Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pax Christi: Two Critical Doctrines

The posture of a biblical pacifism rests upon two doctrines in particular. These are the sine quibus non of a biblical pacifism. In this post I will briefly relate those two doctrines and their importance not only for the case for a biblical pacifism, but the practice of it.

1.The Doctrine of the Resurrection

Firstly, biblical pacifism depends upon the resurrection. If Christ has not been raised, we have believed in vain. But if Christ has been raised, then we have hope indeed. Christ’s own resurrection is his vindication by the Father, and his vindication includes the vindication of his teaching. Since biblical pacifism primarily and overwhelming looks to the teaching of Jesus, this vindication is essential. Further, the embodiment of Jesus’ ethical teaching in seen in Jesus’ way of life. This, it must be granted, was the perfect human life of a righteous man who died non-violently resisting violent human beings. To be a disciple of Jesus is to follow his teachings, and obedience to his teachings necessitates imitation of his life, in this regard as in any. It will not do to privilege either the mission of Jesus or the divinity of the same. Jesus’ ‘pacifism’, if we may term it that, is grounded in precisely his assumption of the human nature.

Further, the resurrection of Christ leads directly (theologically speaking) to the resurrection of the saints. So long as death is the great enemy of humanity, death is the great thing to be feared and avoided. A hope born from the sure bodily resurrection of the saints is a hope that begins to treat death in a fundamentally different manner. For we are all destined to die once. The question for the Christian is not, ‘how can I avoid death?’, but the sure hope, ‘I will not undergo the second death’. For the biblical pacifist, the doctrine of the resurrection relativises death, and grants an invincible fear: not that we shall not die, but that death is not the end.

2.The Doctrine of the Justice of God

Recently I have come to view this as the beautiful doctrine of the justice of God. I refer both to the character of God, that He is Just, and to the act of God, that God enacts Justice. The latter flows naturally from the former. For, though God is patient, which the scriptures show us again and again, He is not indulgent. He will be patient with sinning sinners, but only for a time. If he were indulgent, He would indulge them forever, and God would not be good, but permissive to the extreme, allowing all manner of evil to persist unchecked forever. On the contrary, God is patient, desiring repentance, but just, bringing judgment. This judgment occurs both temporally, in that God does not grant immortality to those who persist in rebellion, and eschatologically, in that God does not intent for this order of things to persist indefinitely, and rather brings about a final day of reckoning.

The beauty of God’s justice is simply in that – justice is a beautiful thing. What enhances God’s justice all the more is the beauty of his mercy, in extending forgiveness through the death of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. For in so doing, God does not extend his patience in vain, waiting for sinners to repent who never would or could, but extends patience for repentance and the means of repentance alike. Yet, the very act of mercy assures that justice will be done, either way: that either on the one day of judgment, Jesus paid the price on Calvary, or on that very last day of judgment, each shall bear the penalty upon themselves: this is the second death.

For the biblical pacifist, this doctrine too is both necessary and inspirational. For it means that God will deliver justice, “Vengeance is mine” saith the Lord, and so the believer is not bound to deliver it themselves. We need not fear that anyone should escape justice, in this life or hereafter, for the very sovereignty of God assures us that justice will be done. The pacifist God of so much western christianity fails at this point, as Volf has so keenly discerned. Moreover, that it is God who delivers justice is the clear point at which our imitation of the divine perfection must diverge. Since we are called to imitate his character, but not usurp his authority, we do not arrogate to ourselves the right to judge, but trust in both his authority and character. The strength to die a martyr’s death, even one that ‘accomplishes nothing’, is predicated on the belief that it is not up to us to ultimately deliver the right outcome.

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