Sometimes he who seeks to preserve his life loses it, and he who loses his life gains eternal life. Jesus not only taught that, but exemplified it in his submission to death and his resurrection in power. Likewise, the Christian call is one of sacrifice, persecution, and the bearing of a cross. This isn't a threat for Christians, it's a promise. Most of us find that day after day we avoid losing our lives - we avoid sacrificing ourselves for others, even in small ways. And in doing such, we have ended up losing our grasp on the true life that comes by being like Christ. Jesus showed us that he wasn't speaking in metaphor when he literalized what he said and laid down his life for us, rising again three days later unto true, everlasting life. Surely if he was serious about the end being everlasting life, he was serious about the means of obtaining that life. Christ must be our Lord, and we know he is our Lord if we serve him as he commands. But God doesn't just promise us suffering. He promises us resurrection. He promises us that our old self will die and give birth to a new man. He promises that the work he has begun in us will bear fruit and will be completed by him, and the resurrected Christ is a sign that God will make good on his promise.
But Jesus Christ has some competition. Nationalism is once again on the rise - in Euorpe and in the States. I see many Christians who, like myself, have conflated their kingdom's ethics and priorities with those of the Kingdom. We have placed pragmatism, national security, and legislative morality above self-sacrifice and love. It may be all well and good when a secular government organizes their priorities in such a way, but how can a Christian justify this position? We're blinded by our societal traditions. It's funny to think about how critical I've been of other denominations in Christianity for their blindness to spiritual truths, only to find more and more how blind I've been my whole life as well. We are all blinded in some form or fashion. Taking a serious look at issues like non-violence is vital for us as we adjust our mirrors and hope to see what we may not have realized what we were missing.
Most who read what I've written will likely disagree with me. A non-violent position is not a popular one to hold, and it has taken me a good two years of intellectual pursuit and wrestling to admit that I believe non-violence is the most intellectually honest position for a Christian. But I understand that it goes against our intuition. Violence is so ingrained in me that even with my intellectual assent, I know there are just some circumstances that I couldn't avoid violence. But if you can't intellectually get on board with non-violence, I at least hope that if you are a Christian, you are conditioned to view violence as an absolute last resort. You should have done all you could to avoid it, and it must be something for which your heart would break for doing.
But if you're like me, your society has conditioned you otherwise. If someone attacks, they have given up their right to life. They deserve what comes to them. You have exacted legitimate justice to your assailant if you kill them. Way to exercise your freedom and preserve life. How American - I mean, how godly of you. Sadly, I think it would be very hard for me to lay down my life - or especially my family's life - for an assailant. And if I did kill someone attacking my family, at least as I play it out in my mind, I can't bring myself to feel guilt or remorse for the hypothetical soul. Many in Nazi Germany dehumanized the Jews. Many who are pro-choice dehumanize babies in the womb. Many conservative Christians dehumanize their enemies.
Respecting your enemy's right to life isn't embracing injustice. In fact, it's quite the opposite. It embraces justice and value for all humans - even the ones who are the hardest to love. It takes God at his word that he will exact perfect justice, and that we can trust him with taking care of that. It endures persecution and hardship, knowing that these things make one like Christ, our Lord. Embracing non-violence removes inaction, as our lives are already counted lost for the sake of the Kingdom. We don't need to evaluate anything before doing what's right in protecting life. We don't evaluate our ability, our power, our chances of success, or any other pragmatic measure. We value the lives of others so much that we are willing to sacrifice self and not worry about the outcome. Our job and our passion is to enact the means of God. We obey him, even if it is foolishness to the world.
It is not armies, political positions, or wealth that change lives. If it were any of those, Christ's ministry would have looked much different, as he would have taken the Devil up on at least one of his offers in the wilderness - political, economic, or religious power. But Christ's Kingdom is not of this world. Changed lives come through a ministry of sacrifice that culminates in the bearing of a cross. It may be foolishness to accept a position of being despised and rejected by men. It may be foolishness to allow ourselves to be lead as lambs to the slaughter. But it sure seems biblical. And it sure seems like it changes lives.
Let me end with a quote for Soren Kierkegaard who I think sums up our discussion here better than anything else. Kierkegaard recognizes the power that Jesus Christ had on this world, but also the great expectations he had for his followers. We love to claim the power of Christ, and the end of eternal life he brings. But we also have an interest in explaining away the means he brought, as they are hard truths to bear.
The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. "My God," you will say, "if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world?" Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.