Introduction to A Series on Violence

Hey all. This is the first in what is likely to be a longer (read: book-length) project on the place of violence in the life of the Christian and the Kingdom of God. This is a quick toss-off introduction, but I'd love to get some feedback so that I can explore the most fruitful paths the next time I pick up ink and keyboard. All comments are welcome! The next topics I am likely to explore are a discussion of what violence is, followed by a study of those God has called in times past to protect and vindicate the people of God from his enemies. If you haven't read my post of a few months past entitled Modesty, Violence, and Rest: An Immodest Ramble, I think you'll find it helpful.

Christians know that their religion is exactly as Celsus, a Roman opponent of Christianity, described it centuries ago, a faith for "...foolish and low individuals, and persons devoid of perception, and slaves, and women, and children..."1 Paul told us as much, as did the Lord Jesus himself. God has, from his earliest condescensions to mankind, made a habit of conversing with whores, little brothers, the lame, and the left-handed. That is to say, God has made a habit of exalting the lowly and bringing down the mighty from their thrones; and in order to rub salt in the wounded heads of the powers and principalities, he has used stupid, stubborn, and despised people to accomplish the exaltation of his Kingdom and the desolation of the City of Man.

God's people have been told from the beginning, and often have to be painfully reminded, that their victories and conquests come not from their own strength, but by dint of God's own mighty and outstretched arm. Christians often are confused or hesitant about the place of violence in their lives, to no small degree because of this fact. It is God who saves us, not we ourselves. And we know that God does more than save our eternal lives, although that is the greatest gift he gives to each individual. It is he who saves of from poverty, and shame, and night pestilence, and day arrows, and every trouble and curse that comes upon man. If we are saved from these things, it is God who does it. What, therefore, are we telling God when we do violence to our enemies? Are we suggesting to God that here we wish to take this particular salvation in our own hands?2

Most Christians are not pacifists. Nonetheless, we are haunted by the fear that any violent act is sinful and lacking in trust. The problem here is that God has called certain of his people to be willing to do violence. If we fail to equip those people properly, they suffer because we have diverted them from their proper place in life, and we suffer, because those God would use in his everyday vindication and protection of his people have turned out to be milquetoasts (would it be fair to call them pussies?).

In a perfect world, there would be no violence. Perhaps it is better said tha in the life of the world to come there will be no violence. Perhaps this world is the best of all possible worlds, despite the mockery of those who hate us. In this world there is sin and death, and there are murderers and stalkers and defamers and bearers of false witness. There are oppressive dictators and obnoxious bosses. God save us from them. God saves us from them. Kings tremble before the war machine of God's Kingdom because it has a lot of little swastikas painted on its nose. God's Kingdom has a mighty army, and marches forth to assail the gates of hell itself. God cast Satan out of heaven violently, Jesus crushes the head of the serpent violently, and the Son of God goes forth to war with his train of women and children and the despised to conquer.

There is a sense, because God's Kingdom exalts the weak, in which violence is to be despised. But this I mean in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Violence is not to be hated; that is reserved for the violence of evil men. Violence is to be thought little of. If the first are to be last, it is we who would have been first in the world of flesh who must be the ones willing to pick up the onerous burden that violence imposes. We will see elsewhere that God calls people to violence, and those of us who are best able to bear it, he calls to at least a willingness for direct, confrontational, and sometimes physical violence.

Our Kingdom is a kingdom at war, and our war is not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities in the heavenly places. Those are the ones we are after, and those are the enemies we are, by God's grace and action, conquering. Those are the high towers we march against to besiege. Nonetheless, their minions come out against us. They desperately sally out to attack our front lines, and our baggage trains, and our supply lines, and our farms, and our factories, and our villages.

Of course every Christian is called to take some sort of role in this great conflict. But we need to keep the enemy in the trenches, not raiding through the villages. Goblins have always wanted to sneak into the nursery, to eat or kidnap our young. Some of us have been given the duty of staying up at night to kill sneaky goblins.

I will elsewhere more full develop the idea that violence is the burden of men. But it must be brought up from the outset. Everywhere male humans go, we either carry it ready to use, or stoop under its weight. There is no escape from violence for men; the world is a violent place. Christian men must hold to an ethic of violence. Whatever that might look like, the ethic of violence must take certain principles that will be in place until Resurrection Day into account.

The bizarre culture of manhood America displays is not the product of too much or too little violence. It is the product of a false choice. Men are told that they must put violence aside at all costs or become monsters. Most men choose the first. A few choose the second, and prey on the first.

Christian men must pick violence up. They have no choice. Although violence is a fruit of evil doing, it is not in itself evil. Evil violence is the imposition of the will of the stronger over the will of the weak, to the detriment of the weak. Good violence, proper violence, is the preservation of the will of the weak against the will of the strong, to the benefit of the weak. This is why judges must be vindicators and avengers. That sounds more personal and violent than Americans would like, but that is their calling. They are there to save the widow from the ruthless man.

Good, evil, and violence are complicated things. Any ethic of violence is bound to be complicated, and bound to dwell in gray areas where questions of authority haunt every decision. But the Christian man must be willing to use violence, for he has his wife, his children, and his neighbors to consider. Every Christian man is in some small, limited way, an avenger and a vindicator. He must be a modest avenger.

1 Origen, Contra Celsus, Ch. 59

2 This is to say nothing, of course, to that perennial objection to violence by Christians: what of the command to love our enemies? It is not my intent to engage directly with pacifism here. Instead, as I explore how God uses and calls us to use violence, readers who buy what I'm selling can quietly put pacifism back on the shelf, and come interact with the world in the world God made.


  1. All I needed to see was, "Christian men must pick violence up" to know I would appreciate these thoughts. I do not have time to read the article through right now, but wanted to say I am delighted to see you writing on the topic. I have a page on my blog entitled "The Virtue Of Violence" if you are not aware. It too is a beginning for what I hope to be a longer discussion. I hope we get to talk about these things.

    Earnestly, John

  2. This should be good. I know you've been working through these ideas in your head for a while and I'm interested to see how you play them out. I'll comment more once I see a definition of "violence." I'm not a "pacifist" per se, but I have a hard time squaring a lot of pro-violence movements with Christ himself (even the solidly reformed ones). I could, however, see a sense in which Jesus' death on the cross was a violent act on his part (and I don't mean metaphorically). Is there a way to be violent with your mouth shut and your cheek turned?

    I guess, most "violent" people I know are asses. Let's just say I'll be your middle-of-the-road audience that could use some convincing, but I have open ears.

  3. Even this post should be about four, so we'll see how well I develop this, Josh. My thumbnail definition of violence is the frustration of another's will, associated with the triumph of your own.

  4. I've read this a couple of times. I guess I am feeling pretty unsure about my own vision for violence (which is probably why I have not continued to write on the subject). Whereas I agree I ought be ready to defend the weak, I am still unsure what that looks like for me. For instance, would prayer sometimes be considered violent? Or here's another real world example: many families are leaving our church for various reasons. I have thought to go after some of them and urge them to return and continue the good fight with us. Would that have something to do with violence?

    I am not a pacifist so much as I am just plain passive at times. I think this is for fear of where my anger may take me. I have too often used it for control (of myself and others). I am only just beginning to grasp the meaning of opposing evil for the sake of weak ones (I am thinking of unborn children who are at risk of being slaughtered in the womb).

    I know this, something about violence is surely captivating. But I'm not necessarily convicted to stand firm against those who would do harm to children and women.

    I want to more fully grasp an ethic of violence that I may grow in my conviction to defend weak ones. I see this as a life long process, one which begins with me looking at how I am caught up in the "false choice" and then beginning to move further into my small and limited role as an avenger and vindicator.

    When God told me to write he said this, "I want to give you this gift; I want you to write; [I laughed and said, "about what?"]; the answer was, "spiritual warfare."

    Ever since then, violence has seemed more important to me. Indeed, I want to participate in the destruction of evil that Christ has accomplished and is accomplishing. I want to use my body (and mind) that others may be saved.

  5. John, I'd say that if you're called to spiritual warfare, you're called to violence (which I know is what you were suggesting).

    I think there's also a sense in which any attempt to change someone's mind or behavior is violent. I'm using a very broad "violence is the frustration of another's will, associated with the triumph of your own" definition, but I think it's fair to use it so broadly. What this means is that the world is a violent place; any affirmation of free will is an affirmation of the existence of violence, and any claim for a good and an evil is a claim that there is such a thing as just violence.

    Your mention of your "limited role as an avenger and vindicator" is important. Here is our struggle: God has clearly called us to change the world (which is violent), but he has called us to be humble, aware of our place, and filled with respect for the imago dei in men. So now what?


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