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ISIS, Jesus and My Struggle with the Pacifist Apologetic

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“What would Jesus do to ISIS?” That’s a question many Christian’s are asking in debates about how to respond to the international crisis of ISIS and their barbaric rampage through Syria and Iraq.

But I’ve found myself getting snagged on one central point that is consistently missing from the fundamentalist-pacifist apologetic’s focus on Jesus as the example of how Christians should respond to beheadings. It’s a fact that Jesus could have dropped some godhood power slams on any evildoer in an instant if he had wanted to do it. That place of power, makes one privileged in the matters of injustice and evil.

Jesus acted from a place of power and chose not to use it. That is very different from the children facing beheadings, the young women being kidnapped and the young and old men being crucified or shot in Syria and Iraq by ISIS.

Jesus was almost thrown off a cliff after his first sermon back home, but the Scriptures said he just Jedi-moved through the crowd without a scratch (Luke 4:28-30). Yes, Jesus willingly laid down his life in the events surrounding his Roman execution on a cross, yet he did it, while holding omnipotent power at his command. Comparing fleeing Christians to the God-man on earth seems to me to be a posture of unfair judgment or expectation.

The pacifist paradigm of Christianity seems to edit out the New Testaments acts of divine judgment or it places the full weight of the wrath of God only on the cross. But it doesn’t take much reading into the book of Acts before it starts reading like another “Book of the wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21:14).

One of the first miracles in the book of Acts was an expression of divine judgment on a church couple who fudged on their tithing report(Acts 5:1-11). How does that jive with the perpetually peaceful kingdom paradigm many are presenting. If God cleans house through Peter in a moment of frightening God-smack, how can we present a New Testament view of God that simply calls people to act as he didn’t in the OT, paused a bit in the gospels and then resumes his power thundering in Acts?

Here’s a few New Testament example:

1. There’s poor worm invested Herod on his bed of blasphemy, I am sure he wouldn’t think Jesus was the God of: “Let’s all just get along.”
2. How about poor old Elymas who got the back hand of Paul’s righteous violence with a good old Sodom strike:

Acts 13:10-11 “You’re a son of the devil. You’re an enemy of justice, you’re full of lies, and you steal opportunities from others. Why do you insist on confusing and twisting the clear, straight paths of the Lord? Hear this, Elymas: the Lord’s hand is against you, and you will be as blind as a bat for a period of time, beginning right now!”
Then there’s the whole AMC-like apocalyptic throw down in Revelations, the end of the bible, that makes everything up to that point look like it was played out on Nickelodeon!

I am mystified why these type of events that played out in the lives of the Jesus followers in Acts somehow don’t find their way into these discussions about how we should act or respond to ISIS today.

I don’t think the bible censors the human cry for justice, protection and the judgment of God on those who victimize and terrorize innocents, in fact, sometimes it encourages it in prayer (Acts 4:24-31).

That’s not an endorsement for blood but it is one for deep sympathy and support for those experiencing such epic human suffering in ways not seen since Nazi Germany.

About Eric Blauer

I am Frederick Christian Blauer IV, but I go by Eric, it sounds less like a megalomaniac but still hints at my Scandinavian destiny of coastal conquest and ultimate rule. I have accumulated a fair number of titles: son, brother, husband, father, pastor, writer, artist and a few other more colorful titles by my fanged fans. I am a lover of story be it heard, read or watched in all beauty, gory or glory. I write and speak as an exorcist or poltergeist, splashing holy water, spilling wine and breaking bread between the apocalypse and a sleeping baby. I am possessed by too many words and they get driven out like wild pigs and into the waters of my blog at www.fcb4.tumblr.com. I work as a pastor at Jacob's Well Church (www.jacobswellspokane.com) across the tracks on 'that' side of town. I follow Christ in East Central Spokane among saints, sinners, angels, demons, crime, condoms, chaos, beauty, goodness and powerful weakness. I have more questions than answers, grey hairs than brown, fat than muscle, fire than fireplace and experience more love from my wife, family and friends than a man should be blessed with in one lifetime.

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18 comments

  1. Interesting conversation on this happening on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SpokaneFAVS

  2. Let me say first, Eric Blauer
    I appreciate your article and your willingness to put your thoughts and
    feelings out for everyone to pick at. Not alot of people would do
    that.
    I do have some thoughts and questions about what you have presented.
    I do understand
    that Jesus could have “laid the smack down” at any point and willingly
    chose not to. But I don’t think that will exclude him from being our
    example for Christian ethics.
    Next,
    I have had to do alot of personal processing in regards to Pacifism in
    the last year or so. It seems the term pacifism has taken on a life of
    its own. I have personally tried to distance myself from it. I think
    pacifism has become more of an ‘end’ for people or almost an idol. Our
    focus has left Jesus and us being able to find life in Him and has gone
    to ‘being the best pacifist I can’. I believe if we really focus on
    getting all of our Life in Christ, focus on perfecting our love for him
    and others, non-violence becomes a byproduct or a fruit of that
    perfected love.

    • Steve, as for allowing people to “pick at” my thoughts and feelings, I take my inspiration from the “Bible Blogger Prayer”. It’s a little known passage for speakers and writers that I pray daily as I face my online opponents. 😉

      “The Lord, the Eternal, equipped me for this job—with skilled speech, a smooth tongue for instruction. I can find the words that comfort and soothe the downtrodden, tired, and despairing. And I know when to use them. Each morning, it is God who wakes me and tells me what I should do, what I should say. The Lord, the Eternal, has helped me to listen and I do as He says. I have not been rebellious or run away from God’s work. But it’s been hard. I offered My back to those who whipped me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not turn away from humiliation and spitting. Because the Lord, the Eternal, helps me I will not be disgraced; so, I set my face like a rock, confident that I will not be ashamed. My hero who sets things right is near. Who would dare to challenge me? Let’s stand and debate this head-to-head! Who would dare to accuse me? Let him come near. See here, the Lord, the Eternal, helps me—who could possibly win against me? All my accusers will wear out like a ratty old moth-eaten shirt.” -Isaiah 50:4-9

  3. Sorry, I “finger pecked” my first comment and forgot my other two thoughts by the time I was finished. …
    For someone to call God a pacifist is just nonsense. There is no
    biblical support for that in either testament. God has passed lethal
    judgment
    on people and will judge the living and the dead some day. With that
    said, there is no authority given to Christians to do the same.
    Lastly, I feel the book of Revelation has the strongest non-violent
    message for believers out of any book in the new testament. For
    Revelation to be used to condone or justify violence I think is an
    irresponsible interpretation.

    • Steve, thanks for the comments and tackling the tough issues, as someone who is living and serving in South Sudan, you know first hand the realities of having to flee war from tribal and ethnic violence. Sudan and international terrorism have been connected for decades:

      “In the early-1990s, Sudan provided safe haven to Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda network until a change of policy (resulting partially from US pressure) forced the network to leave the country in 1996. The relationship between Sudan and Bin Laden was both ideological and financial. The wealthy Saudi invested heavily in Sudanese infrastructure in return for being able to reside there temporarily. – See more at: http://www.defenddemocracy.org/media-hit/pariah-state-examining-sudans-support-for-terrorism/#sthash.3LmRmYlJ.dpuf“.

      So you have skin in this game more than most. What happens against terrorism will most likely find it’s way to many issues in South Sudan.

      As far as God not giving any authority to Christians to deal out judgment, I agree at face value when looking at some verses it appears to say that but I wrestle with some other threads of NT biblical narrative that seem to contradict that conclusion. I have pointed out a number of NT examples of what I have saying.

      But here’s one connection I think is worth examining. Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19:

      “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

      Seem like a lot of authority to me.

      Then in Acts 5:

      3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. 4 The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God!” 5 As soon as Ananias heard these words, he fell to the floor and died.

      7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Was this the price you and your husband received for your land?”

      “Yes,” she replied, “that was the price.”

      9 And Peter said, “How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this? The young men who buried your husband are just outside the door, and they will carry you out, too.”10 Instantly, she fell to the floor and died.

      That is one example that seems to contradict your conclusion about Christians not having authority to exercise any judgment or violence.

      That sure seems like a violent day in Church.

      • Steve, my ongoing discussion about ISIS and how the international community should deal with them is pretty much what I have had to defend. I have said I support our Government responding to the carnage and injustice of ISIS with force. I have done that by showing the NT place for the sword against “evil doers”(KJV). That conversation has led to comments from others about the failure of a “Just War theory”, and the inconsistent place of violence with personal Christian ethics. In most of the comments I get, people don’t allow for a place of God ordained authority to execute wrath against evil, it’s all placed in the future. The argument I am getting is that the non-violent response of Christians should be the response of Government. I see that as the advocacy of another religion-based government, not Sharia-law, but Christian-ethics. No separation, if it’s good for the soul it’s good for governments to follow. I have sought to push back on that ideology be it Islamic or Christian. I see God ordained spheres of authority and responsibility instituted by God.

        • As for Revelations, again, I see a God that is acting in a way that seems to contradict the pacifist narrative:

          Revelations 2:20-27:
          “But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.

          “Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.

          “But I also have a message for the rest of you in Thyatira who have not followed this false teaching (‘deeper truths,’ as they call them—depths of Satan, actually). I will ask nothing more of you except that you hold tightly to what you have until I come.

          To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end, to them I will give authority over all the nations.

          “They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots.”[reference to Psalm 2]

          Psalm 2:7-12:
          He said to Me, ‘You are My Son,
          Today I have begotten You.
          ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
          And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
          You shall break them with a rod of iron,
          You shall shatter them like earthenware.’”
          Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
          Take warning, O judges of the earth.
          Worship the Lord with reverence
          And rejoice with trembling.
          Kiss the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
          For His wrath may soon be kindled.
          How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!

          So, maybe all that can be exegetically dismissed with some kind of pacifist lens that turns all of it inside out and into a message of love and mercy. But I try to take the words and their intended meaning as it reads. Maybe Perish, bed of sickness and dead…don’t mean what they say, but…I am going to bet they do.

          • Yes, you are correct! God is not a pacifist. Again, with the Revelation reference, I don’t see anything that gives any instruction for Christians to be involved in vengeance or violence. The reference says “I will strike her children dead”. And that “I” is God. The wonderful but hard message of Revelation is that Jesus has overcome and we have hope through our physical suffering because Jesus will one day defeat evil, the people who have waged war on us, and the people who destroy the earth. Our great calling is to show crazy, scandalous love to anyone and everyone. We are to love indiscriminately like our God who sends sun and rain on all people. Good or Evil.

            I read a life changing book called “Mere Discipleship” by Lee Camp. He says something that haunts me to this day but shows the crazy beauty of suffering love.

            “The cross proclaims that we need no longer die as a consequence of our sin, and yet we must die, or be willing to do so, because of the world’s sin”. – Lee Camp

          • So, we must act differently than God, and maybe be even more Christ-like than God? So we have a higher moral standard of actions than all the God-head. In my mind that line of thinking comes from a view of eschatology that places every kingdom reality in the future.

            But again, this thread of thinking is connected to your argument that Christians can’t’ kill anything, right?

            So in the end, like Tolstoy said, you can’t join any political sphere, no law enforcement, no military or first responders that might ever be connected to blood or have to spill blood. Again the whole system falls apart in my mind, when you are posturing your whole life on what you are not doing, not connected to and won’t touch. Feel free to strain, strain, strain…I found myself choking on camels.

            For me, I seek peace not by just writing about it, but by trying to figure out what it looks like right here, right now and for me it looks like:

            -Having a circle of Muslim friends, serving them, advocating for them, walking with them in their challenges and sufferings.

            -Helping the muslim family straining to read the english “turkey not pork” wording on the sausage box at Costco that is confusing them.

            -Carrying the prayer burden in the wee morning hours in bed, for my muslim friends families in Baghdad, whose nieces are afraid of being raped and carted off to be the sex slaves of ISIS.

            -Giving money to the work of peace in the region: http://frrmeamerica.org

            -Living a multicultural life of work, witness and worship. Choosing to live out my faith among people who disagree or don’t share it. Placing myself out there in a vulnerable way to engage the fault lines of our times with others who push and pull on me to think, live and pray better than I could be on my own.

            -Choosing to live in a place of threat and violence, embracing the cost and loss, dealing with the hate and impact on my own soul and family. Choosing less in schools, home, beauty, financial return and investment all on a fools hope that the Jesus way matters in places like East Central.

            We all have to figure out how to be sons and daughters of peace. I don’t choose to spend my time telling others how they should or shouldn’t do it. I am just trying to respond to the times I live in the best I can, with what I have and who I am.

          • I will do one last reply. I think we have some areas where we are not really understanding each other and because of that, this could go on forever.

            I feel I must address one of the misunderstandings just for my own conscience sake.

            Yes, we must act differently than God. At least in the area of vengeance and judgement. It’s not because we have a higher moral standard than God that we avoid violence, vengeance and judgment. It is because God has the highest moral standard. THAT is why we are commanded in the New Testament to leave judgement and vengeance to God alone.

            I would not say that living a life of non-violence puts kingdom realities in the distant future. It seems to me that THAT line of thinking says we only have two options. Violent action now and God’s judgment of evil in the future. That seems to me like there is no belief that God will act in the present.

            As Jesus and the New Testament writers gave so much instruction on loving and not hating, not repaying evil for evil and leaving vengance to God. I believe the way to overcome and to bring kingdom realities to the here and now is by us following Jesus example of suffering love.

            I had read this right after we left South Sudan because of fighting in December. Technically, South Sudan is classified as a “Christian” country. Rwanda was also 90% “Christian” when the genocide started in the mid 1990’s. (Sorry, I know you don’t like Yoder )

            “To resort to the violence of instrumental
            pragmatism is to deny the power of God revealed in Jesus. It amounts
            to crucifying Christ anew to save ourselves. This holds the grace of
            God up to contempt. When the church does this, humanity can only
            conclude that nothing is new in Christ. The gospel is one more
            self-serving ideology among others. The church is merely another
            sociological reflection of the world. A violent church is a blasphemous
            sign indicating that the people of God has lost its authenticity.

            When we stand resolutely at the cross, we stand at the turn of the
            ages. We see that the in breaking reign of God is not predicated upon
            the visible possibilities of the present. We are loath to take up the
            cross ourselves, to share in Christ’s cup of radical obedience. But is
            the servant greater than the master? At the cross we abide in the power
            of the risen one who faced temptation before us and overcame. Thus our
            nonviolence, our faithfulness in Christ, substantiates human hope and
            gives evidence of things not seen. It constitutes the most powerful
            sign the prophetic people of God can preform in a war-wracked world.”

            – “A declaration on Peace”

            John Howard Yoder

          • But that wouldn’t apply to God.

            In the end, I am still listening for how this helps anyone facing death, violence or injustice. The issues to me have to deal square with the God of the past, present and future, the realities of the needs of the moment and the action or inaction of those responding or watching.

            I’m not a fan of book ethics but on the ground examples of how to live it out in and among wolves.

        • I also recognize the failure of “Just War”. Yes, there is a place for God’s wrath and judgement. Rom. 13 tells us that God orders the nations and governments/kingdoms of the world to limit evil on the earth. Yoder gives some great insight on this in “Politics of Jesus”. He says something to the effect of,

          “God orders the governments of the world like a librarian orders (arranges) the books on their shelves. The librarian does not create or approve of the books they order (arrange}.
          -Steve’s Yoder quote from memory- 🙂

          God used EVIL nations in the old testament to bring judgement on other nations that were participating in evil. I also believe he can and does that today. BUT… I don’t believe we can say for sure when He is doing that. That is part of the reason “Just War” is flawed. Could there be a time when we (America) think we are fighting against evil and really we are fighting against God using an evil people to bring judgement on another evil people?

          So my question is not “Should governments wield the sword?”, but “Should Christians EVER be a part of the sword wielding?”

          I just read an article yesterday that asked if the church was responsible for ISIS atrocities. He said the church spent too much time backing and supporting wars in the Middle East over the past few decades when we should have been focusing on sending missionaries to win the real battle.

          • Sorry I don’t agree with the logic that assumes nobody can make a wise choice about what is evil. If we followed that logic every act in response to injustice would always be mired in the incapacitating mud of human limitation. We can’t see the future, that’s not given to us, but we have to act nonetheless. I’ve read Yoder who in my mind is simply a lesser light stealing from Tolstoy. Both in my mind exhibit from their personal lives tragic flaws that reflect the maddening hole such theological gordian knots produce. I finally had to stop reading Tolstoy because I felt his line of reasoning led to madness. The level of Russian doll philosophizing is over the top with that path. Soon you will have to reject all authority, all government, all taxes and follow the extremist/purist ideology to its full conclusion or at some point realize it can’t be lived out. It’s a form of legalism that never allows you to be pure enough.

            I also reject the “blame the west” game. That straw man does nothing to help anyone facing the butchering coming to them, maybe even today in Baghdad. Like I said in a response to another comment thread on my southern flank:

            “At this moment Baghdad faces ISIS, what does this historical simplification contribute to peace? Shall we stand over beheaded, raped and crucified bodies as judging philosophers? Shall we step back and let ISIS have it’s way? How about some response to what is happening. Our bothers and sisters of humanity be they muslim or Christian are being slaughtered and we argue about whose interpretation of history is correct. I am all for trying to figure out what dna strands formed this beast but, good grief it’s ravaging the country side while we look through microscopes!”

            As for sending missionaries, that whole prospect is at odds with the argument too, if one’s argument is cultural or religious intervention is at the root of all this bad fruit. Who are we to say they need saved by us? Isn’t such reasoning part and parcel with the secularist or militarist?

      • Yes, it was a violent day in Church. I just don’t see the connection between any church member and the deaths. It seems the two died from divine judgement. Also, when Jesus gave Peter authority, whether it was just spiritual or also physical, I don’t think we can include physical violence in that. To me, using that line of thinking is like saying Peter also had authority to commit adultery or to worry about his life. And to portray Peter as an advocate for retaliation or physical violence I think is a great misunderstanding. For how short it is, I think Peter’s first letter has more content about Christian suffering than any other book in the new testament. This reference I’m adding is a hard one to swallow but I think it is important for us to see Peter’s understanding of Christian ethic. This passage is specifically about submitting to authority.

        “For what creditis it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return, when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. – 1Peter 2:20-23

        • Well, again, the story is there, two people dead at Peter’s feet, and he even told her she was going to die (v10). My point is that these stories are passed by for teaching but the teaching has to be in the context of how they lived it out too. Peter didn’t apply the words you quoted for Annie and Sap.

  4. There! Hope that helps.

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