fragile peace. Girard helps us see that our violence is always ours and never God's.

So you see, it is never 'what does the Bible say?' rather, it is always, 'how do we interpret this text?' - hermeneutics is the most important thing we must learn when it comes to any text, written or verbal.

So throughout the Old Testament we read of violence, violence that we are told has the divine hand involved in some way. Yet sprinkled throughout we hear the voice of the victim, the cry of the innocent, a cry that God hears. We glimpse at what God is really like and realise that the hand of God is extended in peace not violence.

In Jesus that cry is fully heard, the innocence of the victim fully revealed, the passionate violence of humanity is fully seen, no longer hidden behind our lies of divine demand for blood. In Jesus we see what God is really like.

God did not destroy all living things.
God did not tell us to kill the inhabitants of those cities.
God did not demand sacrifice.

There is no wrath in God but plenty in humanity. Our wrath is what needs to be overcome.

God speaks forgiveness, peace, grace. Quite simply, Jesus speaks a better word than a demand for blood and sacrifice.

Violence is contagious and will always escalate unless we are willing to practice unlimited forgiveness, following in the Way of Jesus.

This is something of why I believe God is non-violent.

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