Here at Sojourners we have written a lot about nonviolence. We take seriously the words of Jesus that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We believe that violence begets violence, or as Jesus put it, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Personally, I take seriously the words of René Girard, the founder of mimetic theory, that we are now “confronted with a perfectly straightforward and even scientifically calculable choice between total destruction and the total renunciation of violence.”
Many Christians look to the Bible to justify divinely sanctioned violence against our enemies. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but Christians are not Biblians. We are Christians. As Christians, we should be putting Jesus first. Not Deuteronomy. Not Joshua. Not Judges. Not David. Not Solomon. Not Peter. Not Paul. Not the Bible.
And Jesus calls us to nonviolence. As one of the early Christians stated, the way of Jesus, the way of nonviolent love that embraces our enemies, is the way of the cross and the world thinks that way is foolish.
We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Notice the distinction being made between God’s wisdom and human wisdom. The wisdom of God is the way of nonviolent love in the face of violence that often leads to the cross. The wisdom of God doesn’t lead to Christians violently putting others on a cross; rather, it leads to Christians carrying our own crosses.
Human wisdom, on the other hand, is the wisdom of retributive violence. From the beginning of human culture to this very moment, human wisdom claims that if you hit me, I’m going to hit you back. Only I’m not going to just hit you back. I’m going to hit you a little bit harder than you hit me so that you won’t mess with me again.
In the first century, the wisdom of Christ crucified was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. In the 21st century, the wisdom of God that led to Christ’s nonviolent love in the face of violence is a stumbling block and utter foolishness not primarily to Jews and Gentiles, but to Christians.
Christians have rejected Jesus’ wisdom for human wisdom. Let’s at least be honest and admit it. The only way Christians can honestly go to war is by bearing the sin of rejecting the wisdom of God, which is the nonviolent love of God revealed through Jesus.
Last night the United States began bombing Syria in an effort to destroy ISIS. We have discovered that the wisdom of Jesus is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago – violence generates violence. We can’t outsmart the wisdom of God – the more we bomb ISIS the more recruits they find. Terrorism isn’t a cancer we can destroy. Terrorism is a beast that only grows stronger when we feed it with violence.
The only alternative to terrorism is the nonviolent way of Jesus. Nonviolence starves the beast. And yet, I’ll admit that, despite my efforts to argue for nonviolence and loving our enemies, human wisdom exists inside of me. When I hear about the murders and destruction ISIS is committing against Muslims and Christians across Iraq, I ask questions like, “Should we allow minorities in Iraq to be murdered? Shouldn’t we us violence to stop a larger outbreak of violence?” And then the thought enters my mind – let’s to blow those bastards back to the middle ages.
Tragically, that’s exactly what we will do. I hope you see the tension I’m struggling with. As Christians, I suggest that if we choose war, we consciously admit that we are rejecting Jesus and the wisdom of God. I suggest that as we bomb ISIS, our fellow human beings who, like us, are created in the sacred image of God, that we not celebrate killing them. I suggest that instead, we repent of our violence. As Christians, any time we pick up the sword or the gun or the bomber or the drone, we should mourn the fact that we’ve rejected the very one we claim to follow as our Lord and Savior.
But the wisdom of God calls us to do something more than repent and mourn our violence. The wisdom of God calls us to love our neighbors, who include even our enemies. How might we love our neighbors in the Middle East? In the same way we help our neighbors closer to home – by listening to them and helping them solve the problems that they face. According to Unicef, the Middle East and North Africa suffer from severe “Drought, food insecurity, unemployment, poverty, conflict, military operations, natural disasters and epidemics” that continue to devastate the region and create a sense of hopelessness in many young people. Economist Jeffrey Sachs points to the wisdom of God when he claims in a recent article that if, “US politicians had the bravery to build coalitions to improve the lives of people through development rather than through bombs, the US public would be amazed to see how much agreement and goodwill could quickly generate.”
We know that violence generates violence, but it is also true that goodwill generates goodwill. Of course, according to human wisdom on both sides of this conflict, that’s foolishness. According to our enemies, we are stubborn and evil people deserving death. According to us, our enemies are stubborn and evil people deserving death. Tragically, in the midst of war, both sides are stuck in foolish human wisdom.
That’s why, even as we drop bombs on ISIS, we need to repent of our violence. That’s why we need to live according to God’s wisdom. It’s our only hope for generating a world of goodwill.
Adam Ericksen blogs at the Raven Foundation, where he uses mimetic theory to provide social commentary on religion, politics, and pop culture. Follow Adam on Twitter @adamericksen.
Image: ISIS flag in target scope, Crystal Eye Studio / Shutterstock.com