Saturday, May 24, 2008

"Spirit" -> The Problem Of Genocide

Recently a family member railed against the newest Prince Caspian movie that has been put out. Now, for me as the marketing dweeb, my first thoughts on this type of activity is the commercial aspect of the film. It has grossed all of $75M, which means that it has gotten a slow start out of the blocks. The reviews have been pretty good, but the newest movie fails the impact of the first installment of the series. Therefore, it will be questionable if it gets a follow-up third episode, as it needs to get to $400M to make enough money to justify making the next one.

Now, while I have not been able to see the film, when my family member savaged it on his blog, I was curious as to why he disliked it so much. The main bone of his contention is that the story, which he has only seen in the movies since he has not read the book, is very anti-Christian to him. At the core of his issue is Aslan, who is obviously a incarnation of the Christ, and his violent crushing of his foes.

My favorite line from him is as follows:

"If the Church stands behind "Christian" stories such as this one, We make Ourselves into little more than the White Islam. We claim to love peace one moment, only to claim the next moment is special or too much and calls for anything-but peace."

In this post, I want to open up the problem of violence, and what it means. Those that criticize a violent God have the exact same core of the problem as those that do violence to others. Because they do not understand the fundamental nature of God and his rights, we misinterpret what the scriptures say, and we don't understand who God is.

Before we talk about the right viewpoint of God and violence, we need to first understand the two viewpoints commonly held in the church today.

Viewpoint 1: God Has Changed

This is the viewpoint that I see in our young reviewer above. To him and his friends, the image of God as a violent being that expresses this violence through people has clearly passed. He consider who Christ was and the time that he walked on this earth. Their logic goes something like this:

If we look in the Old Testament, we see God prohibiting a lot of things. For example, prostitutes were to be executed. People caught in adultery were to executed. Yet, when we get to the figure of Christ, we find a man that was willing to eat with the prostitutes. We see him saving a woman in adultery. The message that Jesus brings to the earth is that "we are all sinners." We should try and do good, but if we do bad, then we are forgiven.

So, the God in the Old Testament has transformed. He now has a New Testament and a New Covenant. We have the propitiation model.

Nobody is perfect, and that is okay.

Viewpoint 2: God As Being Justified In His Actions And Sometime Violence Is Okay

These people are much more open to violence of all sorts. They are the ones that are willing to go to Iran to fight. They are for a strong defense. They believe that America is right to go to war.

Now, let's look at a troubling passage in Numbers 31:

" 13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.

15 "Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. 16 "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD's people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man."

I had one of my family members state that God was justified in condoning this activity because the Midianites burned their babies. They were so bad, God just needed to kill off these people. So, in really "bad" cases, God will commit genocide. Thus, having a little war for a good cause is just fine. In really bad cases, God may need to wipe somebody out.

So, let us look at both of these viewpoint from a scriptural standpoint. Do these hold up?

For the new found tolerant person, they ignore Revelations 19.

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. "He will rule them with an iron scepter."[a] He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:


17 And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, "Come, gather together for the great supper of God, 18 so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great."

We find out that the risen Lord is not a man of passiveness. We find he is not a man of tolerance. We find out that he is violent in nature, and his slaughter is so great that the birds feast on the flesh of the dead enemy.

Our milquetoast savior is gone. Left is a might force that is terrible to behold. A force the same as his Father.

The tolerant viewpoint just doesn't stand up.

But, how about the other viewpoint. The idea that in "really bad" cases, violence is okay?

This is as fatally flawed as the tolerant person. We must start off with the example of the early church. The gospel was spread by a group of individuals that were kind to all. They took in the prostitute and the greedy.

However, from a complete scriptural standpoint, these views are most difficult to puncture. So, of the two viewpoint this is the less egregious of the two.

However, we must appeal to commonsense here. One only needs to read of the 30 Year War that demolished the continental Europe to understand what religious "intolerance" means. Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists all killing each other because they had the "right view" of scripture. Schwedentrunk being practiced by the armies of the religious. Intolerance breeds destruction and curses down on the heads of Christians.

So, what is the right viewpoint?

The first thing to realize is that God knows and approves every death. Did you die in the great slaughter of Numbers 31? Yes? Then God approved this death.

Did you die of a heart attack? If the answer is yes, then God approved this death. Were you tortured and killed? Then God approved this death.

As hard as it may seem to us, God allows torture, suffering and pain. God approves and allows every death. Not a sparrow falls from the sky that God doesn't know about it.

"How can God be so heartless?" one might ask.

See this is the secret of the incarnation. With this act, God declares that "I ask you no more than what I did." Christ allowed himself to be tortured beyond belief, and see the worse of all deaths. While we may hate suffering, to God it is all part of life. It is not desired, and Christ asked for the cup to pass him by. But the lesson of the incarnation is that we must all take the road in front of us. I will not seek it out, as I am not a masochist. If asked to suffer, I will go begging and screaming in the other direction. However, I have no perception that this is "unfair." I am scared of it, but accepting.

It is my belief that killing is not wrong. The key, however, is that it must be God who directly commands the killing, for it to be right.

Now we get to the whole point of the right view of killing, tolerance, suffering, and genocide. The tolerant viewpoint gets it wrong, because they believe that God has changed. This is incorrect. He is exactly the same. With the advent of our Lord on Earth, what has changed is our rights and our relationship with the Lord. In the Old Covenant, we were dead under the law. In the New Covenant, we are freed from the law. However, because we are forgiven, there is no right for us to judge. By in large, we must give up our desire for revenge, and we must forgive.

I will not cast a stone at homosexual, and neither will I put an adulterer to death. I am a part of the new covenant, and I am following our Lord's example of how to live an earthly life.

However, this does not mean that the Lord has continued in this role. Mind you, we are not under the Old Testament Law. It is passed. However, holiness and purity are still required. Violence is no longer our option, but it is our Lord's.

We cannot listen to a crazy person or a pastor that tells us to take arms. We should not be convinced in some slick propaganda that we are "doing the right thing and defending our country."

However, if the Lord appears tomorrow on a White Horse and commands me to take up my sword....

I will do it willingly. And if that seems disturbing, I have great confidence that it will only happen after the rapture or the resurrection.


Matthew N. Petersen said...

Like I said on Josh's blog, I think you aren't quite looking at Christ. The Christ we have to look at to worship and understand is not the Ascended Christ, but Christ on Earth. His life is a window into heaven. Christ Ascended now is as much a part of the hidden God as the Father. We must begin with the Incarnation, with Christ as He was, with the revealed God. We can see nothing else.

So is Christ violent? Yes, clearly. He stands up in opposition to the Pharisees condemning them. But we are told that the heart of all this is Love. He curses the Pharisees not because He hates them, but because He loves them. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians to expel the immoral, for His own soul, so to Christ expels the Pharisees, for their own souls. And the ultimate revelation of God, of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do."

It is this Christ we are to emulate, this Christ we are to see, for we must take up our cross and follow Him. We must bear the sufferings of Christ in our body for the sake of His body, the Church. We must imitate Him by bearing our neighbor's sins in our bodies, that by our stripes they may be healed. We must do so, not because of any sort of dispensation, but because only this is divine.

And our knowledge of God must begin with the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the cause of all things. The Cross is the cause of all things. It is only by looking to the Cross, to Christ that we can see the Beginning and the End aright, for indeed the Beginning and the End are the Cross, are Christ, the alpha and the omega.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Also, I think the Revelation passage is a reference to the Martyrs. The white robes the soldiers wear are their Baptism robes, and the war they fight is their martyrdom. The kingdom which shall be destroyed, destroyed by the might of the army of the Baptized, is the Roman Empire. And by the blood of the Martyrs, the Church has conquered, has overthrown.

Just as God came in his might and overthrew the wicked, not with the sword, by with Pasca, a bright and glorious Pasca, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing light; so to the Army of the Church, has overthrown the Roman Empire (and shall overthrow all empires) by the blood of the martyrs.

Theologic said...

Hi Matt,

I absolutely agree with you in our role of following Jesus as he lived his life on earth. Sorry, if this did not come out in the post. Christ came to earth to serve as the model for us. Thus in this light, we are to follow his example.

However, the Godhead will not, in the long run, act in this way.

I don't follow you on the Revelation passage. Please read it again or expand on the verses that I quote. If you do a "phrase by phrase" on your blog, then I can read it.

Uncle T

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Uncle T,

I'll write out my reading of that verse presently, but quickly, on your comment:

I understand we both agree Christ came to be a model. What bothers me is the statement "However, the Godhead will not, in the long run, act in this way." It sounds like a looking behind the revealed God to the unknown God. God won't be different than Christ, God is Christ. What sort of person is God? He is exactly like the Christ we have seen. Otherwise, what's the point of the Word made flesh?--we still cannot see God Himself, as He is.

I think that just as verses like Psalm 68:1 "Let God arise Let his enemies be scattered" is a prophesy of the Cross and Resurrection (as indeed all things are), wherein God's enemies were scattered; so to verses like the one in Revelation shall be fulfilled in paradoxical smallness, in weakness. That one particularly, I think is a reference to Baptism, martyrdom and the Eucharist. But perhaps it shall be something even more glorious, even more like the Cross and Resurrection, even more small and little, yet all encompassing.

Theologic said...

Hi Matt,

Perhaps, I was not clear when I wrote "However, the Godhead will not, in the long run, act in this way."

1. I think you are familiar with Immutability, and I will simply say that I am firmly, firmly, firmly in the immutable camp. Because of this, I believe the open theists are strongly misguided brothers at best, and they flirt with hersey at the worst.

2. With this being said, it is important to recognize that the role of the incarnate Christ had many attribute of example that are not carried forward after his death and resurrection. The nature of God is immutable, but the actions of God are strongly different and depend on the circumstance.

This leads us back to the original issue of Aslan.

Aslan is the wild animal and the terrible beast. Christ would not break a bruised reed. They both are perfect pictures of the immutable God. Jesus of Nazareth did many things strange for "a god."

For instance, Christ was baptized. This make no sense, in the light of Christ as God. Christ went to the temple to worship. This makes no sense, in the light that he should have received this worship. He obeyed his parents, when he should have told them to obey him.

Jesus lived this life not as God the Father, but as "God showing man how he should live life through example." However, when the Son of Man returns, he returns in the role of God.

If this seems crazy, I suggest reading Phil 2:5ff. It is hard to have the doctrine laid out more clearly than this passage.

When Christ returns, he returns with a sword. He will winnow the wheat. He leaves as a lamb going to the slaughter, but he returns as the great lion.

Matt 25:

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats."

By the way, thank you for the thoughtful dialog.

Uncle T

Matthew N. Petersen said...

Thanks, I've enjoyed the discussion.

I think that our fundamental disagreement is over your point 2. Jesus says that He does nothing except what He sees His Father doing. But that means that indeed suffering (immutably and eternally) for the sins of the world, is not only something Christ does, but something the Father does as well. I think we can see something of the Father's suffering (and the Spirit's suffering) when we see Mary at the foot of the Cross. As much as, and more than, Mary suffered, the Father and the Spirit suffer. As much as, and more than, Mary was humble and meek for not calling her Son down from the Cross, so the Father and the Spirit were humble and meek in not sending legions of angels to rescue their beloved.

Jesus did many things strange for a God. Yet we, as Christians, worship the One who does these things. Christ worships His God, and returns to His God and ours. But yet, His God worships, and when He returned to His God and ours, our God received His God and ours back. Christ obeyed His children, Joseph and His Mother. As Mary obeys her Son, so her Son's Father obeys His Son.

Christ lived this life as God, how else could He have lived it? "If you have seen Me you have seen the Father" not "If you shall see Me, you shall see the Father."

The Christian paradox is that God's greatness is in becoming small. God is so great he learns from his children, from his creatures. God's very existence, in Trinity, and now in relation to us, is kenosis. The Cross and Resurrection is the heart of all, even before the foundation of the world

Let this mind be in you which was in God the Father, who being in the very image of Christ, did not consider possession of Christ something to be grasped, but gave Him to Mary, and having given, He humbled Himself, subjecting Himself to the death of His Son, even the death of the Cross. Wherefore Christ shall put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be all in all.

In Caritate Christi,


Theologic said...

Hi Matt,

Yes, a follow-up of Phil 2:5 and Kenosis is very appropriate.

I will admit that I have no idea of how immutability and kenosis completely intersects. However, I get nervous about those that would remove too much of the Godhead from the Christ so that he becomes obedient to death. Since we know the nature of God, I would suggest that God empties himself exact enough and no more than what is required to become the sacrifice. God always delivers exactly what is needed.

After our Lord's resurrection, his actions will be different than before his death because the circumstances have changed. God does not change. His overreaching role does not change, but his tactical role may change. However, his actions often change depending on what is happening at the time.

Let's dig into this a bit more, and see if we can bring it around again:

1. There are the attributes of God.

2. There are the roles of God.

3. There are the actions of God.

The attributes of God never change. When we look at Christ, we will see all of God attributes. In my mind, Jesus has all the attributes of the Godhead in his role.

Let me write that again, because I think this is so important. To get back to kenosis, we must understand that the ROLE of God is somehow more superior than the ATTRIBUTE of God. Therefore, the role of Jesus means that somehow he lowers himself, which is a mystery.

We know that the Word is the creative part of God, as through him all was made. Thus when a perfect sacrifice was made, it was Jesus who would take this form. He is the part of the trinity that would empty himself. Kenosis.

Finally, however, we have the actions of the Godhead. After the resurrection, it is done. There is no more that needs to be done. An our Lord sits down in a new role. He is now at the right hand of God the Father. Jesus no longer acts as the suffering servant that does not break a reed. This is not to say that he is no longer a lamb. He is 100% lamb. Only, he is a fearful lamb. He keeps his role of both sacrifice and as judge.

Rev 6

"Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?"

To bring it back to subject, this is why I have no problems with Lewis's Aslan. Aslan is not scripture, but it is a very good possibility of what the Christ would be like if Jesus was incarnate in Narnia. He has the attributes of Jesus. He has the same role as Jesus (and his Father is the Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea). However, his actions are different.

By suggesting that Jesus will always carry the same actions in different circumstances is to emasculate a fearful and terrible beast. It is to remake Jesus into our image, and not adhere to the bounds of scripture.

Again, Lewis was very clear in his talks about Aslan as he described his story to others. The books were not an allegory. These books were about the very nature of God. Placed in different circumstances, the Godhead does not act in the same way. It is not the Godhead that changes. It is the circumstances that interact with God's unchanging nature. This means that a different outcome will happen. Thus, by understanding this, we can understand the very nature of God.

Hardly a more true word was spoken about the nature of Jesus as when Mr. Beaver informed the children that Aslan (ie Jesus) was not tame. However, he informs them, he is good.

Matthew N. Petersen said...

First, I think part of the problem is that we are talking about different Aslans. I think Lewis's Aslan is God in Narnia.

But the movie's Aslan is, by turns, a big fluffy teddy bear with a sugary sweet voice, and then a very strong (but mere strength) superhero. He isn't Christ at all. He's Spiderman with cooler powers and a gentler soft side. With Lucy, too tame, in battle, not really good, only powerful (and on the right side).

My reworking of Philippians 2 was meant to show that the Incarnation was a kenosis, not only for the Son, but for the Father. The Son's kenosis consists in coming and suffering, the Father's in giving and watching suffer.

1. There are the attributes of God.

2. There are the roles of God.

3. There are the actions of God.

I think I would work this slightly differently.

1. There is God the Father--Fatherhood is His role. He is Love, which means He Loves in act, the Spirit and the Son.

2. There is God the Son--Sonship is His role. He is Love, which means He Loves in act, the Spirit and the Son.

3. There is God the Spirit--We don't really understand His role. He is Love, which means He Loves in act, the Spirit and the Son.

4. There is creation, and One God, Father Son and Spirit, interacts with and loves us as He eternally has interacted with and loved within the Trinity. The Father loves the Son. The Father loves the Spirit. The Father loves the Spirit by giving Him the Son. Similarly, the Father loves the world by giving His Only Begotten Son. The Son loves the Spirit, and actively gives Himself to the Spirit. The Son loves the world, and actively gives Himself to the world. The difference after the creation of the world is that there are different particulars that God loves, different particular situations, and different particular people. But the way He loves is consistent. If He became smaller than His children, Love becomes smaller than His children, and God is a God who becomes smaller (otherwise becoming smaller, not just becoming smaller than Joseph and His Mother is a new action for Christ). The Son stoops to His children. The Father stoops to His children. The Spirit stoops to His children. This is who God is. Otherwise we haven't really seen God, and we don't really know God. The Word the Father spoke to us does not is not an accurate word, the Truth is a lie.

And so when He returns, wearing His glory, transfigured, with the Holy Spirit palpably reposing upon Him, the Son even yet, will make Himself small toward his creation. Otherwise Mary has lost, and there has been no resurrection for her. Not every tear shall be dried from her eye--the sword which pierced her heart, which pierced her because of her giving love for her Son, shall remain firmly fixed through her heart for all eternity. She shall say, yet, how much have I lost.

In Christ,