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On Justice

Every Wednesday in my neck of the woods, a handful of guys get together to talk and pray about God, life, work, marriage, and whatever else happens to come up before breakfast.  One member of our group is a lawyer, and today we got on to the topic of justice and the irregular and inconsistent nature of its application in the Canadian system.  To cite just one example (among a handful we talked about), there were back to back court cases where hunting an animal out of season resulted in a (much) more severe punishment than a clear cut case of spousal abuse.  Amazing.

At one point in the conversation, someone remarked that it was a wonder that there weren’t more instances of vigilante justice given the lamentable state of affairs in the criminal justice system.  Indeed.  It is extremely difficult to hear stories of horrific abuse and violence (this one is on many minds around here) and not have some sympathy for this view.  So often the system seems designed to protect the offender rather than the victim.  Justice is only ever partially served, if it is served at all, and it can be difficult not to feel angry and vindictive when this reality is brought into stark view.

Not surprisingly, these feelings bump up pretty uncomfortably against my Anabaptist convictions that we are to emulate Christ in loving and praying for our enemies and refusing to resort to violence.  Even when everything within me screams “eye for eye,” I hear another voice saying “do not resist an evil person.”  This voice isn’t always easy to hear, much less obey, but as a follower of Jesus I have to believe that this voice trumps my own desire to see vengeance and retribution here and now.  I have to believe that divine justice is real, that is better and more reliable than anything we can come up with, and that it can justify and ground the command to not retaliate.  But it sure is easy to say that when it’s not my daughter, or my wife that is the victim of violent crime…

I was thinking of these matters this morning while leafing through Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion & Embrace.  Volf does a good job, I think, of simultaneously offering a compelling argument for human nonviolence and grounding this response in belief in belief in a God who is both good and just (as opposed to saying, for example, that we ought to be nonviolent because God is nonviolent).  This passage, in particular, leaped off the page as I continue to mull over an interesting morning:

If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence—that God would not be worthy of worship…. The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God…. My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many… in the West…. [But] it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence [results from the belief in] God’s refusal to judge.  In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die… [with] other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.

43 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ruth BB #

    Help me out Ryan… I resonate with this posting and the first 2/3 of your Volf quote but I got lost here:

    [But] it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence [results from the belief in] God’s refusal to judge. In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die… [with] other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.

    Please explain. (And thanks in advance.)

    April 6, 2011
    • Ah, well, you see that’s what happens when I string together loosely connected passages in order to keep a quote manageable and (more importantly) confined to my own interests, and where large sections of context are conveniently obliterated by a little elipsis :).

      The section you identified comes in the context of a discussion of whether or not violence is unworthy of God, or if divine violence is inherently immoral. Volf is addressing the claim that we ought not to impugn a God of love and grace with nasty concepts like violence and judgment. A tolerant God who accepts and doesn’t judge is of no use to us and, more importantly, is unworthy of worship—this is the basic context for the last part of the quote. I think Volf’s own experience as a Croatian observer of the atrocities in the Balkan War is also behind the last part of the quote. I read him as saying that it is relatively easy to say that God is all love and tolerance and acceptance from a position of comfort and lack of direct exposure to horrific evil. Or something like that.

      At any rate, I hope that’s somewhat helpful (if not, feel free to say so!). The quote as I have assembled it certainly does read a bit ragged. Thanks for noticing and for pushing back a bit.

      April 6, 2011
  2. Mary Anne Isaak #

    As an Anabaptist, I find your post both truthful and challenging. Personally, I cringe when I hear rhetoric that unconsciously follows a theology of a violent God — since God uses violence to bring about salvation, we also can use violence to redeem evil situations. Sometimes it seems that we have only two choices: 1) God and God’s people both use violence to move toward justice OR 2) God and God’s people both use non-violence to move toward justice.

    You and Volf have pointed to a third way. God can use violence and therefore God’s people can be non-violent. And a third way is very Anabaptist. Thanks for the food for thought.

    April 6, 2011
    • I cringe at such rhetoric, too… And I very much like the idea of a third way, even if it can leave some tensions uncomfortably unresolved. Thanks Mary Anne.

      April 6, 2011
  3. LarryS #

    The first two clauses seem to be quite the categorical unsupported statement of this sentence: “Justice is only ever partially served, if it is served at all, and it can be difficult not to feel angry and vindictive when this reality is brought into stark view.” I’d be interested in knowing the field of law your lawyer friend serves. Is he in criminal law (Crown or Defense) or family or what? When people whine about the sorry state of the criminal justice system (CJS) I say our current system is not without its flaws but do we want to be living in a country where the police can just kick in the door? In my experience, the Crown is overworked, stressed and close to burnout, police ditto and the Ministry of Children/Family is stressed beyond belief. I have police friends WILLING TO TAKE BULLET to protect civilians. And speak to people everyday who are working hard within the system to keep people safe.

    Could not a text such as Rom-13 help us to see that the arm of government justice is God’s justice played out in some way? For example: a policeman uses deadly force to stop someone from harming another person. Where I’ve come in my journey on this question is seeing that “the system” can be used to stop evil – and this is a good thing. And here, I buy into the argument of Dr. Stackhouse in Making the Best of It.

    April 6, 2011
    • My friend is in criminal law (Crown), and he certainly tells tales of overwork, stress, burnout, etc… I wouldn’t say that there was much “whining” going on this morning, just some honest discussion about the weaknesses of the system (as well as some of the strengths). I don’t think anyone present was saying that “the system” is hopeless or useless or anything like that, but hearing some of what goes on in the courthouse certainly opens your eyes.

      Romans 13 is certainly a relevant, if confusing, text here. I confess that this is a passage that I’ve often wrestled with, without much fruit. It can’t mean that every government is instituted by God and that we are always to be subject. Tell that to Bonhoeffer. Or any other number of people who have courageously resisted evil governments around the world. For plenty of people, “doing right” is precisely the reason the government is a source of terror because they do” bear the sword for no [good] reason. The idea of government restraining evil by force is certainly not something I would want to do away with, but what about when it is the government’s evil that needs to be restrained?

      But now I’m rambling (and probably drifting from the topic at hand)….

      April 6, 2011
      • LarryS #

        So to your sentence which I’ve quoted above, I do believe there are times when justice is served. Take a case of domestic violence (dv). A guy gets convicted of dv – doesn’t go to jail, takes some programming and learns how to live with his intimate partner w/out violence. He doesn’t lose his job (family is still supported), he learns to deescalate and perhaps a family remains intact. Sure there are lots of times when people walk – but we work within the system trying to get it to work. Since your friend is Crown ask him about “the Lee case.” The System is still implementing change based on that tragic ‘case.’

        So how is this: rather than becoming vigilantes we ask for justice within “the system.” The times the system fails (and it will) we have to wait for God’s justice and his time. In this regard I am reminded of the Godfather movie where the aged Don dies in the garden playing with his grandson. Someone like the Don faces God’s justice (queue the hell and judgment thread).

        RE: Evil governments. I think Bonheoffer provides an excellent case-study to push the Anabaptist view. I believe Bonheoffer, knowing what he did, and having worked within the system did the right thing. I believe the pure Anabaptist system fails because we typically do not work within the system. And by working within the system, I include policing using deadly force. However, I draw the line at serving within the military and realize that I can be accused of being wildly inconsistent.

        April 6, 2011
      • So how is this: rather than becoming vigilantes we ask for justice within “the system.” The times the system fails (and it will) we have to wait for God’s justice and his time.

        I have no quarrel with this statement. I might add something to the effect of, “and work to improve the system,” but it strikes me as a good approach (and very “Stackhouse-ian”—can I make that a word :)?).

        You’re right—Bonhoeffer does push the Anabaptist perspective in some intriguing ways. That’s probably a whole side issue, though (certainly worth discussing). I only brought him up here in the context of your mention of Romans 13.

        It seems to me using this passage to legitimate state-sanctioned violence is problematic on a number of levels, not least being when it is the state that is perpetrating the evil that needs to be restrained. It seems to leave us in the position of saying that lethal force is permissible only when it comes through the appropriate channels except when the appropriate channels are inappropriate. Which isn’t very helpful.

        April 6, 2011
      • Tyler Brown #

        “So how is this: rather than becoming vigilantes we ask for justice within “the system.”

        Asking for justice within the system may can never address systemic injustices produced by the system.

        “The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God”

        Is it though? If it comes from God does that it make it just? Or does God only act justly? Violence can come from not acting… from silence. If a person (or being) willfully ignores opportunities to intervene are they not partially responsible?

        April 6, 2011
      • LarryS #

        Ryan, I like your added tweak: “and work to improve the system”

        Regarding Rom 13 you wondered: “It seems to me using this passage to legitimate state-sanctioned violence is problematic on a number of levels, not least being when it is the state that is perpetrating the evil that needs to be restrained. It seems to leave us in the position of saying that lethal force is permissible only when it comes through the appropriate channels except when the appropriate channels are inappropriate. Which isn’t very helpful.”

        How’s this? Paul’s intent in Romans-13 appears to be the need to preserve good order (which on other topics such as gender relations is why he tells his converts not to rock the boat). If you go meta-narrative, we could reach back to the Genesis theme of “order out of chaos” and track that theme through the Hebrew Scriptures and into the NT. In our present system (and I like what you wrote a bit ago about biographical theologizing – so true) we work within a flawed but certainly not totally evil system. When we hit a system such as Bonheoffer’s (the Nazi had their own notion of what constitutes good order) we follow his example.

        Tyler commented on systemic changes and appeared to argue that they could only occur from outside the structure. Maybe so, however I don’t concern myself with trying to make systemic changes. Rather, I am like the guy at the sea shore who picked up a star-fish from the sandy beach and threw it back into the ocean. Someone asked him what difference helping one star-fish could possible make? He replied, “It made a difference to the one I threw back”

        April 7, 2011
      • I like the meta-narrative/order out of chaos theme, Larry, and I do think that our only option is to do what good we can within a flawed, but not totally evil system. I still wish Paul had written Romans 13 differently… Read at face value, it seems to be a blanket endorsement of whoever happens to hold power—which clearly is at odds with other parts of Scripture.

        I also like the starfish analogy—hope in small doses :).

        April 7, 2011
      • Ken #

        Larry,

        Have you read Loren Eiseley’s essay, The Star Thrower?

        April 7, 2011
      • Larry S #

        http://www.webtree.ca/inspiration/thestarthrower.html

        I have now 🙂

        But it looks like a poem or a parable.

        I must have read it years ago, or heard it, or heard some version of it. Prior to your question I had never heard of Eiseley.

        When i read your question, I was worried that you were going to add a long book to my ‘must read’ list. so i was quite happy to see it was short. and i was happy that I had gotten the story basically straight after all these years. That illustrates the power of parable and gives us even more reason to trust the veracity of the Gospel narratives. Cause if I can remember a piffy little story, it seems reasonable that people in an oral story telling culture remembers the life of Jesus (but I digress from the topic of Justice).

        April 7, 2011
      • Ken #

        Larry, your allusion to a man throwing a starfish back into the ocean just made me wonder if you had read Loren Eiseley. He is one of my favorite writers. The version you found appears to be an adapted version by someone who appears to have altered the story to make a point that Eiseley did not make. Eiseley’s essay concerns science, ecology and humanity. It is a concern beyond justice. It is religious, perhaps, but not in the traditional Christian sense. It is about love, about the web of life, not justice.

        April 8, 2011
      • Tyler Brown #

        “Tyler commented on systemic changes and appeared to argue that they could only occur from outside the structure. Maybe so, however I don’t concern myself with trying to make systemic changes. Rather, I am like the guy at the sea shore who picked up a star-fish from the sandy beach and threw it back into the ocean. Someone asked him what difference helping one star-fish could possible make? He replied, “It made a difference to the one I threw back””

        The problem here is that ocean is indifferent, the waves of certain political and economic paradigms are not. So to disregard concern for systemic problems and ways in which one as an individual can contribute to change them is indirect support for them. It is to claim victories where there is none.

        April 18, 2011
      • larry s #

        Tyler, I think I get where you are coming from. I agree that there are agendas out there. However, I disagree with your last sentence.

        Please know that I was writing very personally. At my seasoned age, the days where I charge off like Don Quixote after windmills has long past. The “victories” I claim are very small and modest but people are helped nonetheless.

        April 18, 2011
      • Tyler #

        Hey Larry,

        My deepest apologies if the last sentence came across as harsh. In actuality I have a lot admiration and respect for those that do help individuals – which is something I strive to cultivate as well.

        My only concern is that (myself included) it is so easy to focus on the task in front of us that we may fail to notice the advances of larger forces that outweigh the small difference we make as individuals. The danger being here is that we take glee in the small victory we won and believe things are getting better.

        April 19, 2011
      • Larry S #

        thanks for your clarification Tyler

        Perhaps “victory” isn’t the best term. Sometimes, I see people making healthier choices and am encouraged. The times I have come close to feeling some glee is when I’ve been able to keep a child or woman safe by helping to get a bad guy arrested.

        Your comment about indirect support of the System bears some thought. I see many 1st Nations and mentally ill people on my caseload. The way I navigate my “indirect support” of the System is by trying to treat everyone with dignity / respect. And truth be told there are some very dangerous people in every people group or category that need external control.

        April 20, 2011
  4. Gordon Koppang #

    Recourse to violence is always a moral failing; it is a symptom of a mind in darkness. How sad to see this limitation attributed to God.

    The Hebrew word for justice means “to make peace”. How can “sanctified violence” or vengeance be a means to peace? As Dr. Martin Luther King tried to teach us, “peace can only be achieved by peaceful means. Peace is both the end and the means by which the end is achieved.”

    It is important to escape the “pleasant captivities of the liberal mind”, but even more important to escape the captivities of the theistic mind.

    Cheers,

    Gordon

    April 6, 2011
    • If I’m not mistaken, there are at least two Hebrew words that are translated as “justice” in Scripture (mishpat, tzedekah), and neither one is quite as simple as “to make peace.” I think making peace is certainly part of biblical justice, but also concepts like fairness, equity, and charity are part of the package as well.

      Incidentally, I’m curious what you mean by this:

      even more important to escape the captivities of the theistic mind.

      Just wondering…

      April 7, 2011
      • Gordon Koppang #

        When I equated justice with peace, I was thinking of the idea that there can be no justice without reconciliation. In his marvellous series, “Justice as Sanctuary” David Cayley introduced his audience to the work of Dutch criminologist and poet Herman Bianchi. Cayley wrote:

        Justice was classically defined by Aristotle as “giving everyone his due.” Thomas Aquinas repeated the same definition in the Middle Ages, as did Kant and Hegal in the modern period. All agreed that justice consists in answering a wrong with the retribution due to it. But what is a criminal’s due, and in what sense does prison time actually correspond to the injury it ostensibly answers?

        Retribution, answering injury with injury, balances the scales of justice but it does not bring peace or reconciliation. Herman Bianchi rejects the image of justice as a scales. He advocates instead for Tsedaka – an endless, never fully achieved, reaching after peace and reconciliation.

        Bianchi points out that the notion that payback (“recompense”) belongs to the Lord (Deut.32:35; Rom. 12:19) is based on a mistranslation of the Hebrew word hishlim. Bianchi put it this way: “So the Lord in Heaven does not say ‘I shall retribute.’ No, He says, ‘I’ll make peace.’”

        As for “the captivities of the theistic mind” – its difficult to know where to begin. When I was a child, I was taught that idolatry meant, “Putting anything before God” or. “Having anything in your life that was more important to you than God.” Rubbish! The essence of idolatry is to mistake an image of God for the reality of God (hence the prohibition of “graven” or carved images). What theists utterly miss is that idolatrous images are cast as easily in words as in bronze. The biblical characters (note the plural) variously called “God” or “the Lord” are not God. They are characterizations of that which cannot, finally, be characterized (claims of inspiration and revelation notwithstanding). No biblical image of God (creator, father, judge, etc) corresponds exactly or concretely with the reality of God. All words about God, all images of God, are best thought of as provisional – we use them for want of better images and better words. Understanding that language is provisional may keep us from slipping into the mistaken belief that God is a father or that God is a judge.

        I should disclose that I am not a theist. And let me be perfectly clear: since I am well and truly done with theism, I am – by definition – well and truly done with atheism. Theism and atheism are two sides of one coin. Put simply, I came to believe that the non-theistic philosophers (Lao-tzu especially) got nearer the truth than the theistic philosophers did. To put it another way, I came to believe that YHVH, “that which causes everything to exist,” is not finally personal, not finally a god; not, finally, a separate and particular being who does things.

        GK

        April 7, 2011
      • I hope that nothing I have written here would give the impression that I advocate just throwing people in prison or that I am against peace and reconciliation. Far from it! I think that as followers of the gospel of peace, these, not vengeance or retribution, ought always to be our aims.

        Re: “the captivities of the theistic mind,” I’m not quite sure what to make of what you say. It’s almost as if you think that to speak about God in concrete terms is idolatrous by definition (of course, to say that God “is not finally personal, not finally a god; not, finally, a separate and particular being who does things” is also to say something concrete about God and presumably, therefore, idolatrous…). As an Anabaptist, your approach seems odd to me, because my conviction is that God has manifested himself to us in concrete terms, namely, Jesus of Nazareth (the “image of the invisible God,” “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,” etc… Col. 1:15-20). Of course, if all language of God is provisional and used for want of better images and words in your view, this would include Paul’s language here, and would preclude it from being in any way authoritative. I wonder, though, how we would know when we arrived at the “better” images and words, and what criteria these words and images would be evaluated according to?

        At any rate, interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

        April 8, 2011
  5. This is in response to Tyler’s comment above (I thought it was getting cluttered up there, and that this might take the thread in a new direction):

    Regarding only divine violence being legitimate, Tyler said:

    Is it though? If it comes from God does that it make it just? Or does God only act justly? Violence can come from not acting… from silence. If a person (or being) willfully ignores opportunities to intervene are they not partially responsible?

    Good questions, these… In very general terms, I would say that the view that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God is primarily eschatological in nature (as opposed, for example, to affirming every instance where God is described or invoked as a justification for violence!). In a sense, it is saying that we refrain from acting violently in the present in the hope/faith/expectation that whatever violence comes along with divine judgment will be just. In that sense, the view is, as you say, that only God acts justly. It’s almost axiomatic. But that’s just a general comment…

    Re: the violence of inaction, this one is much tougher to answer (at least in my view). I agree, to refrain from acting when one could prevent evil is to participate in violence. From our perspective, this seems clear. Does it also apply to God? Is God’s failure to prevent an earthquake in Japan a form of violence against the Japanese people? I don’t know… I suppose I would appeal to the ontological gap between God and humanity (i.e., God could have reasons for allowing evil that we do not have the capacity to appreciate or understand), but this doesn’t seem entirely adequate or rationally satisfying. I’d be curious to hear what others think about this one.

    April 7, 2011
  6. Ryan, once again you have posted material that generates an interesting and instructive discussion; I always appreciate both the tone and content of the voices that appear. I have a question, for you and Volf, because I only have the quote to go on: does God’s justice/God’s divine vengeance, certainly biblical, necessarily equate to God’s violence? They seem to be used almost as synonyms, or? Isn’t God’s work of reconciliation on the cross profoundly non-violent? Could we not believe that justice is possible without violence?

    I’d also like to throw in a comment about Bonhoeffer. I think we need to be discerning of what he did. He went against his own teachings; and the “plot” may have done more harm than good in terms of outcome. Should we not rather turn for our lessons on that horrible period of history to the failure of the German Church to resist the Nazi philosophy and Hitler politics right from the get-go? I see a double failure there, both Bonhoeffer and the church.

    April 8, 2011
    • Thanks for the good questions, Dora. It can certainly be a hazardous (or at least confusing) thing to post context-free quotes…

      Re: violence being synonymous with justice/divine vengeance, I think in this book Volf is operating with a fairly broad understanding of the word “violence.” As the title suggests, there is a kind of violence that can be understood to be part of exclusion. To exclude is, in a sense, a form of violence. The Christian conception of a God who judges—the embrace of some and the exclusion of others—seems to entail some kind of violence, broadly understood. I’m not sure if we could say that justice is possible without violence… At the very least, justice seems to have required that God himself suffer violence, whatever we make of how things will be made right in the end.

      Re: Bonhoeffer, like Larry I absolutely think that the German church should have resisted the Nazis. The fact that Bonhoeffer even attempted what he did was very obviously the result of a massive failure on the part of the German church (and Bonhoeffer clearly saw it in this light).

      But in the context of Romans 13, I think this just transfers the difficulties we’ve been discussing from the individual (Bonhoeffer) to the group (German church). In both cases, responsible Christian action would have meant not being “subject to governing authorities,” at least in some sense. If the German church would have stood up to Hitler, it would have been “rebelling against what God has instituted,” according to Paul in this passage.

      It’s been a while since I’ve studied Bonhoeffer, but if I recall correctly he seemed very clearly to have understood his actions against Hitler as being necessitated by truly (and horribly!) unique circumstances. His approach to the governing authorities may have mirrored his understanding of pacifism—in both cases, he was convinced of the truth of something in principle, but felt that the exceptional circumstances he was faced with necessitated going against his principles. His views are very complex, though, and I don’t want to make it sound like I understand them comprehensively.

      April 8, 2011
  7. Larry S #

    Dora, I completely agree with you that the Church should have resisted Nazi/Hitler philosophy way earlier.

    Interesting take on the failed plot. I certainly don’t see Bonhoeffer as a failure. Sure the plot failed but at least the German people can point to the attempt knowing that at least some people from within the system (no doubt with mixed motives and all that) tried to do the right thing.

    April 8, 2011
    • James #

      Dora, in this aspect of her comment tracks much closer to my own understanding of Biblical non-resistance. Violence in response to evil is not an option Kingdom people. In the Mennonite history during the 1920s and 30s in Russia there are many stories of justifiable violent responses to evil. Those who kept this view of the Kingdom of God refused violence. Many however chose traditional defences with greater and less effectiveness.
      One caveat however. While the above story has ample illustrations of possibly greater evil resulting from violent self-defence, I think that this appeal, though tempting must be approached cautiously. What if greater good is accomplished by violence? Does it then become right? The usual answer is, no.
      I tend to agree with Dora’s view that, for all my sympathy for him, Bonhoeffer’s story illustrates a double failure.

      April 8, 2011
  8. Larry S #

    Anabaptism sits outside the system and critiques Bonhoeffer’s actions. I’m reading James as saying that even when greater good is accomplished through violence the usual Anabaptist answer is still no. I immediately went from thinking about macro issues (taking down a dictator) to restraining evil on the street (a police officer to stop someone from killing an innocent). Would the usual Anabaptist answer still be no?

    Here Ryan’s comment about doing biographical theologizing helped me understand my journey. (i understand that phrase to mean that life experiences impacts and can change our theology.) At times violence or the threat of violence is necessary and is better than doing nothing. Do I have to hand in my Anabaptist card?

    April 8, 2011
    • James #

      Whatever you do, don’t turn in your Anabaptist card on basis of this discussion. This is also an inter Anabaptist debate.
      A couple of points-
      1. The Anabaptists I referred to lived in the system and demonstrated the implications of their convictions. We have the gift of their stories.
      2. I don’t think that the Kingdom of God is ultimately about pragmatism. That’s not to say that there aren’t benefits to morality but my understanding of morality is that it originates outside the created order.

      April 8, 2011
      • Ken #

        James,

        Re: #1 Where might I be able to read the stories?

        Re: #2 Fascinating. I would like to learn more about this: “my understanding of morality is that it originates outside the created order.” What might I read?

        April 9, 2011
      • James #

        Hi Ken
        Regarding the stories- most of the most powerful are part of our oral and journal tradition. Some time ago a very powerful film documentary was done called, “And When They Shall Ask.” I suspect that it may not be that accessible. If Dora reads this, however she would be able to direct you to stories that are easily accessible. The tradition that our denomination is part of was from a portion of the Anabaptism world that moved from the Dutch regions in the 1500 to what is modern Poland to Russia in the late 1700. The events of the Russian revolution are the stories that made up my childhood.

        Regarding- morality having its origin outside the created order, it is my understanding that this follows from the belief that morality has it origin in God and the God of the Bible is the Creator and not creation. That could, of course, resurrect our pantheist debate 🙂

        Regarding morality coming from outside the created order- I believe that

        April 9, 2011
      • James #

        Another edit issue above 🙂 Disregard the last sentence fragment.

        April 9, 2011
      • Ken #

        Thanks, James, I imagine the stories are quite wonderful.

        April 9, 2011
  9. Paul Johnston #

    Is God’s failure to prevent an earthquake in Japan a form of violence against the Japanese people?…

    No, it is the kingdom of God among us…we do not know the day or the hour…

    For the dead may they be made worthy of eternal life with God. Through purgatory, through our prayers. Death was, in the end, Christ’s glory? Why can’t it be that way for everybody else?

    For the living it is a call to conversion.

    April 9, 2011
  10. Paul Johnston #

    Does God get angry?

    Anger, at least as I experience it, is born more out of a sense of helplessness. While I’d be lying if I said I was without pride, I don’t take offense to personal slight like I used to in my youth. (a) I’ve understood for sometime now that yes my shit does really stink and (b) everybody needs a mulligan, we all have bad days and bad moments. I’m really open to forgiving people theirs, hoping also they’ll be willing to forgive mine. What makes me angry is when circumstances are perpetuating harm and ill will and I can’t think of anything useful to do or counsel in response. Or worse still the choices I’m making, rather than helping, seem only to be making matters worse.

    But that’s me. God’s not helpless. Why should God get angry? Surely God is beyond pride? Anger seems so base to me, so primitive. Instinctual.

    Love is counterintuitive. Darwinism turned on it’s head. God seems so real to me precisely because he calls me to be something more than my senses tell me I am.

    I’m rambling again….this much I know, anger has only impoverished me. For all the times I’ve indulged in it, I don’t think it’s ever helped me. Not even once.

    I can’t believe anger is from God.

    April 10, 2011
    • It’s hard to read Scripture (the minor prophets, for example) and not get the sense that sin and injustice angers God. God’s anger is, presumably, not tainted by the sins and mixed motives and inadequacies that ours is (as you rightly say), but there is a righteous anger portrayed throughout Scripture that is tough to ignore—and for which I am thankful!

      April 10, 2011
      • Paul Johnston #

        Yes, it is as you say, Scripture’s presentation of righteous anger is tough to ignore. Impossible really. And yet I find it hard to accept that anger is a right component of justice. It certainly seems to poison human expressions.

        April 10, 2011
      • Ken #

        A liberal God does not become angry, has no anger, not even righteous anger, only compassion. The liberal messiah does not come drenched in blood. The liberal messiah is too calm, too peaceful, too serene for that. (Clearly, this is not the Biblical God, the God of our ancestors, as Schweitzer wrote a century ago.)

        Volf’s thesis is wrong. The liberal God inspires peace, more peace than the world has ever known.

        April 11, 2011
  11. Paul Johnston #

    Ken couldn’t Jesus come drenched in blood? He bears all our inequities. We drench the world in blood.

    Maybe God’s perfect justice will demand a response that, to the human heart, looks a lot like anger and wrath but isn’t. Personally I respond better to the image of a heartbroken Father holding us justly accountable for deliberately wrong action.

    I think I do share with you a serious mistrust of those who are quick to assert God’s righteous anger. From the crusades through the inquisitions, the wars of Christian separation to modern day jihad, human understandings of God’s anger and their part in it, have had poisonous effect.

    Better we pray for justice, not wrath.

    April 11, 2011
    • Ken #

      One way that people have dealt with that image in Revelation is to say that it is the blood from his sacrificial death, or that it is the blood of the new covenant. In its original context, it appears more likely that it is the blood of the enemies of God, of Edom. That would be the prophecy that is fulfilled. It is an image of the Day of the Lord, of which the prophets spoke and of which Jesus described as imminent in the gospels, coming soon, like a thief in the night.

      The liberal Jesus does not come drenched in blood of any kind. No wrath. No judgement. No justice. Instead: Peace. Love. Mercy. Of course, the liberal Jesus did not really rise from the dead and is not really coming back either.

      April 11, 2011
  12. Paul Johnston #

    Yes, the blood of the new covenant….”it will be shed for you and for all men so that sins may be forgiven”..that is how I understand it.

    Ken, if no parousia, then what?

    For the record, I struggle with thinking of God’s justice as being anything other than restorative in intention.

    April 11, 2011
    • Ken #

      No parousia, then what? Pantheism or pan-entheism. No parousia, but incarnation and everlasting creation. Teilhard de Chardin is a beautiful example of such theology in the Roman Catholic tradition.

      Restorative justice: in the Bible, justice, or judgement, or judging, all involve restoration. You are on solid ground there, biblically or liberally. Chardin writes of the restoration as increasing unity with Christ.

      April 11, 2011
  13. Paul Johnston #

    Yes, I suspect an everlasting creation also. But not one that would elevate the process above the processor. I just read a little bit about Chardin on line. Apparently his views or at least some of them anyway, are gaining audience within the magisterium.

    April 11, 2011

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