A further thought on God and violence. One of the common responses to the belief that God is not violent, especially among those who are not so religious, is that God must be violent because the whole universe is violent. Stars are giant fusions reactors, mountains are created by huge eruptions from beneath the surface of the earth or else by the collision of colossal tectonic plates. Every living thing eats some other living thing to maintain its own life; death and decay are as common as birth and vitality.
Indeed, as one person pointed out at our first public forum at Chairs, childbirth itself involves some violence. All this is true, and it reminds me that it is important to be careful about what we are talking about when we talk about God and violence.
Here I believe the Hindus have an insight worth considering. Some violence is creative and not just destructive. Indeed, for life to be sustained, for new birth to occur, some things have to die, some things have to fade away. So for life to work Brahma, the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer need to work together.
However, some violence is simply destructive, born of hatred and sustained by hatred. When I talk about God and violence I rarely make that important distinction between violence that is born of a genuinely creative impulse and violence that is born of a genuinely destructive impulse. What I believe is that God is not violent in that latter sense. God is not simply destructive, God is not motivated by hatred. There is within the universe itself this remarkable creative-destructive-creative-destructive-creative cycle that will continue trillions of years until — if some theories are correct, all is at rest. The sort of violence that is motivated by hate and thus gives rise to a desire for destruction is a perversion of that cycle, not the fulfillment of it, and is not of God, and never has been. To the extent that Christians or Muslims or other religious people impute to God a purely destructive impulse born of hatred, they misunderstand the nature of the universe, and the divine imprint stamped upon it. I realize this little addendum raises at least as many questions as it answers, so still more later.
Come to our next “Coffee Talk” at Boots Bakery at 10 a.m. on Feb. 2 where we'll discuss “Violence and the Sacred.”
Rev. Bill Ellis is dean of St. John’s Cathedral. He has a bachelor’s degree in history, a Master of Divinity and holds an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.