Redemptive Violence

I have to paint the scene. Actor Jim Caviezel is starring in a TV program called Person of Interest. It’s the first thing I’ve seen him in, which means I did not see The Passion of the Christ.

Author and blogger Karen Hancock posted about him today and included a link to an article about how playing Christ in Passion affected Caviezel’s career. Karen mentioned at the end of her post that the comments were eye-opening.

Dutifully I took myself over to the Huffington Post, read the article, and started in on the comments. About ten in I came to the one that sparked the thoughts for this post. An individual identifying as a liberal Christian veered away from the subject of the article to discuss The Passion of the Christ and said in part:

My second objection to this film is I take issue with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement (Jesus dying and shedding blood for our sins). I find it hard to believe that a loving God who me and many others call Father would ever will for the death of an innocent Jesus to serve as a sacrifice for people’s sins. It turns God from the loving Father and savior of all into a bloodthirsty monster who is incapable of forgiving people’s sins or reconciling the creation peacefully. This doctrine teaches that violence is redemptive, and violence inspires faith. This type of thinking was developed in the middle ages to justify hatred against Jews and inspire violence in God and Christ’s names. Finally, I object to this film because it focused on Jesus’s death to the exclusion of his teachings or the events that led to the cross. I vomited during this film and I think it was a snuff film. (emphasis mine)

Well, how about that? Is violence redemptive?

I have to work through this concept from the inception of violence. What brought it about in the first place? The first act of violence recorded in the Bible, by implication, was God killing some animal in order to make skins with which to clothe Adam and Eve.

But before that came God’s clear warning to Adam,

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17 — emphasis mine)

In fact, the man did not die in the day he ate and yet he did die. Was the blood God shed on his behalf the reason Adam did not die at once?

We know because of what happened with Cain and Abel that sacrifice became a part of life and that apparently blood had to be shed.

But as with Abraham and his son Isaac, as with the people of Israel and the angel of death that passed over their homes, this killing of an animal was a means of saving human life.

God institutionalized animal sacrifices in the Mosaic Law, something the Christians of the first century understood.

And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Heb. 9:22)

With all this background, the commenter seems to be right — redemption is violent.

But that’s only the back end of the issue. Violence came into existence through Adam’s disobedience. Sacrifice is the means by which God stays His hand from meting out the deserved punishment.

In other words, from the beginning, sacrifice was an indication of God’s kindness and His desire for reconciliation despite Man’s waywardness.

In some respects one could say that God redeemed violence. Man brought on death by his disobedience, but like He does so often, God used the very thing that was so horrific, that looked like Defeat, and made it the instrument of Life.

Of course His ultimate act of redemption was taking on death Himself.

The commenter seems unaware that Jesus is God. His idea that our loving Father was doling out punishment to innocent Jesus as if He were a separate entity, a perfect man, an example of what we all can become, perhaps, shows the real problem in his understanding.

Here’s the truth about Jesus from Scripture:

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. (Col. 2:9)

God didn’t deliver the punishment to someone else. He took it on Himself. God punished God.

Hard to grasp, I know. Right up there with God praying to God and God seated at the right hand of God. Let’s face it. We cannot understand how our transcendent triune Creator “works.” We can’t take Him apart and see how He fits back together. He is beyond our scrutiny.

Which isn’t to say we can’t know Him and what He did for us — that act of stepping in and accepting the violence we deserve, taking it on Himself that we might be free of guilt and sin and death.

Christ’s act was the preeminent act of redemption because by His death He defeated death so that those who believe in Him now have Life. What was intended to be a crushing blow became a means to victory.

There’s so much more I could say about that one comment. How sad that such a person considers himself a Christian, and yet he doesn’t know or understand the One whose Name he’s chosen to identify with.

He’s missed the point that yes, the crucifixion was horrific — undoubtedly more so than the movie showed — but because of the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the pain and the shame.

The joy? Each of us who accepts His substitutionary work and is redeemed, we are His joy. What an amazing God we have!

Published in: on October 13, 2011 at 5:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fantasy Friday – More Thoughts On Violence

Day two of the recent CSFF Blog Tour, I dived into a discussion of violence in Christian fantasy. I made the case for the appropriateness of violence against evil, and therefore the appropriateness of violence in fantasy, since these are stories of good versus evil.

The problem is, those who are evil can be redeemed. Can’t they? Can’t we? I mean, if we truly believe that Mankind’s nature is wicked, not good, yet here the Christian stands, reconciled to God, not by what we do, but by what He did, shouldn’t our evil characters also have the chance to be redeemed?

Yes. Or no. Maybe both.

I know, I know, that’s not helpful. But here’s what I’m thinking. God offers forgiveness through His Son and some accept His mercy by repenting and believing on His name. Can Christian fantasy depict such a response to evil? Forgiveness and mercy instead of violence?

But that’s not the whole picture because not every person bows the knee to God when presented with the claims of Christ on his life. That person who rejects Jesus will one day face judgment. Violent judgment. To whitewash this outcome seems to me to play into the hands of false teachers who strip God of His role as the righteous Judge who will Himself cast rebels into a place of darkness and of gnashing teeth, of torment and burning fire.

Then there is Satan himself and his forces of evil — who apparently are locked into their rebellion. I don’t know how this works, but God has already spoken judgment against them. They just haven’t experienced it yet. These are the ones Ephesians 6:12 tells us we are fighting:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

I tend to think we Christians don’t get that, at least in Western culture. We tend to fight people who have sinful life styles and our government for passing laws that allow it. But in so doing, are we actually fighting the spiritual forces of wickedness?

Our armor is composed of truth, righteousness, the gospel, and salvation. Our shield is faith, and our weapons are the Word of God and prayer.

And then we do battle.

In fantasy, how is this battle depicted? Might it not be through the extended metaphor of physical battle?

Consequently, I see a definite place for violence in Christian fantasy. It might serve as a judgment on evil people or as a battle against the supernatural forces of evil. But there is one more use of violence I think might be appropriate.

Evil employs violence without cause. A mugger pistol-whips a victim after stealing her purse. A demon-possessed boy throws himself into the fire.

Sometimes a writer may show evil by showing violence. In that instance it should be heinous, revolting, unjust. Those are not pretty scenes, but they might be necessary.

Or are they? What do you think?

CSFF Blog Tour – Dragons of the Valley, Day 2

The tour for Donita Paul’s Dragons of the Valley continues. Before I get into the topic I want to discuss in conjunction with this book, I have some posts to recommend from other participants. First, Bruce Hennigan has the best article about the spiritual impact of the book. It falls into the “don’t miss” category.

Second, Sarah Sawyer follows her excellent first day post with a couple polls about the characters. Readers of the book should be sure to weigh in on these.

But best of all has to be Gillian Adams‘ radio interview with one of the tour participants’ favorite characters, Lady Peg. This is really hilarious, especially if you’ve read either The Vanishing Sculptor or Dragons of the Valley.

On to the topic of the day: violence in fantasy, in particular violence in Christian fantasy.

From time to time the question of violence comes up in connection with Christian fiction, but no one gives a good answer why we tolerate it.

When I first started writing The Lore of Efrathah, I came smack against the question of violence in my writing almost at once. I, who had been raised by pacifist parents, was now writing a story filled with physical conflicts. How could I justify such a thing?

Before I answer this question, let me connect my own experience to the book we are touring. All of Donita’s fantasies to this point — the DragonKeeper series and the two books in the Chiril Chronicles — have been “light fantasy.” One person on the tour called them epic fantasy, but I think it’s not quite that. The books are filled with humor and easy victories, some of them bloodless.

As the series have progressed, Donita, by her own admission and her son’s coaching, has worked on her fight scenes. And I thought those scenes were more realistic in Dragons of the Valley, which of course means, not as light and fun because people are injured and dying.

Still, Donita has a way of letting the reader know of the danger without dragging us through the blood. It’s one of the qualities, I think, that her fans may look for in her books. It’s what makes them appropriate for young readers as well as older fantasy fans.

And yet, violence happens. Not in the graphic way it does in The Lore of Efrathah, however.

Is it OK to depict graphic violence in Christian fantasy, or must all Christian writers (must I) take Donita’s approach?

Back to my own experience, I’ve come to believe that my dear aunt who gave me the encouragement to write early on, stopped reading my second book because of the violence. She even asked me once how I learned to write fight scenes.

I don’t know if I ever adequately explained this to her (she passed away last year), but here’s how I see the place of violence in Christian fantasy. As in all fantasy, the struggle between good and evil is the defining element. But for the Christian “good” and “evil” are often tropes for the spiritual struggle, the battle we wage in our hearts and the one being fought in the heavenlies.

In Donita’s stories, for example, The Grawl is not a real “person” but an imaginative creature Donita has invented — an evil creature to be sure. Is he “spiritual” or is he “human gone bad”? The author gets to decide.

I suggest that if he is “spiritual,” meaning that he is representative of the spiritual realm, killing him would be more than the right thing to do (not saying that’s what happened, mind you. No spoilers here, just hypothesizing).

Scripture uses a lot of “warfare” language for the Christian, so depicting warfare necessitates violence. But the Bible also says we don’t war against flesh and blood but against the spiritual.

I’m out of time but may say more about this later. For now, go read what others on the tour are saying. Enjoy.

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