The Myth of Redemptive Violence


Humans have always believed in the power of violence to bring peace. We believe in violence to bring security, to protect a family or to save a nation. Historically and today violence is justified to preserve God’s people and God’s perceived will. In simple terms, we justify killing the bad guys to save the good guys. This is the myth of redemptive violence.


Jesus grew up in a world that perpetuated the myth. Each year his tribe remembered the killing of the firstborn of all Egypt so that the “chosen” people would be free. They also justified the conquest of the “promised land” which meant destroying cities, killing other tribes and stealing the land; and celebrated this as the perceived will and work of God. The other tribes in the region had similar stories about their Gods and the violence they had done. The myth perpetuated cycles of violence and warfare.


It was the myth that also said God was judgmental and vengeful. Sins had to be paid for in blood, and each year hundreds of animals were brought to the temple to be sacrificed on the altar with the hope of appeasing a vengeful God.


The myth is also alive and well today. We grow up with story lines such as the Lion King, Spiderman, 24, Star Wars and so on. All of them justify violence when there is a threat. Our children will watch thousands of hours of TV and thousands of killings. Most all will be bad guys killing good guys and then good guys killing bad guys so we can all cheer.


The myth also gave us permission to kill native peoples here and steal their land. It gives us permission to beat up the bully, hit our own kids so they behave, keep a loaded gun under our bed, and go to war with questionable justification. The myth says an eye for an eye is the only way to gain respect and to resolve conflict. It is what perpetuates conflict between Christians and Muslims and is the starting point for our national defense. So, the cycles of violence continue. We kill people for killing people to show everyone that its not OK to kill people.


Jesus shows us a different way. He reveals a God who is loving, compassionate, forgiving and intimate rather than distant, vengeful and demanding of blood sacrifice for the redemption of sins. He directs us to love our enemies, reconcile our conflicts and even turn the other cheek when needed.


In the Jesus movement there is no longer Jew or Greek, clean or unclean, righteous or sinners. The division between “us” and our “enemies” is dismantled and he calls us to see the value and worth of each person and tribe as a child of God. Jesus breaks through the fallacy of redemptive violence and gives us a way to live that is stronger and deeper and says that this is really the will and reign of God.


This radical vision of non-violence was too threatening and Jesus himself became the villain. He challenged the authority of leaders and broke the purity codes to cross boundaries of humanity. The common people supported him but later turned on him when he didn’t develop into the warrior king who would break the enemy.


Finally it was agreed to kill Jesus so peace would be restored. The law would be upheld and God would be happy. It was the only way to redeem the situation.


Jesus, however, was showing us how to be differently human and he didn’t fight back. He took the betrayal, abuse and violence and instead of seeking vengeance he prayed for his friends and for his enemies. By choosing to die, rather than retaliate, he dismantled the power of redemptive violence. He died in the process, but in his own death the violence was broken and his mission and vision live on. His death is an invitation for us to follow in his path and to break the cycles of violence that permeate our life and to replace them with indestructible love.


On Easter Sunday the tomb was open. The powers of violence did not have the last say. God pronounced to the world that the power of life and love do indeed overcome hatred, fear and violence. It was God’s love refusing to be dead and pouring out for all the world. Christians are called into this new way of being human called the Reign of God, knowing that we are fully loved and knowing that this path will ultimately lead to life.


Humans have always believed in the power of violence to bring peace. We believe in violence to bring security, to protect a family or to save a nation. Historically and today violence is justified to preserve God’s people and God’s perceived will. In simple terms, we justify killing the bad guys to save the good guys. This is the myth of redemptive violence.


Jesus grew up in a world that perpetuated the myth. Each year his tribe remembered the killing of the firstborn of all Egypt so that the “chosen” people would be free. They also justified the conquest of the “promised land” which meant destroying cities, killing other tribes and stealing the land; and celebrated this as the perceived will and work of God. The other tribes in the region had similar stories about their Gods and the violence they had done. The myth perpetuated cycles of violence and warfare.


It was the myth that also said God was judgmental and vengeful. Sins had to be paid for in blood, and each year hundreds of animals were brought to the temple to be sacrificed on the altar with the hope of appeasing a vengeful God.


The myth is also alive and well today. We grow up with story lines such as the Lion King, Spiderman, 24, Star Wars and so on. All of them justify violence when there is a threat. Our children will watch thousands of hours of TV and thousands of killings. Most all will be bad guys killing good guys and then good guys killing bad guys so we can all cheer.


The myth also gave us permission to kill native peoples here and steal their land. It gives us permission to beat up the bully, hit our own kids so they behave, keep a loaded gun under our bed, and go to war with questionable justification. The myth says an eye for an eye is the only way to gain respect and to resolve conflict. It is what perpetuates conflict between Christians and Muslims and is the starting point for our national defense. So, the cycles of violence continue. We kill people for killing people to show everyone that its not OK to kill people.


Jesus shows us a different way. He reveals a God who is loving, compassionate, forgiving and intimate rather than distant, vengeful and demanding of blood sacrifice for the redemption of sins. He directs us to love our enemies, reconcile our conflicts and even turn the other cheek when needed.


In the Jesus movement there is no longer Jew or Greek, clean or unclean, righteous or sinners. The division between “us” and our “enemies” is dismantled and he calls us to see the value and worth of each person and tribe as a child of God. Jesus breaks through the fallacy of redemptive violence and gives us a way to live that is stronger and deeper and says that this is really the will and reign of God.


This radical vision of non-violence was too threatening and Jesus himself became the villain. He challenged the authority of leaders and broke the purity codes to cross boundaries of humanity. The common people supported him but later turned on him when he didn’t develop into the warrior king who would break the enemy.


Finally it was agreed to kill Jesus so peace would be restored. The law would be upheld and God would be happy. It was the only way to redeem the situation.


Jesus, however, was showing us how to be differently human and he didn’t fight back. He took the betrayal, abuse and violence and instead of seeking vengeance he prayed for his friends and for his enemies. By choosing to die, rather than retaliate, he dismantled the power of redemptive violence. He died in the process, but in his own death the violence was broken and his mission and vision live on. His death is an invitation for us to follow in his path and to break the cycles of violence that permeate our life and to replace them with indestructible love.


On Easter Sunday the tomb was open. The powers of violence did not have the last say. God pronounced to the world that the power of life and love do indeed overcome hatred, fear and violence. It was God’s love refusing to be dead and pouring out for all the world. Christians are called into this new way of being human called the Reign of God, knowing that we are fully loved and knowing that this path will ultimately lead to life.


(reflections on Holy Week, Pastor John Lund)

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