Sunday, August 13, 2017

From the Arms of Robbers: Divine Violence and Salvation

Many people have deep unease, to put it lightly, over the violent sections of the Old Testament. There God seems to be the war-master, bearing the title Lord of Hosts. Well, that's because He is. God is a warrior who has no problem entering into the thick of combat, getting His robes bloodied fighting for Israel against her enemies, enemies that resist not Israel per se, but Israel's God.

Now this unease arises not only from current sensibilities, a mix of philosophy and custom, but also from the New Testament's peace ethic. As I noticed elsewhere, there is a new work by Greg Boyd on the theme of divine violence in the Old Testament. I like Boyd, but the work is not worth a penny. Ten years of intellectual fervor and wrestling for incoherence and stuttering. All of it trying to run away from the plain reality of the text; all of it rooted in stupid indignation. For it is the same Jesus that brings life, restores, forgives, heals, and takes the sword from St. Peter who killed the rebellious Israelites in the Wilderness (ala. St. Jude). Scholarship can be a form of institutionalized, engraved, madness.

Yet it is clear that divine violence does not go away in the New Testament, but it is fulfilled. As St. Paul will notice, we wage war not against flesh and blood. This Greg Boyd understands, without knowing the sense of Scripture's unity. Boyd knows that we are in a cosmic war, but fails to appreciate how this violence is in fact pedagogical. Christian saints ought to be as violent as the Israelite saints. Yet our violence is given a fulfilled form, revealed in the life of Christ. We have better weapons than the Israelites; bronze swords and chariots do not attack the true evil. The wars of the Lord in Canaan were meant for us, as everything in Israel's history. Those who invoke just-war, realpolitik or crusades are Judaizers; while those who despise all violence are gnostics. Neither understands Christ as Lord of Hosts. And at least theonomists believe God is the proper authorizing force to usher war. I can't understand those who herald war, but rightly see Christ as not bringing a sword. These people are half-converted at best; at least in the crusades, one thought he killed for God, but what worth is it to kill for prince, country, or state? That is sheer lunacy or disguised Paganism. If one sees the abundance of American paraphanalia in churches, and keeps in mind that the Romans believed Rome herself, the city and its government, was a god, one can sadly say the latter is prevalent.

Peacemaking is a form of warfare. Baptism is the drowning of judgement upon the sons of Adam, the soldiers of Pharaoh's army. Prayer and fasting is to wear the armor of God to combat Satan and his forces. Apologetics is taking all thoughts captive for Christ. Repentance is a daily battle. The victory is guaranteed on account of Christ, who like holy Moses keeps his arms raised for us to crush our sinful passions, inner demons, and selfishness.. This is all the form of love in a sinful world. I conclude with some words from Blaise Pascal:

498. It is true there is difficulty in entering into godliness. But this difficulty does not
arise from the religion which begins in us, but from the irreligion which is still there. If our
senses were not opposed to penitence, and if our corruption were not opposed to the purity
of God, there would be nothing in this painful to us. We suffer only in proportion as the
vice which is natural to us resists supernatural grace. Our heart feels torn asunder between
these opposed efforts. But it would be very unfair to impute this violence to God, who is
drawing us on, instead of to the world, which is holding us back. It is as a child, which a
mother tears from the arms of robbers, in the pain it suffers, should love the loving and legitimate
violence of her who procures its liberty, and detest only the impetuous and tyrannical
violence of those who detain it unjustly. The most cruel war which God can make with
men in this life is to leave them without that war which He came to bring. "I came to send
war," He says, "and to teach them of this war. I came to bring fire and the sword." Before
Him the world lived in this false peace.


  1. Not having read anything by Boyd, how does he approach Acts 12's account of the Lord's judgment on Herod? That God executes judgment on rulers within the NT narratives seems impossible to escape.

    1. Boyd is big on promoting God's judgement as wholly reflexive, a kind of turning back of violence onto itself (he had a whole sermon on judgement as akido). So, I'm sure it'd be something like Herod was arrogant, and so God did nothing to prevent a heart attack or a stroke or liver failure or something that came upon him because of his arrogant ways.