Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 133. What is Violence?
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 133. What is Violence?

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

For purposes of this discussion, I will take "violence" to mean harmful, volitional, unnecessary use of force. Therefore I would generally not regard as "violent" destructive acts of nature, animal aggressiveness, or human activities that are essential to preserve one's life. A God who loves all Creation would not want to have any creatures harmed, though sometimes it is necessary for humans or animals to cause physical or emotional harm. Most of us would agree that there is a moral difference between "violence" and causing harm as a necessary step in obtaining sustenance or in defending oneself. Nevertheless, it is often difficult to distinguish between legitimate use of force and illegitimate violence, since people generally regard their own violence as "necessary" for "justice" or "self-defense."

Perhaps the actor's frame-of-mind can provide helpful guidance. Those who genuinely regret any harm they cause and do their best to limit harm probably act out of necessity. One can be more confident that one's use of force is not "violent" if one is trying to protect other individuals, rather than protecting one's own "interests." Those who take pride in their triumphs over what they call "evil" and grab the spoils of victory have likely engaged in acts of violence.

We should always be uncomfortable with activities that harm other individuals. We should question our own motives repeatedly, and we should constantly seek to view situations from victims' perspectives. If we have convinced ourselves that our harmful activities deserve a name such as revenge, purification, or divine sacrifice, then it is likely that we have obscured our violence behind mythological stories that attribute our violence to God or to a secular ideology, such as nationalism. S. Mark Heim has written, "But to veil it [violence] under euphemism and mythology, to be piously silent before its sacred power, is to make its rule absolute."1

Was Jesus ever violent? The only biblical story in which Jesus used physical force against adversaries was in the Temple, when he confronted the money-changers. All three gospel accounts (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; John 2:14-16) relate Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers and denouncing their trade. Importantly, though Jesus' words and actions suggest anger, Jesus did not hurt anybody. Why did Jesus disrupt their activities? The money-changers provided an essential service, since many people traveled great distances and could not bring sacrificial animals with them. Since the pilgrims needed to buy animals for sacrifices and since they only had foreign currency, they needed the services of money-changers. It is possible that some money-changers cheated unsuspecting pilgrims, but would Jesus have taken such aggressive measures to prevent petty crimes? Jesus' actions were very dangerous, because Roman authorities objected to anyone who disturbed the peace (particularly during the Passover period, when emotions often ran high among the Jews), and the powerful chief priests relied on the sacrificial cult for their livelihood.

Remarkably, in John's account, Jesus also drove out the animals slated for sacrifice, raising the possibility that Jesus' aim was to stop the sacrifices themselves. Therefore, it seems that Jesus' actions constituted a necessary use of force to protect innocent and vulnerable individuals and was not violence, because Jesus' intent was not to cause physical or emotional harm.

1. S. Mark Heim. Saved from Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2006, p. 102.

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