21 July 2015

Prince of Peace, God of War


I rather enjoyed this documentary which deals with Christian non-violence versus Just War Theory. It was slanted to be sure. That said, though I disagree with them, I was somewhat impressed with the thoughtfulness, hesitancy and restraint exhibited by some of the proponents of Just War.

And at the same time though I agree with Anti-Just War position I hardly would agree with all those who advocated the position. In fact some must be reckoned in a general sense as heretics. But when it comes to this ethical issue, we can find some common ground. This is just to say that I don't give an unqualified endorsement of the film, but it's worthwhile.

One of the most important things to understand and I felt the non-violence advocates lagged a little here, is a Redemptive-Historical understanding of Scripture.

How do Christians reconcile the violence, war and seeming genocide in the Old Testament with the New Testament's command to turn the other cheek and eschew all vengeance?

They admit the Old Testament is superseded but I didn't hear a good and convincing explanation as to why it is so. This is very important because it is a pressing question when discussing Scripture with unbelievers. To many the God of the Old Testament is a war criminal. This is not to suggest that our explanation will be satisfactory to them, but it at least is helpful in demonstrating that God's actions are not comparable to man's. And perhaps more importantly there's a reason why those things happened and why it was right, just as the Final Judgment will also be right (See Revelation 16.7, 18.20, 19.3). God's Judgments are righteous holy and true. Man's actions are always tainted with sin and I'm sure that the Israelites (as individuals) even as they carried out God's holy work still sinned in their hearts. They still had an obligation to do it, and it was right, but I'm sure they were less than inwardly pure. When we judge the world (1 Cor 6.2) as resurrected saints, we will be freed from our sinful natures and our judgment will echo and parallel the righteous Judgment of God.

Redemptive-History teaches us that the Old Testament was typological and pedagogic. That is, it was symbolic of what was to be fulfilled and it was instructive, it was a school lesson being played out in history.

Redemptive-History is properly Christocentric. Everything including the conquest of Canaan must be understood in light of Jesus Christ. The New Testament makes this abundantly clear. All the promises are affirmed and confirmed by Christ (2 Cor 1.20, 1 Cor 10.4). The promise concerning the land and its conquest are pictures of Christ's person and work.

Like the true Joshua (Jesus) the Old Testament Joshua led the redeemed people through the waters of death into the Edenic Kingdom, a land flowing with milk and honey. But at the same time Joshua/Jesus is a Divine Judge bringing justice and holy vengeance on those who have rejected God's revelation of his son/people Israel and have rejected His ways. These cosmic traitors face judgment. The fact that it does not occur at once is demonstrative of God's longsuffering and mercy.

Joshua and the Israelites were a type of Christ bringing judgment and vengeance on the earth. Only a remnant (Rahab etc...) was saved. The judgment is due at all times and the fact that God in order to fulfill his redemptive plan brought it on some people 3500 years ago and not others is no indication of a miscarriage of justice or a crime. The guilty were receiving the rightful punishment, even the women and children. All sin is worthy of death. We and our children deserve to be slaughtered like the Canaanites. Yes, that's offensive but that's the truth. This is why when we come to God we must come with poverty of spirit, broken with nothing to offer, no hint of self-righteousness. It is only by God's grace that we are saved.

This essential component of the Gospel is even declared to be offensive by Scripture and indeed the unbeliever deems it so. It takes the work of the Spirit to soften their hearts, to break them that they might accept the truth, repent and cry for mercy.

God allows some to live to old age. Others are taken young. There is no unjustness with God. There is none good, no, not one. The longer you live the more accountable you are.

The age of typology is complete. The Messiah is come. The Kingdom has been established in heaven. Jesus is set to return and a judgment and vengeance that will make the conquest of Canaan appear paltry is imminent. Repent or you shall all likewise perish.

We, the redeemed are called to live as those who already dwell in the heavenly Kingdom of peace. We are here to bear witness and glorify God by demonstrating grace and mercy in a world that is still sinful. We are called to imitate Christ our Lord and suffer to the glory of God, the weak overcoming the strong. Love overcoming the treason and treachery of sin. The Church at large has missed this and when it enters the political realm it wholly abandons the idea and embraces a new ethic.

It is only through this proper understanding of Redemptive-History that we can hope to contextualize the Old Testament and explain how on the one hand, yes indeed, in our present day God's people are called to live in a very different way and this is consistent with the grand scope of God's plan. The God of the Old and New Testaments is the same God. He is Love to be sure but more than that He is Holy... a concept almost entirely foreign to our society and one we must labour to teach.

I appreciated the line in the film that spoke of Christ and by implication his followers bearing Spiritual Authority but that did not translate into Physical Aggression... the latter we must note is attached to the idea of political authority.

This was spoken in light of the one episode in Christ's life that seems out of step with his normal gentle and meek disposition. We are of course speaking of the money-changers in the Temple. We can certainly say that if anyone had the 'right' to bring a modicum of righteous judgment upon them, it was Christ. This does not mean we are called to do the same. I am reminded of the scene in 'Cromwell' where Richard Harris casts down the tokens of Popery that had been erected in the local church.

(The part I'm talking about starts at 1:30)

The movie although good for getting the 'feel' of the era falls short in terms of historical accuracy.

While I agree with the theology that treats such items with contempt, I'm not sure that's the best course. This is compounded by the Sacralist mess that was 17th century England where such a move had political implications as well. I think it would be right to denounce it, walk out and continue to speak the truth... but to respond that way? I'm not sure. It would be satisfying, but only to the flesh. I would certainly advocate their removal and perhaps even their physical destruction so as to not be used again. I have certainly mouthed off and rather loudly when seeing Advent Wreath's and such like but I don't know if I would go so far as to smash things up in that manner. It's not clear if Cromwell himself ever engaged in such iconoclasm but there were many who did.

But we might also add this violence with regard to the moneychangers while destructive to property was (it would seem) not severe when it came to anyone's person. It was also within the context of the covenant community. We might say something along the same lines with regard to parents using physical discipline on their children. While we certainly wish to avoid sophistry we can say that the standards are not quite the same as with the outside (extra-covenantal) world.

There is no inconsistency between the Old and New Testaments and there's nothing to be embarrassed about. People will reject this because they reject the Gospel and the god they think they love and respect is one born of their own imagination and desire. The Christ of Revelation 19 and 2 Thessalonians 1 is a Deity they reject.