The Myth of Redemptive Violence

By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  August 9, 2014

            Violence is an undeniable part of creation. It arises in the opening chapters of our Sacred Story when Adam and Eve are required to kill animals for food and clothing. Due to sin, they were naked, ashamed, and fearful of the world, as well as God. While permitted by God as necessary for their survival outside of the Garden, it necessarily introduced violence to humanity.
            As the story of Creation continues in Genesis, violence quickly shatters the human family. Enraged by fear that his little brother Able would find greater favor with God, and thereby take advantage and power over Cain, the older brother violently defends his position and prominence in the world with the brutality of murder.
            Throughout the Biblical narrative, violence continues with horrific consistency. Power is defined by the sword, forged in vengeance, lived in dominance, and blessed by presumed fidelity to God. Yet, even when sanctioned and blessed by God, the stain of violence is one for which God is not always pleased—a brutal reality of humanity’s brokenness and sinfulness. Even King David, a man after God’s own heart and one truly blessed by God, was forbidden to build the Temple because he had blood on his hands.
            Like so many other times in history, in the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry, God’s people were occupied by foreign conquerors. In some ways Rome was a stable presence. It was also an oppressive and corrupting power. The collusions required to keep the peace created unholy alliances between Roman authorities and Jewish leaders—alliances that held the capacity for, and threat of, violence. When deemed redemptive and accordingly justifiable, the violence was unleashed without remorse and cherished as honorable, necessary, and redemptive in nature. After all, when faced with defending one’s best interests, maintaining order, and supporting the presumed stability of society, violence had a long and storied biblical precedence of effectiveness. Yet, it was a false reality for God reveals that violence is neither holy nor redemptive.
            Jesus chose a different path—a peaceful and non-violent path. When calls arose for the Messiah of God to take up arms and vanquish the enemy with the force of military power, Jesus responded as a sheep being led to slaughter. Upon witnessing violent bloodshed in his defense by those who loved him, Jesus chose to heal the wounds of the enemy and condemn the use of weapons in the fear-driven anger of violence. Ultimately, rather than succumb to the lie that is redemptive violence, Jesus allowed the demonic powers to prevail in such a way that a new path may be known—the path of love.
            The original story is painfully still with us. In Israel, Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and across the border in Mexico, violence is shattering lives, destroying communities, and ravaging God’s people in profoundly evil ways. Even within presumably peaceful Christian America many in our churches are crying out for redemptive violence, oppressive military force, bloody control, and viciously punitive measures all intended to somehow bring peace. Additionally, while not physically violent, our national political climate has become savagely hateful and verbally violent. It is a sinful reality that is evil and inconsistent with Christian faith. The message of the Cross remains one of peace—a peace that passes all understanding and a peace that does not come as the world believes it ought to be. Peace that stands that transcends the false myth of redemptive violence. Christianity is about true peace!