Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 142. Relationships in Literature and Covenantal Relationships
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 142. Relationships in Literature and Covenantal Relationships

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

The stories about Jesus and his community lend important insights into how to establish and maintain healthy relationships. The development of loving relationships is a frequent theme in many fictional stories, which almost always describe obstacles. Girard has shown that, in classic novels, love is grounded in acquisitive mimetic desires, and consequently the rivals for an object of love are obstacles to each other.1 In contrast, in romantic novels, people tend to love each other because they recognize inherently good qualities in each other. The obstacles to love in romantic novels generally involve rigid cultural barriers or evil people. In romantic novels, evil people may have mimetic desires such as envy and greed, but, in contrast to classic novels, the protagonist's desire is typically motivated by the object of love, not the rival. While mimetic rivalries create obstacles to love in many classic novels, romantic novel writers erect obstacles in order to generate interest, but the obstacles are not inevitable consequences of romantic desire. Classic novels often end with the death or banishment of one or more protagonists; otherwise, the conflict and rivalry would persist and the novel would seem to lack a proper "ending" in which order and stability prevail. In romantic novels, the ending sometimes involves death, but it may simply involve clarification of misunderstandings or a willingness of a character to accept the tragic fate of living without the object of love.

Why is this important? If love were romantic (i.e., were grounded in romantic desire rather than acquisitive mimetic desire), then it would not necessarily cause conflict. However, if the classic novels are correct, and their lasting power is testimony to their accuracy about human desires and relationships, then human love typically arises from acquisitive mimetic desire, which generally leads to conflict and violence.

What kind of love does God desire? I think God desires agape love, a complete and unconditional love that Jesus manifested in all his relationships and that Jesus sought from Peter (John 21:15-16). Such love accords with God's desire for peace and harmony throughout Creation. Agape love is grounded in neither the specific attributes of the beloved nor is generated by others' desires. With love grounded on acquisitive mimetic desire, one or more people mediate the desire for the object of love; with agape love, the mediator is God. Regardless of the loved person's faults, God loves that person. Consequently, in agape love, one's love for another is grounded in one's love for God. Since God cannot be our rival, God's love for a person does not generate envy, resentment, or hostility.

The Bible describes covenantal relationships as models for agape love. Examples include God's covenant with all Creation to not flood the earth again (Genesis 9), with Abraham (Genesis 17) and the other patriarchs (Genesis 17:21, Leviticus 26:42), and with the Hebrews, granting them the Promised Land (Exodus 6:4) and the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). All of these covenants were gifts, but in certain instances the Hebrews were obliged to accept the gifts (e.g., the Ten Commandments) or suffer the consequences (e.g., dissolution of their community). In the New Testament, at the Last Supper, Jesus took the wine and said, "this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28; see also Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20).2 All of our relationships should model Jesus' covenantal relationship with his disciples, which was characterized by love, caring, compassion, and forgiveness. This is why Jesus said to his disciples, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12). If we loved each other as Jesus loved his disciples and as God loves all Creation, we would always seek respectful, compassionate, nonviolent solutions to conflicts.

1. Girard, René. Deceit, Desire, and the Novel. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.

2. I thank Lorena Mucke for astutely asking why this passage relates Jesus saying that his blood was poured out for "many" rather than for "all." I offer a response, though I do not claim that this is the full answer. Jesus died (and his "blood was poured out") for those who sought forgiveness. For those who refused God's forgiveness, Jesus' blood had no influence on their propensity to scapegoat and to victimize innocent individuals.

Go on to: Part 143. The Revelation to John
Return to: Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence Table of Contents
Return to: Christian Living Table of Contents