Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christians and Violence, Part V

Ellul elaborates upon the spiritual struggle and its means:

"We are to wage the warfare of faith, our only weapons those Paul speaks of: prayer, the Word of God, the justice of God, the zeal with which the gospel of peace endows us, the sword of the Spirit … And if we think this is easy, it is because we know nothing about life in Christ, because we are so sunk in our materialistic culture that we have quite forgotten the meaning of God's work in us, quite forgotten what we are called to in the world. For to wield Paul's weapons is certainly not to live a smug, eventless life. The fight of faith demands sacrificing one's life, success, money, time, and desires… The fight of aith is perfectly peaceable, for it is fought by applying the Lord's commandments. Humanly speaking, to fight thus is to fight nakedly and weakly, but it is precisely by fighting so that we strip bare and destroy the powers we are called to contend against. It is not by sequestering ourselves in our churches to say little prayers that we fight, but by changing human lives. And it is truly a fight—not only against our own passions and interests and desires, but against a power that can be changed only by means which are the opposite of its own. Jesus overcame the powers—of the state, the authorities, the rules, the law, etc.—not by being more powerful than they but by surrendering himself even unto death." (pages 165-166)

But this is not an easily accepted paradigm for the world. He writes, "We must note when we speak of the violence of love that this love—affirmed, proclaimed, lived attested by gentle signs—is a force that can cause great perturbation. I said above that the struggle against the powers is a secret and sometimes an invisible struggle; well, love is its visible form. Just apply the love Paul revealed to us, just try to obey the simple commandment "Thou shalt not kill," and you will create such confusion and trouble in the social body that this love becomes unacceptable." (page 167)

Ellul gives us three conditions for using spiritual violence. "First, it must reject all human means of winning a victory or registering effects." Second, "Spiritual violence and the violence of love totally exclude physical or psychological violence. Here the violence is that of the intervention of the Spirit of God." And third, "If it is true spiritual violence, it is based on earnest faith—faith in the possibility of a miracle, in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, in the coming of the Kingdom through God's action, not ours; faith in all of the promise (for the promise must not be taken apart into bits and pieces, in the manner of the theologians of revolution)." (page 171)

Ellul quotes Paul, saying,

"'Do not let yourself be overcome by evil.' This then is a fight—and not only spiritual, for Paul and the whole Bible are very realistic and see that evil is constantly incarnated. But to be overcome by evil does not mean that he who is overcome is weaker, inferior, beaten, eliminated; no, it means that he is led to play evil's game—to respond by using evil's means, to do evil. That is what it means to be overcome by evil, to respond to violence by violence. Paul bids us overcome evil with good, and this, too, is the imagery of contest. We are not to bend or yield before evil, nor to act like cowards or impotent weaklings: we are to overcome, to surmount evil, to go beyond it, to stand on a terrain that evil cannot reach, use weapons that evil cannot turn back on us, seek a victory that evil can never attain! Choosing different means, seeking another kind of victory, renouncing the marks of victory—this is the only possible way of breaking the chain of violence, of rupturing the circle of fear and hate." (page 173)

He concludes Violence by responding to an anticipated argument, "Will it be said then that the Christians are absent from the world? Curious that "presence in the world" should mean accepting the world's ways, means, objectives; should mean helping hate and evil to proliferate! Christians will be sufficiently and completely present in the world if they suffer with those who suffer, if they seek out with those sufferers the one way of salvation, if they bear witness before God and man to the consequences of injustice and the proclamation of love." (pages 174-175)

This is certainly a radical position, but is not Christianity a radical call? I am not yet wholly convinced of his position, but I find it a very persuasive and look forward to reading his critics.

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