- by Nathan Jennings
God is Non-Violent
A belief I've come to is that the Bible points to a God that is, and always has been, non-violent.
To some this must sound like madness. I can hear the question already... "Um, have you never read the old testament?" Of course I have! I realize on the surface God is portrayed in some of the Sacred Text as a character more violent than the worst war criminals the world has ever seen. But I believe because of the modern teaching of biblical inerrancy, the plot of what God is really like in the biblical narrative has been lost.
Literal rendering? You see I don't view the Bible as a flat text that depicts every word, from Genesis to Revelation, being a literal rendering of fact straight from the mouth and hands of God. Oh no, I respect it way too much for that. The Bible is a trajectory. It's a narrative written by a certain tribe of people about their God with different voices and ideas about God throughout the different stories. Some of it is myth, some history, some poems, some political discord. All of it, to me, is beautiful and prophetic and inspired by the Divine. Biblical scholar Peter Enns eloquently said: "The Bible is what happens when God allows his children to tell his story–which means the biblical writers told the story from their point of view, with their limitations, within the cultural context in which they wrote." So when I read the Bible, I don't question whether a passage is true based on the writers depiction of God but come at it from the perspective of the entire biblical narrative. And the narrative, in my opinion, points to Jesus being the full and most accurate depiction of God. The Hebrew Bible is full of non-violent depictions of God. God tells Abraham to sacrifice his son, which makes this God no different from the gods of all the other cultures around him. Except this God is just "testing" Abraham and doesn't have him actually do it. This God is different! The non-violent narrative is already moving in Genesis!
The movement of the story With all the descriptions of God demanding blood sacrifice in the Hebrew Bible, there are many that also advocate through the prophets that God never wanted blood sacrifice. Jeremiah 7:22 even goes as far as saying "I (God) gave your ancestors no commands about burnt offerings or any other kinds of sacrifices when I brought them out of Egypt.". Of course this contradicted what is written in Exodus. But when we read the Bible as a trajectory, it's not a matter of contradiction but instead where is the story taking us? Do you see the movement? If, then, we really believe the Bible and what it says and follow the narrative where it takes us, then we have to take it seriously when we get to Jesus. I'll note that in the christian tradition, Jesus is it. Jesus is the one we follow. The one we profess as Lord, King and God in the flesh. Emmanuel. God with us. So when the New Testament writers write that Jesus says: "No one has seen the father (his character, his very essence) but Me" and, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father."
And when the writer of Hebrews says, " He is the exact representation of Gods nature," and when Paul says, "He is the visible image of the invisible God" ... this is BIG!
This is what we have been waiting for! What is god like? God is like Jesus.
What is Jesus like? He healed the sick. He ate with the outcast and those who sold themselves to the empire. He didn't punish those who broke law but protected them from being stoned. He cast out evil spirits. He healed the ear of those that meant him harm. Never once, not one time, did Jesus use violence against a person. The truest view of God's non violent ways are seen on the cross. He was falsely accused, mocked, beat, whipped, denied by those closest to him, literally nailed to a a torture device in one of the most horrific forms of torture known to man. He could have easily called down the angels and stopped what was happening and destroy all involved. Instead, doing only what He sees the father doing, He declared "Father, forgive them". This is what the real vengeance of God looks like. In Jesus, humans are revealed to be violent, not God.
Non violence is victory In the book of Revelation when the writer speaks of hearing the mighty conquering lion, when he turns and looks it is a slain lamb. And the blood that Jesus is covered in, in chapter 19 is his own. The sword is his word of peace just like his word to the disciples upon his resurrection. Not retribution as suspected. Non violence somehow earns him victory and exposes that God is and has always been non-violent. This is why I believe God is non-violent and why I think the Bible exposes this. It points to this. Isaiah 53:4 says "He suffered and endured great pain for us, but we thought his suffering was punishment from God." I think just like the cross shows perfectly, we are the violent ones and we wish God was too.
Nathan is a Husband, Father and aspiring Jesus follower. He was raised Mormon, turned agnostic, to fundamentalist evangelical, to a sojourner following grace wherever it leads. Nathan says, "We live in a pluristic world and to be able to transcend former assertions and still include those in different places without passing judgment is something I aspire to do everyday. I love writing about theology, the Divine and the universal question "why"." Nathan's hope is to continue the conversation of being human - using the language of the faith tradition he knows and loves. He currently resides in Texas, U.S.A. See all previous articles by Nathan Jennings