Whenever I talk with people about Jesus and nonviolence, a curious thing often happens. Someone inevitably raise his hand (and it’s always his hand), call me a wuss, and then accuse me of making Jesus-Christ-Our-Lord-And-Savior into my own wussy image.
First, the accusation that I’m a wuss is totally true. No one can surpass my wussiness. I run from confrontation and if I ever get into a fight my money is on the other guy.
Now to the second accusation that a nonviolent Jesus is a projection of my own wussy imagination. That is false and, in fact, the reverse is true – a violent Jesus is an idol, a god made in our own violent image. As a self-professed wuss, I would love a bad-ass-machine-gun-toting Jesus who violently defends me against my enemies. I want the Jesus depicted in Saturday Night Live’s sketch DJesus Uncrossed. (A sketch about the resurrection that satirizes Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.) As David Henson brilliantly states in his post DJesus Uncrossed: Tarantino, Driscoll and the Violent Remaking of Jesus in America, the sketch “pulls back the curtain and shows us just how twisted our Jesus really is: We want a Savior like the one SNL offers. We want the Son of God to kick some ass and take some names. Specifically, our enemies’ names.”
In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.
But there’s a big problem for Driscoll and all Biblical inerrancy believing Christians who quickly go to Revelation 19:11-16 to proof text a violent return of Jesus. If they’re going to honestly hold to Biblical inerrancy then they have to deal with that nagging passage in Hebrews that insists “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). Hebrews continues, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace.”
It is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by violence. The point of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is precisely that the Christian version of God Incarnate was beaten up, crucified, and killed by human hands. As James Allison says in his course The Forgiving Victim, “there is an angry divinity in this story, needing sacrifice, and it is us.” Jesus resurrected, not to enact violent revenge (what we often call “justice”) against his enemies, but rather to offer God’s grace, peace and forgiveness to those who betrayed him. Anything else is a strange teaching that Hebrews warns against.
But let’s take it a step further than “strange.” Jesus’ disciples actually had a lot in common with Driscoll and much of American Christianity. They protested when Jesus began to act like a hippie, diaper wearing, halo Christ that they could beat up. Jesus said that he would have to suffer and be killed. Then Peter rebuked Jesus, “God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). I don’t want to scapegoat Driscoll on this point. After all, Peter didn’t want to worship a guy he could beat up, either.
Jesus, never one to mince words, replied to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The word Satan has two meanings: Adversary and Accuser. Please notice the distinction Jesus sets out between “divine things” and “human things.” Satan is the human thing, the human desire to accuse one another, to cause suffering to others rather than endure it for others, to kill others rather than be killed for others. Satan divides humanity into warring camps of “us” and “them.” When we do this we become adversaries and hurl satanic accusations against one another, all too often in the name of God.
When Christians use Jesus to justify violence by dividing the world into us and them we no longer worship Jesus. We worship Satan.
Jesus, the One who calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, the One who offered peace and forgiveness to those who betrayed him, is the same Jesus yesterday and today and forever. That’s what the resurrection reveals.
Still, what should we make of that passage in Revelation? What we need to know, contra Driscoll’s violent fantasy, is that Jesus does not carry the sword in his hand. This is Revelation’s symbolism at its best, because the sword comes from his mouth. The sword that Jesus carries is the spoken Word of God. There can be no doubt that a day will come when Jesus will judge the world with that sword. His words of judgment will cut through our lies, hatreds, and betrayals. The Word of God will pierce our souls with words of forgiveness that embrace everyone, including our enemies.
Will we resent God’s forgiveness? Will we continue to make accusations against one another? In the face of God’s universal forgiveness revealed in the resurrection, will we continue to demand violent justice against our enemies? If so, we risk damning ourselves to a satanic hell of our own making.
The only way out of the possible hell then is to follow Jesus by practicing nonviolent forgiveness now.