Nonviolence Requires Divine Judgment


(SeanO) #1

I wanted to share a quote from Miroslav Volf, a Croatian Protestant theologian who founded the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, and then link that quote to what Paul says in Romans 12. Volf claims that nonviolence requires divine judgment. When people suffer atrocities, they will respond with violence unless they believe in a God who will vindicate them in the end. We see that Paul the apostle also roots overcoming evil with good - a kind of nonviolence - to the reality of God as judge.

How do you think this truth can help us reach a generation that rejects Christianity in part because of judgment? How can this truth help us reach others for the Lord? Can you think of any other real life examples that demonstrate this idea? Do you disagree with this claim?

The Lord guide our discussion.

My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone (which is where a paper that underlies this chapter was originally delivered). Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: a Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect noncoercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die. And as one watches it die, one will do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf pgs. 303-304

Romans 12:17-21 - Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


(Joshua Spare) #2

This is a fascinating line of thinking, and one I intended to spend some time thinking through. I’m wondering, @SeanO, if you could provide a bit more context and clarification of his argument - Volf is arguing that nonviolence, as a response to violence, can only be properly understood and properly defended in a system of thought that includes ultimate divine vengeance, correct? Assuming I have understood correctly so far, does Volf intend to suggest that nonviolence is the only proper response to violence in the Christian context? The first seems like a fascinating thesis, and an excellent opportunity for discussion. The second would seem to be a bit stronger and more difficult proposition to which to hold.


(SeanO) #3

@jspare Here are a few more quotes from Volf and an article where he discusses more in depth his views on justice. It is my impression that he is not trying to say conclusively that nonviolence is always the only way, but rather that as Christians who have been forgiven by God we ought to relate to our enemies in a way that is different than the way they relate to us. He was shaped largely by his youth in Yogoslavia and the violence between Croatia and Serbia. I would say it is more the first proposition than the latter, but he has plenty of material out there - so based on the article below (and perhaps other things you guys read), what do you all feel he is claiming?

Atlan has rightly drawn our attention to the fact that in a world of violence we are faced with an inescapable alternative: either God’s violence or human violence. Most people who insist on God’s “nonviolence” cannot resist using violence themselves (or tacitly sanctioning its use by others). They deem the talk of God’s judgment irreverent, but think nothing of entrusting judgment into human hands, persuaded presumably that this is less dangerous and more humane than to believe in a God who judges! That we should bring “down the powerful from their thrones” (Luke 1:51-52) seems responsible; that God should do the same, as the song of that revolutionary Virgin explicitly states, seems crude. And so violence thrives, secretly nourished by belief in a God who refuses to wield the sword.

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf pgs. 303-304

Here my Serbian friends, they feel that injustice was committed against them, the war that they’re waging is the war of “Just War” to return something that was taken from them or to prevent something that could possibly happen to them. My Croatian compatriates would have said exactly the same thing. Justice was plotting against justice, and there was no way to get out of this stalemate. I think that the very interesting dimension of the Christian tradition that lies at the very heart of Christian faith lies in the fact that God has died for us while we were still enemies. So there’s now movement opened up, right? It’s not that you have a situation where, "Well, OK. Shape up and get your act together and then we’ll talk. We’ll pursue justice here. When we pursue justice, we’ll go figure out how we’re going to relate to one another."Another important dimension of why justice is not sufficient — Hannah Arendt, a Jewish philosopher and political philosopher, has emphasized in some of her books the need for forgiveness, for forgiveness in politics. And here’s what she says why forgiveness is important. Simply put, time does not run backwards. You cannot undo the done deed. And therefore no amount of pursuit of justice is going to attend to what has happened in fact. Right? And therefore, in order to have a hopeful kind of politics, you have to have something like the experience of forgiveness, which is not setting justice aside but which is saying, `I’m setting aside at least some of my just claims against the other, and I’m looking toward the future without necessarily wanting to satisfy the demands of justice with respect to infringement from the past.’

‘You use force to hold enemies in check, and you reward your friends. That’s how life is run, right? Now, Christian faith has an alternative politics, if you want, to this type of kind of Hobbesian, if you want, politics, and that is that you may certainly want to protect yourself from your enemies, but what you also want to do is you want to befriend your enemies. That’s what Christian faith is, if you want, all about. Because God has befriended humanity when humanity was still God’s enemy and pursued humanity precisely in humanity’s enmity to God. Now, I think that that lies at the very heart of the Christian tradition, at the very heart of our faith, and it seems to me that it ought to lie at the very heart of our daily practices.’

“I think one of the things that I was so afraid in the war in former Yugoslavia, in Croatia, Croatia was mirror image of the Serbian aggressive war against my country, and I thought this was not quite right. We have other strictures upon ourselves than the stricture simply of response to a situation in which we have found ourselves. And if we have greatness, and if we have strength, we would be able to act differently, I think.”


(Jimmy Sellers) #4

If you are saying that for those who practice non-violence to have any effect it must be predicated on the assurance of divine vengeance Sodom and Gomorrah style or Jesus leading an army for the final battle . If this is a proper understanding, then a few things come to mind.

  • What was Gandhi’s motive? I think I know his political end game, but I am not aware of his desire for vengeance or if he was expecting divine vengence.
  • What about this quote from Mandela "What was the difference between Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mandela?" His answer, "For them non-violence was a way of life for him (Mandela) it was a tactic." Again, I am not sure of his personal religious convictions, but I do understand the politics.
  • Where do we place the action of the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire during the Vietnam war as a protest against the war? What or whose divine vengeance were they expecting? Again I understand the politics.
  • The Tiananmen Square incident were the young Chinese student stood in front of a tank and was crushed to death? I don’t know his personal conviction or his desire for vengeance but I think we can make a good guess about his politics.

I am not sure that I agree with his thesis based on these and other similar accounts.
I apologize for my lack of proof reading before
I commit the post. I know this changes the context.


(SeanO) #5

@Jimmy_Sellers Those are great points! It is interesting to consider the motives of those who apparently do not believe in divine judgment and yet practice nonviolence. I imagine that the motivation in each case - from Gandhi to Tienanmen, may be different and unique to the individual.

Regarding Volf’s point, perhaps he is a bit more nuanced that I have presented him. Going back to this quote:

it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge

It feels like Volf is making the point that belief in a God who judges does not necessarily correlate to people becoming violent.

Perhaps Volf is not arguing that nonviolence requires divine justice, but rather that divine judgment does not lead to violence and can, in fact, be one powerful motivator for nonviolence?


(Joshua Mathew) #6

@SeanO according to what i understood from your words
i just want to know …how will you present this…in front of soldiers?
would you ask all christian soldiers to resign from their job…as vengeance is in god’s hands and we are called to be non-violent

can we say…if we would follow this thesis…god would have protected america…even if it didn’t had a military of its own?


(Jimmy Sellers) #7

@Joshua_Mathew,
This from a thread that @SeanO started on David. I am linking you to @anthony.costello reply. I think t will help with your question.


(SeanO) #8

@Joshua_Mathew That is a great question and I think @Jimmy_Sellers linked to the right topic for that question. In short, I do believe governments have a right to protect their citizens.

In this thread, I am not trying to discuss whether nonviolence is the right approach, but rather whether believing in a God who judges is incompatible with nonviolence. In our culture, people sometimes say that if you believe in a God who judges that leads to violence, but Volf is claiming the exact opposite. He says that the reality of God’s judgment actually helps us to practice nonviolence because we know that justice will be done.

Another thread you may consider reading is the one on imprecatory prayer.

You may also consider this article on praying for our enemies.