Violence is easily recognized as evil when it is directed against us. It is however more difficult to recognize it as such when it is our own violence directed against deserving targets. In fact, our own violence is most often seen as sacred and sanctioned by God himself. Righteous indignation, justified retribution, are some of the phrases used to describe our own violence. There seems to be a blindness that accompanies our violence that is not subject to reason, however, reason has often been employed by blind rage to justify its actions.

This mindset has progressively been exposed for the hypocrisy it is, since the cross of Jesus Christ. In this event God demonstrated in the most dramatic way possible, that he would rather suffer our violence than partake in it.

The focus of this paper is not the theology behind non-violence, but rather the practical implications and the difficult questions raised by such a world-view. So only a summary of the theology is made:

Theological summary:

The gods we project look very much like the sacred violence we initiate and engage in. The stories we tell externalize our conflicts and attempt to give meaning to what is in reality our own self-gratifying, senseless violence.

However, [within the scripture] there is a progression in the way Yahweh’s violence is perceived. (1)The idea of an irrational murderous God, who slays the guilty and the innocent in uncontrolled rage, slowly makes way for (2)a God who reacts to human evil – a righteously revengeful God. (3)Direct acts of violence are also progressively replaced by images of indirect violence: God handing one nation over into the merciless hands of another. (4)Finally the idea develops that evil returns to the wicked, that violent suffering is the consequence of our actions… that our violence is our own. [page 158 Desire Found Me]

Regarding the violence of the cross:

These texts make it clear that Jesus’ role is in surrendering himself; the Father hands his son over into the hands of those who will torture, crucify and murder him. It is not God the Father nor the Son who plays any active role in the brutal violence that follows. Rather, it is here in the midst of sacrificial violence that our acts are most devoid of God’s presence. He “hands over” precisely because He does not participate in the violence to follow. It is here where humanity(represented by Jesus) is handed over to itself, where God withdraws, where man does what man alone can do, for God has no part in our violence. [page 216 Desire Found Me]

Practical Implications

Whenever I have proclaimed this non-violent aspect of Jesus’ message, the most extreme scenarios would be presented to me as counter-arguments. Firstly I have to draw attention to the fact that we do not often encounter such extreme scenarios, so even if this attitude of non-violence would fail in those tests, it would still be valid for 99.9% of life. However, I wanted to tackle some of those extreme arguments for I do not think they present a real challenge … on the contrary they confirm a non-violent stance. I’m afraid these thoughts will not endear me to people on either side of these arguments … but my hope is that it will help bring clarity and peace to those who honestly struggle with these questions.

WW2 (or ISIS etc.)

Could World War Two have been ended by any other means than more violence? Should we have simply sat back and watched millions of innocent people being slaughtered without doing anything?

Or let us bring the focus to events much closer. Not many have had the courage to watch some of the horrific acts of violence committed by ISIS. Should this not be stopped?

These questions are structured in such a way that the only options are: Do nothing and allow evil to run its course, or violently intervene to stop evil. It is the equivalent of asking your three year old child: Do you want broccoli or carrots for lunch. Smart children soon learn that there are more choices than what is promoted to them.

Our choices are not limited to non-violent passivity or violent intervention. There is another way! But before I get there, let me acknowledge that there might be rare circumstances in which violent intervention is the only alternative.

About two years ago I watched a short video that showed ISIS members bury children alive. I was deeply disturbed to say the least. Not all my non-violent buddies might like this, but here we go. If one had the power to stop this mass-murder by eliminating the murderers, and one chose not to do so for whatever reason – that would be evil.

Would the violence required to eliminate the murderers be evil?

Yes!

But it would be the lesser evil and as such the better choice.

Violence is always evil.

In rare situations it might be the lesser evil, but it is still evil.

Only when this is our attitude towards violence, does it truly become a last resort.

That is why it is a dangerous illusion to trust in society to make us “balanced”, “realistic” and “humble.” Very often the humility demanded of us by our society is simply an acquiescence in the pride of the collectivity and of those in power. Worse still, while we learn to be humble and virtuous as individuals, we allow ourselves to commit the worst crimes in the name of “society”. We are gentle in our private life in order to be murderers as a collective group.For murder committed by an individual is a great crime. But when it becomes war or revolution, it is represented as the summit of heroism and virtue.

One would almost think that the great benefit modern man seeks in collective living is the avoidance of guilt by the simple expedient of having the state, the party or the class command us to do the evil that lies hidden in our heart. Thus we are no longer responsible for it, we imagine. Better still, we can satisfy our worst instincts in the service of collective barbarism , and in the end we will be praised for it. We will be heroes, chiefs of police, and maybe even dictators. Thomas Merton “The New Man”

Thankfully we do not only have two choices – there is another way. The God of infinite possibilities opens up opportunities beyond broccoli and carrots, beyond passive non-violence and violent intervention.

Many thousands of Bulgarian Jews were saved through non-violent means. See Tony Campolo tell the story here: https://youtu.be/23VJF9x0frQ

Empires have been defeated and governments overthrown through non-violent means – think of Gandhi’s or Nelson Mandela’s stories.

Non-violence does not mean passivity. Non-violent resistance implies an active participation in apposing injustice.

Let’s Get Personal

The objection to non-violence I most often get is: …but what if someone is about to harm Mary-Anne or your children. A number of Christian leaders have spoken about their stance on violence and can be summarized as follows: Of course I’m against violence in principle … but if you touch my family I will end you!

And most Christians simply agree without any further thought.

How does that make us different from anyone else?

What this basically means is that you can be a Christian when everything goes your way … but when the situation calls for it, you are reduced to the same fearful raging animal as any other person no matter what their faith might be.

Maybe it is exactly here, in a situation where your life is violently threatened, that the value of your faith becomes most visible. Does a relationship with Jesus really make a difference in such circumstances?

Any animal can instinctively react.

Any barbaric idiot can kill.

But what courage does it take to face death?

What is redemptive in this drama of the cross is not the suffering or the violence but it is the trust with which Jesus overcomes fear. It is his trust in the Father, energized by his love for his friends, that strengthens him to face our deepest fears on our behalf and conquer them!  [Page 217 Desire Found Me]

As rare as it is that we might find ourselves in life-threatening situations, Mary-Anne once did have such a traumatic experience.

You can read about it here: Facing a Life-Threatening Attack.

The point I want to highlight is that she actively prayed for and sought a way to overcome this evil without using violence, and the way was provided.

So what does all of this mean to me personally? I hope I will never find myself in a situation where my life is violently threatened. However if I do, I would hope that the message of Jesus would make me aware of more options than – protect myself violently or be a victim. I would earnestly seek another way to end the conflict.

If my family or friends are endangered, I might well fail in my non-violent ambitions. But that is the point – as a follower of Jesus, participating in violence will always be a failure. If more people thought of violence as failure or evil … would that not make this world a much better place to live in?

Conclusion

The ancient human wisdom of love your friends and hate your enemies seems to be part of human DNA. This human instinct is revered today even by those who claim to follow Jesus.

But Jesus asks us to transcend our violent human instincts and become partakers of his divine nature. To hate our enemies might well be human – but to love our enemies is divine. This kind of love is impossible for us, but with God all things are possible.

26 Responses to “Is Violence Always Evil?”

  1. Brock Fletcher on

    Andre,
    I believe your thoughts and contributions here are important. As you point out, violence does tend to be our only setting when faced with harmful conflict, but I also recognize my potential weakness in this regard. Yet another area where I ultimately trust the wonderful grace of God in the “what ifs”.

    Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      The God of infinite possibilities opens us up to expect the impossible. …that might be a good way of describing grace – it gives more that what can be expected.

      Reply
    • Jo Jaquiery on

      Was it not foretold “there will be wars and rumours of wars” remember God instigated the scriptures though man wrote them.

      Reply
    • B Skip on

      If you are able, would you mind sharing how you think Rabe or you handle the whole of the book of Revelation where Jesus violently restores the world to rightness and righteousness?

      Simple question, but can Satan & the demons be restored and forgiven?

      Reply
  2. Debbylute on

    Thank you for putting your thoughts to paper. I appreciated this paper. It inspires me to walk in the image and likeness of my infinite God whose I am. I get to be just like my dad! Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Kathy on

    Thank you Andre…this covered some very visceral questions we all have. Thank you for revealing that there is no ‘just’ war or violence.

    I once read a story about an ancient warrior who threatened his enemy: “Do you realize I have the power to run this sword through your body?” To which the victim said, ” Do you realize I have the power to let you?” Not sure what his motive was to respond in that way, perhaps to simply display his superior bravery. But I always thought that we as believers in the Resurrection life should be able to think and respond that same way through the power of Christ’s love and the courage that His love creates.

    Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      I think that is exactly the plosives symbol of the cross – it reminds us of the courage of One who faced death for us and overcame. Beautiful thoughts Kathy

      Reply
  4. Chuck Wright on

    I have experienced the same response to non-violence in the form of the “what if you”question and have realized that it limits the discussion to an individualistic perception; so very narrow in scope. I believe the very best way to consider the issue is from a societal perspective; what are the best courses of action to take to benefit all people including those commiting violence. Jesus certainly included all of humanity in His work of salvation. Fear unfortunately blinds us to seeing beyond ourselves. Thanks Andre

    Reply
    • Andre Rabe on

      Thanks Chuck. So agree – if our idea of justice is simply retribution, what makes it different from the initial act of violence except it’s sequence. Justice needs to be restorative to break the cycle of violence.

      Reply
  5. John Sheridan on

    Thank you Andre for the best commentary on this subject I’ve heard. I’ve been grappling with this, not the fear of making a wrong decision and “displeasing Father,” but more, depriving someone of their life needlessly, no matter the threat.

    Admittedly, if someone came against someone, especially family, and I had the capability to “take them out” or disable them, I would without thought. If I was threatened, only, ….. That’s where I would not be so quick to pull the trigger or resist evil.

    Awesome article, and best on the subject!

    Reply
  6. Andrew on

    Excellent paper! I think it’s unfortunate that most who classify themselves as “Christian” are subject to cultural imposition. That they seem resigned to select from limited menu options only means they are at fear of reprisal and group rejection, hence processing within an allowable range of cultural imposition. There’s an acceptable range set by governing voices, and this is substituted in under the auspices of “unity”.

    Reply
  7. kent hartmann on

    It blows my mind that the christians i know see no problem with their god’s violence or their own. They truly have become like that which they worship. How is it possible to have the spirit of love within them, and not be changed? When I talk to such persons, they look at me like I am crazy….what i say is not even on their radar screen.

    Violence is evil.
    Western christianity’s god is violent.
    Therefore, western christianity’s god is evil.

    Reply
  8. Niel Pienaar on

    Andre
    Thank you for this paper. Between you and the Imperfect Pastor I am deconstructing and reconstructing a lifetime’s belief-system. This new ground for me is both exciting and terrifying because this is a good and loving God that I am seeing without the safety net of all that was so sure and safe in religion. Thank to Mary-Anne too.

    Reply
  9. Patricia Pollock on

    I often think of the many ex-service men who are now suffering from mental illnesses because of what they were commanded to do during times of war.
    My own father-in-law, when he came home from world war 2 was apparently a changed man and his family suffered much as a consequence, it was tolerated because it wasn’t his fault but “what he went through”.

    Evil it seems, effects BOTH the perpetrator and the victim in a negative way, the perpetrator to the greater degree I would think.

    I don’t know if I am correct but I often think that the violence in nature, (earth quakes etc.) might be the direct result of the violence of mankind. I wonder if the collective negativity of mankind builds and builds just has to “come out somewhere”.

    Thank you Andre for being honest, many people, more perhaps than you can realize are benefiting in a positive way because of your honesty and courage!

    Reply
    • Patricia Pollock on

      Hi Wayne
      I loved the YouTube video. Responding in love is so powerful isn’t it! It is The JOY that Jesus went to the cross for!
      You must be living an interesting life to be held captive and at the point of death three times!!
      That quiet peace you speak about resonates with me. I have experienced something similar a few times right in the middle of extreme situations! Sometimes it is more on looking back on a situation that the realization of His presence in that situation becomes apparent. At the time one is not always so aware of it.

      Thank you for your comments, I found them encouraging.

      Reply
  10. wayne rogers on

    Love is anything but passive. I wouldn’t even call it courageous. It’s the ultimate power Is my best description. In three separate but similar incidents my life was threatened with a knife at my throat, a knife poised just below my sternum and a loaded pistol resting on the bridge of my nose.To each man, I told him that at that moment he was in complete control; the outcome was completely up to him. I also told them that they were talking to a dead man-I was prepared to die at their hands in that moment. I then proceeded to remind them that in the days and months ahead they would still be alive to live with the consequences of their action; were they prepared for that? All three incidents ended peacefully and a strange kind of friendship developed with each man.So the question is, did I consciously love those guys at that moment? I don’t think so. When I gave “control” of the situation to them was I the powerless one? I don’t think so. Was Love and His power present? Most definitely. Was I aware of it? At that time in my life I would not have ascribed anything to God. But I will say this. There was such a sense of quiet peace over me that I can still sense it today. Very surreal. Non-violence in the face of evil is not even a fair fight. Every drop of martyr’s blood spilled today that cries out for forgiveness heals our world. Situations may not end the way we think they should when evil is confronted,’ My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ And it may appear that evil has won. But if we can respond in love and non-violence we become one less perpetrator of that same evil. Every situation is unique but so is our God. He will be there with us at all times.To muse over our own reactions to evil situations is to once again run and hide in the bushes ” I am naked!” We are NOT. He has proven Himself time and time again even to a non-aware, could have cared less kind of guy like myself. His will be done in all our lives.

    Reply
  11. Sellappan on

    A great piece indeed on a very important, even controversial topic. Some OT scriptures seem to give the idea that God is unpredictable – sometimes gracious, sometimes moody and violent. But the NT tells us that God is very loving, gracious, forgiving and unchanging. Jesus, who is the very image of God, has revealed that kind of God to us. Andre has presented this topic brilliantly.

    All the comments on the topic including Kathy’s “Do you realize I have the power to let you?” are so refreshing.

    Thanks to all. Blessings.

    Reply
  12. Andre on

    No one knows for sure what they will do in a moment when death (especially death in the form of an actual person about to kill you) stares you in the face. I have been in that place a few times hiving grown up in South Africa, but I can honestly say that those moments humble you. I feel thankful that not once did I have a gun in my hand to place that kind of ‘power’ in my hands to end the life of another. I think my trust in Pappa is stronger for it…

    Only by grace go I…

    Reply
  13. John on

    Thank you for this article. I have been struggling myself wondering why so many of my christian friends are holding guns but not sure how to ask them. I am not called to hold a gun. I am called to love my enemies and pray for them. This article and the article about Mary-Anne’s attack has finally put to rest my idea of getting a gun for protection. I hope I will rely on our Father, as Jesus could have – had he chosen, if I myself am facing a violent end. Jesus tells us he could have asked for 12 legions of angels to defend himself. We have that choice. All we have to do is ask.

    Didn’t Jesus say we do not have because we do not ask?

    I am reminded of a woman with a gun pulled and pointed at her face. She told the thief to put down the gun in the name of Jesus. He did just that.

    I was also recently told of a woman calling on angels to stop a demon possessed boy from running from his deliverance. She called on an angel aloud to stop him and the boy “magically” dropped and was pinned to the ground for 15 minutes until she could deliver him.

    We have more at our fingertips than violence. We have the power of the Alighty God in the name of Jesus.

    It gives a whole new meaning to life and death being in the power of the tongue. Doesn’t it?

    Reply
  14. Sellappan on

    This is a tough subject to handle, but you did a great job in presenting it from Jesus’ perspective, overcoming violence with love, not violence with violence. Thanks Andre for handling this delicate subject so beautifully.

    Reply
  15. John Plummer on

    Many objectors resort to violence or not by answering “What would I do?”
    But that is not the question for a Christian. The question should be “What is the Kingdom way?”

    Reply

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