Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth
Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
Part 99: Further Reflections on Christian Faith
Many Christians hold that failure to believe in Christ will result in permanent damnation to Hell. This theology holds that a principle motivation for belief is fear of a wrathful God. As discussed in essays 57-59, I think the notion of God as wrathful is mistaken. John wrote, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in God there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). We live among people who are judgmental and wrathful, and we find it difficult not to project such sentiments onto God. Indeed, while Luther emphasized God’s grace, he still believed in the “hidden God” that had dark, wrathful, violent attributes. I think John had a more accurate description of God when he said, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This, as I have argued previously (See essays 12 & 51), is a monotheistic image of God in that it describes God as having one nature. An image of God that involves multiple personal traits has similarities to polytheistic religions, except that such a multi-faceted “monotheistic” God unifies a multitude of personality traits into one personage, while polytheistic religions tend to attribute each of a multitude of personality traits to individual gods.
Does an image of God as loving mean that God does not make judgments? The Bible frequently describes God rewarding some people and condemning others, yet it also describes God’s love for everything that God has created. Indeed, these diverging images of God often divide Christians today. Those who see God as wrathful often feel obliged to participate in God’s wrath, and they often endorse policies that uphold “God’s justice,” even if those policies may strike others as lacking in compassion. Those who regard God as full of love, forgiveness, and grace often favor public policies that reflect compassion for dispossessed individuals and avoid harsh punishment. Consequently, I think these diverging images of God account for how faithful Christians can populate both ends of the political spectrum.
I do not deny that God judges people, but I do not know how God makes those judgments, or what God does with those whom God judges favorably or harshly. The Bible describes many things that God does not want us to do, such as lie, kill, and commit adultery. The Bible clearly shows God caring about our actions, but I do not think it is our place to punish for transgressions. Any punishment that God might desire is the province of God. We may rightly restrict the ability of people to harm others (e.g., imprisonment), but we should regard such restrictions as regrettable and needed for public safety, not righteous vengeance. I think that Jesus taught that our calling is to reflect God’s love and not to judge other people. With our biases, prejudices, and tendency to join the scapegoating mob, we are ill-equipped to determine who deserves punishment. Any punishment, if appropriate, should be left to God.
Those who have the faith of Christ (see the two previous essays) will naturally strive to participate in the redemption of all Creation. Their works will reflect their faith. Therefore, I am convinced that vegetarianism is a natural and obvious expression of Christian faith, given the inherent cruelty, the environmental destructiveness, and the harmful health effects of eating animals. As science teaches us more, our works may more effectively serve God and God’s Creation. I think this is one reason that Jesus was correct in teaching, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
It seems to me that, for many Christians, faith means doing whatever it takes to get to Heaven. As Rev. Neuchterlein has written, “If Christianity remains for us primarily about getting to heaven, then we will find ourselves, sooner or later, descending into the Hades of our violence.” The reason is that we will repeatedly find ourselves accusing others of evil in order to feel justified ourselves. We natural feel ourselves and our associates lifted up whenever we condemn other individuals, regarding ourselves as closer to God in comparison to those we condemn. This is human-centered faith; Jesus’ God-centered faith regards God as loving and ready to forgive. True faith, Robert Hamerton-Kelly has noted, involves leaving the accusatory crowd and following Jesus, whose ministry encouraged love, compassion, service, and nonviolence.
How do we know that our faith genuinely reflects the faith of Christ? The theology I have been discussing offers a rather simple answer: We are aligned with Christ when our choices are compassionate and nonviolent.
This discussion begs the question of why there is violence and suffering in the first place. Next week, we will explore why there is evil.
Go on to
Part 100: The Theodicy Problem: God and Evil
Return to Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
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