The “Violence” of God
By Linda Rex
Now that I actually do have cable TV in my house, the other day I was flipping through channels futilely trying to find something I wanted to watch. I happened upon a preacher and his wife who were diligently informing their listeners of the imminence of Jesus’ coming and they pointed to several current events, including the current cycle of “blood moons” as proof of their prediction.
Naturally I flashed back to my earlier years which were filled with “World Tomorrow” broadcasts and sermons about the tribulation coming soon! At that point, my finger hit the up key and I was looking at the next crazy option on the menu (which wasn’t much better).
Later this week I was talking with a sincere, Bible-believing Christian who is on fire for Jesus, and I found myself once again in that place. The end is near! We’ve got to get ready! We must be prepared or we won’t escape disaster! We’ve got to do something now!
Now, I respect these people’s desire to love and serve God, and their sincere belief that Christ is coming soon and that they’ve got to get everyone ready so they don’t miss out. But I am just as concerned that they do not realize how much they are like the Jews of Jesus’ day who expectantly waited for a messiah to come and rescue them from their oppressors and restore to them their kingdom. They so anticipated a conquering deliverer and majestic savior that they didn’t recognize Jesus when he did come.
Sure, John was down at the river baptizing everyone and telling them to get their act together in preparation for his coming. But even he became so unsure of Jesus that after a while he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matt. 11:3).
John the Baptizer, whom Jesus described as the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah’s coming and was the Elijah to come, (Luke 1:17, 76) had forgotten the lesson of Elijah: God doesn’t always speak to us or rescue us in big and powerful ways. No, he prefers the opposite. Thomas F. Torrance describes it eloquently, I believe:
Recall the contrast between Elijah on Mount Carmel and Elijah under the juniper tree, dejected and dispirited because the events of history after Mount Carmel have not taken the course he had hoped. God had certainly vindicated Elijah’s faith, and the prophets of Baal had been overthrown, but the tyrant forces of evil were still in control defying God’s sovereignty. Then Elijah is taught a supreme lesson on Mount Horeb. He is shown a terrific display of violence in wind, earthquake and fire, but God was not in the wind, or earthquake or fire. After the fire there came a still small voice and immediately Elijah wrapped his face in his mantle: that was the violence of God. It is still the same story with John the Baptist. He expected the events of history after the baptism of Jesus to take quite a different course. He expected as Messiah a mighty deliverer coming in judgement and bringing upheaval and violence, who would redeem Israel from the New Testament Ahab and Jezebel, Herod and Herodias, and restore to God his sovereignty over his people. But instead of all that, he saw the meek and mild Jesus, preaching the gospel of grace and forgiveness to the poor and needy, and healing the sick…Like Elijah, John had misunderstood the violence of God and was offended at the weakness of Jesus, but in Jesus the still small voice of God had become flesh, and that was more powerful than all the imaginable forces of nature put together and unleashed in their fury….
Jesus did not repudiate the preaching of John the Baptist, the proclamation of judgment: on the contrary he continued it, and … he searched the soul of man with the fire of divine judgment….In the incarnate life of Jesus, and above all in his death, God does not execute his judgment on evil simply by smiting it violently away by a stroke of his hand, but by entering into it from within, into the very heart of the blackest evil, and making its sorrow and guilt and suffering his own. And it is because it is God himself who enters in, in order to let the whole of human evil go over him, that his very intervention in meekness has violent and explosive force. It is the very power of God. And so the cross with all its incredible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God’s holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin.1
I do realize that the creeds tell us that one day Jesus Christ will return in power and glory. And on that day we will become most truly who we are in him and will shine like the sun. But I think we need to reconsider exactly what Jesus is going to do when he comes.
Will he start striking down all the evil people and evil governments? Will he start killing people right and left? Too often this has been the description I have heard of what Jesus is going to do when he returns.
Wouldn’t a greater, more violent attack upon evil be to just make it irrelevant? To so fill the world and universe with light and goodness that darkness has nowhere to go except away? To so expose the reality of human hearts that they can no longer pretend or hide behind apparent goodness and kindness but by God’s grace become what they truly always were meant to be?
Yes, I wonder.
I think that it is interesting how through the centuries since Jesus died and was resurrected we have continued to see Torrance’s “inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil.” Even though Jesus is present in the world today by the Holy Spirit, we still see the forces of evil and humanity defying the sovereignty of God.
But at the same time, we witness daily, if we look closely, “the meek and mild Jesus, preaching the gospel of grace and forgiveness to the poor and needy, and healing the sick.” When we actively participate in the ministry Jesus is doing in the world, even now we participate in the kingdom of God. As we actively participate in what God in Jesus through the Spirit is doing and we actually live in relationship with God in Christ led by and filled with the Spirit of God moment by moment, the tyranny of evil and inhumanity of man is being violently overthrown in our hearts and lives and in the hearts and the lives of others every day.
It is in this divine ministry through human instruments that once again we see and experience the “violence” of God at work in our world. And all of this is in anticipation of the fullness of his kingdom at Jesus’ return in glory. In my view, this is what we need to be focusing on.
Dear Jesus, please give us eyes to see and ears to hear who you really are! Father, please take away all that blinds us to your great love for us. Thank you for allowing us to participate each day in your violent work of redemption. Let all we think, say and do be a pure reflection of your light in Jesus by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’” Matthew 11:2–3
1. Torrance, Thomas F., “Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ”, Walker, Robert T. ed. Downer’s Grove, IL (InterVarsity Press, 2008). Pages 149-150.