This is an excerpt from my latest Ekklesia column, 'Threatened with resurrection', which will be posted later today - see the index of pieces here.
[I]f we were to admit that in the broader frame violence doesn’t ‘work’ – and the evidence of history is that even when it undeniably quells horror, the horror emerges again in new and different forms – what or who could possibly save us?
For many in the Western world, that is now an unaskable question. Having decided that religion is nothing more than an illusory reflex of dependence for the simple or the weak-willed, we have abandoned a pain-bearing God for mortal superheroes of our own creation – those who ‘save’ by slaughtering and subduing.
Sure, the gods have lost their thrall. And there is no threat in that, because the Holy One of classic Jewish, Christian and Muslim formulation is not some object among objects, or a human projection on eternity, but the beyond-in-the-midst who is found at the heart of life and love.
No, the real challenge, buried in arcane arguments about religion, is that of a Gospel which refutes the promise of victory through death – and replaces it with the threat of resurrection.
What the death of Jesus tells us is that our faith in salvation by killing is redundant. And what the resurrection tells us is that the life of God, unlike instruments of death, is beyond our control.
To be “threatened by resurrection”, suggests Guatemalan poet and theologian Julia Esquivel, is to be paralysingly afraid to love life – and to bow instead to the power of death.
This is what Christian Peacemakers and other non-violent activists (of all faiths and none) blatantly refuse to do, whatever their fallibilities and faults. They seek instead to act outside of the domain of death. And for most of us, this is horribly worrying.
The context out of which Esquivel wrote her famous poem in the 1980s was that of government-backed death squads in Latin America. But her spiritual memory was of those in St Mark’s Gospel who first heard that the tomb could not contain Jesus. They were not thrilled – they were stark afraid.
A love beyond favour which calls us to live without defence is not the kind of Good News a heavily armed consumer society understands. Nor is it one which a suicide bomber raised on a cult of death and glory wants.
What we actually understand and want, when the going gets tough, is what we have been trained to trust by nature, nurture and Nietzsche. And that is the survival of the strongest.
By contrast, what the Gospel of Jesus offers is the opportunity to place ourselves in the larger context of God’s capacity to renew life, thereby receiving the ability to live ‘beyond our means’ – from resources derived outside an economy of warriordom.
The dangerous genius of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder was to recognise that, for Christians, inheriting the peaceable kingdom relies not upon arguments about religious texts, but upon the way the Word made flesh revolutionises our comprehension of God.
“Christian pacifism that has a theological basis in the character of God and the work of Jesus Christ,” Yoder wrote, “is one in which the calculating link between our obedience and ultimate efficacy has been broken, since the triumph of God comes through resurrection [the gift of life] and not through effective sovereignty or assured survival.”
[Picture... towards Pentecost]
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