Saturday, July 21, 2012

We Interrupt This Program: Ramblings on a Misunderstood Verse

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
John 15:13 (KJV)

"Nonresistance is right, in the deepest sense...because it anticipates the triumph of the Lamb that was slain."
John Howard Yoder

****Sorry this is like my 8th blog on non-violence, more on Cinema and Creed to come****

Sooooooooo, I was in Target the other day where all great theology flows. I was waiting for a prescription to be filled when a lady struck up a conversation. She asked where I was from, what I was doing in Durham, etc. Finally it came up I was in Seminary. She got excited and so did I. So we talked Church talk and some other things before she asked the question, "I think its great we live in America, A Christian nation where we are free to worship don't you?" 

Usually I just cheekly nod and let it pass, but stupidly I didn't this time. I said, "Well this place is home and I like home, but I don't think Christians owe the nation anything for any privilege to worship God or not. I just think that's a bad way to look at it."

She was not expecting this response.

She fired back this: "Well what about all the wars that we have fought to preserve freedom of worship."

I, calmly, said, "Well I am a pacifist. I don't like war. I think war is awful. And besides we have not fought a war like that in a long long time."

She then cocked her hip and placed her hand on it. She then lifted her head slightly and said, "Well, There is no greater love than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friend." 

She obviously thought this one liner would end the conversation.

We Christians have a terrible way of throwing out a single line of Scripture thinking that it ends conversations like these with no further explaination. However, this is like throwing a tarp over a junk heap and expecting people not to notice the smell.

Anyway, we talked for a few more minutes politely and she smiled and left once her prescription was filled.  I on the way home came to one conclusion:

We believe in war.

In fact, War points to the fundamental beliefs of society. (Democracy,  Liberty, Freedom, Capitalism, etc.) Both inside and outside the Church, we argue tooth and nail for it, because we fundamentally believe that it will bring about a better world rather than merely a more violent one. So, we scoff passionately at the idea of non-violence. It seems logically impossible in our society to even have a perspective of global relations where war isn't the major influential force that gives meaning. The old adage "If you want peace, prepare for war" is a logical impossibility.

Furthermore, the more disturbing notion is the lack of credibility non-violence has among Christians.

If we look longer at the text, and read it in its entirety we might note that Jesus is talking about himself who lays down his life for his friends (the world). We should read this text as saying Jesus lays his life down for those in his closest circle, but rather Christ dies for all. This is so basic to Christian teaching its almost not worth saying. So when Christ says love has no greater meaning than to lay down life for a friend, he talks about his love for those in whom he lays down his life for (those who are about to crucify him) without resisting. Christ communicates God's love by laying down his own life for those friends who would murder him.    

It's ironic this passage is being used to communicate the killing of enemies for the sake of a few and the holiness of war rather than its original intention of the peaceful loving of all, despite the consequences.  And it is even more ironic that in the Church, war is more rational than pacifism.

The love of war runs deeper than than Christian convictions. And so we believe in war, but we only kind of believe in Christ.

I think its because killing takes but a moment, and forgiveness takes a life time...

 So I have come to this conclusion. We must say that either Christ does not conquer the world through peace, or we must admit that Christ lays down his life for the world in order to save it making it impossible for us to save the world by killing. And then also admit that we much rather prefer killing people.

This conversation is more important than ever in light of another shooting. Most argue that the right to carry would have saved these people. However, so could a Church who loves the shooter first (before such things happen) thus making such an incident impossible. 



  1. Replies
    1. Hey Rick, This is a century too late but its just something I started because I don't like promoting my own name I guess. I am sure that sounds pretentious, but I promise I had good intentions. I would love to get to know you if you would like. I can give you an email address if you would like.

      Grace and Peace!

  2. Some context on a couple Scripture passages used to defend 'war'

    and quotes from an Evangelical hero of the past

    1. Thank you for your posts Mike. Thank you for the reminder of the context of both Romans 13 and Luke. I appreciate you.