Keith Brenton, editor of New Wineskins magazine, asked me for a contribution for this month’s issue on Violence and Vulnerability.
Here’s the article I sent him, which is on the magazine’s website today:
JESUS’ WAY DOESN’T WORK
Jesus’ way doesn’t work.
I thought we should clear that one up right off the bat. We live in a pragmatic society, that tends to judge things based on their practicality. Because of that, it’s worth repeating: Jesus’ way doesn’t work.
That goes for a lot of the things that Jesus said and did, but it especially goes for what Jesus taught about self-defense, revenge, and dealing with violent enemies.
It just doesn’t work.
Look at the facts. The way Jesus dealt with his enemies led him to a violent death. Of Jesus’ twelve closest followers ten were killed by their enemies, one committed suicide and only one died of old age (if traditional history can be believed).
Over the next few centuries, the church suffered ten periods of intense persecution. Christians were killed in horrible ways. There is little indication that they fought back or resisted the evils being enacted upon them.
For, you see, Jesus’ way doesn’t work.
According to the norms and standards of this world, Jesus’ way is a complete and utter failure. It offers little to no protection to its followers. It’s manner of dealing with evil men does little to dissuade them from their immoral deeds. It gives us no sense of vindication, no gratifying undoing of the wrongs of men.
By men’s standards, Jesus’ way doesn’t work.
That’s why so few would be willing to turn the other cheek, for example. They want turning the other cheek to stop the violent man in his tracks. They want submission to aggression to cause the aggressors to repent of their ways and begin to defend the innocent.
Turning the other cheek doesn’t work.
Loving enemies? Completely impractical. Do good to those that hate us? That will only make them take advantage of us all the more.
Jesus’ teachings do not fit in the real world.
When Jesus offered impractical teachings about money, Luke tells us that the Pharisees scoffed at him (Luke 16:14) Then Jesus said something that should make us stop and think: “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)
Just as Jesus’ way doesn’t fit the real world, the world’s way doesn’t fit Jesus’ kingdom. In the Kingdom of God, the world’s way doesn’t work.
In the Book of Revelation, we find God’s people in the Roman province of Asia struggling to know how to deal with an evil ruler. This wasn’t a question of high taxes, oppressive legislation or immoral practices. Christians had been killed, and all evidence suggested that more would be killed. How should the church respond?
One option was to flee. The Apostle Paul fled danger on more than one occasion (Acts 9:25, 30); it was possible that God wanted his people to emigrate to an area more tolerant of their religious views.
Or maybe they should fight. Gideon and three hundred men had defeated a foe that couldn’t be counted. If God wanted his people to fight, numbers wouldn’t matter. Maybe God wanted them to take up swords and punish the evildoers around them.
God sends an angel with a message for his church: the Book of Revelation. And the instructions of that book were to reject both of the above options.
In Chapter 5, John is before God’s throne. God holds a sealed scroll, one that no one is worthy of opening. Then John is told that the Lion of the Tribe of Judah is able to open the scroll.
What happens next redefines everything. It tells us how to read Revelation. It tells us how to understand the Old Testament in terms of the cross. It tells us how to respond to the evil in the world around us.
Turning to see the Lion of Judah, John sees “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” We can’t overstate the importance of this. The Conquering King, the heir of David, the awaited Messiah is a Lamb, not a Lion. Not only is he a Lamb, but he’s a slain Lamb.
In case we miss the significance of this, John spells it out for us by quoting a heavenly chorus: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:9)
Jesus is worthy because he was slain. He is the faithful witness (Revelation 1:5) because he held true to his identity all the way to the cross… and beyond. He can call his followers to “patient endurance” (Revelation 1:9; 13:10; 14:12) because he has already walked that path.
“If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.” (Revelation 13:10)
The church heard Jesus’ message. They didn’t run away. They didn’t fight. They endured patiently. For more than two hundred years. They suffered. They died. They loved their enemies and prayed for them. They turned the other cheek. And they were killed for it.
Because Jesus’ way doesn’t work. It doesn’t protect your from suffering. It doesn’t protect you from death. (well, not immediately) It doesn’t bring your enemies to their knees. It doesn’t protect the weak nor avenge the innocent. In the eyes of the world, Jesus’ way is a complete failure.
If you’re looking for something that works, don’t look to Jesus’ teachings. But remember one thing: if you choose what makes sense to men, you’re choosing something that God despises. If your views line up with the views of your non-Christian neighbor, you’re probably not using God’s values. If your outlook is that of the Democrats or the Republicans or the Tea Partiers or NPR or the NRA, then you’re probably not following Jesus’ way.
Which is just as well. Jesus’ way doesn’t work.