Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 108: Romans 12:1 and 6:23
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 108: Romans 12:1 and 6:23

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Paul wrote to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (12:1). The age of sacrifice had ended, and Paul wrote that we are to dedicate ourselves completely, including our bodies, to God.

This passage, I think, helps us form a better understand Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Many people interpret this, I think incorrectly, as indicating that, as a consequence of sin, God demands death either of the sinner or a sacrificial substitute (and the ultimate sacrifice was Jesus). Since Romans 12:1 points to self-sacrifice, I do not think we should read Romans 6:23 as indicating that God desires that we sacrifice other individuals to substitute for ourselves. Indeed, Romans 6:23 does not say that God desires death at all. I think the passage is making a simple and valid observation: Sinfulness leads to death. When we model our desires on each other and fall into rivalries, we are on a path that leads inexorably to death – the victims being either those who find themselves in conflict or, commonly, one or more scapegoats who the community blames for growing hostility. Girard has noted that, universally, primal cultures have ritualized sacrifice. Typically, they re-enact the cultural crisis that generated the “need” for sacrifice, and then they kill or expel one or more victims in communal rituals that recreate the sense of camaraderie that originally unified the community. While we like to think that our culture does not engage in sacrificial violence, no culture recognizes its own scapegoating – to do so would eliminate the unifying power of scapegoating. In addition, like scapegoating, violence is almost always invisible to the perpetrators, and those who participate in violence typically describe it as, for example, “justice” or “necessity.” I think that, as long as people have eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear (Mark 8:18), Christ’s revelation that God is about love and not about death will remain incomplete in this world.

Next week, we will explore The Letter to the Hebrews, which I think has often been misunderstood as a text that endorses sacrificial violence.

Go on to: Part 109: The Letter to the Hebrews, Part 1
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