Have we forgotten the mission?
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with the violence in the Bible, in particular God’s violence. There’s violence where God’s hands have the blood on them and there’s times where the blood is on human hands. It often seems like the only option left is to kill and destroy, a little bit of shock and awe until the mission is accomplished -- maybe until the peace of the Garden of Eden is restored -- holy, righteous, and just.
To me, God often seems a bit like an angry young boy whose sandbox was attacked by an army of red ants only to return with his magnifying glass in one hand to inflict a little torture and the hose in his other so that when he’s done, vengeance can be fulfilled in utter destruction - a sort of cleansing and purifying.
God also seems like the angry lover of one who is continuously unfaithful. Eventually, this uninhibited anger is unleashed on its victim, the faithful lover enacting a just punishment on the unfaithful lover.
I don’t have an answer for violence and murder that have been attributed to God. I remember being asked by middle school students about some of this violence a couple years back. I said, “You know, I can’t explain it. I don’t know what to do with it. I have a hard time believing it.” I’ve heard all of the reasons. “Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked,” “the children that were killed were protected from their futures and get to go to heaven,” “God knows the future.” But they still don’t sit right with me, especially when I take into account the many laws throughout the Old Testament that command “If someone does ________ , thrust them through or purge yourselves of them or put them to death.”
Nevertheless, I find myself asking, “Is this the story? Sinners in the hands of an angry God?”
If it is, then maybe Jonathan Edwards and street preachers with a message of hellfire and brimstone are getting it right. Maybe hate and punishment and fear and violence need to be taught and preached and lived out, simply saving individual souls from the grips of hell.
But maybe not.
Unfortunately (or fortunately if my maybe not is wrong), whether we believe this or not, Christian mission and the whole concept of missional living in the world, in particular the northern-western world, has for the most part followed this way of thinking.
I realized even more the depth of this when I learned about the Doctrine of Discovery, the mindset that any European monarchy had the right to claim land, territories, and resources on behalf of Christendom. This concept was based on a Christian right to take hold of anything they wanted because within the mission of Christendom, the gospel could and would be spread by force, and in fact, God’s creation essentially belonged to those who call themselves Christian. Thus, it could be taken at the tip of a sword and “souls would be saved” by the Christianizing of the land and the people. The mission would be complete.
The problem with this sort of missional mindset is that it puts the primary, if not all the emphasis on the end goal.
It’s like being a fan of a sports team solely based on looking at the score after every game.
It is a band making music for the sake of making money.
It is eating a delicious meal without knowing the time spent and the ingredients used to make it.
It is wearing a pair of shoes or wearing clothes without knowing where they came from or who made them.
It is skipping over the whole story of creation and ancient history and Jesus’ life too, and going straight to the crucifixion and resurrection, and then thinking about just getting to heaven.
The mission can make us unnecessarily and even unintentionally violent toward those with whom we should be most desiring to share life.
So, the first ingredient for missional living is: nonviolence.
In a world that is constantly telling us that we need to be heard, that we need to get our thoughts out there, that we need to tweet every idea we have, and post on facebook our experiences throughout every single day, we find very little time to just listen.
We Christians exemplify this reality as good as any other religion or group in the world. We have this mission of telling the world about Jesus, of making disciples, of preaching the kingdom of heaven. We can’t help but force feed, through our words, the good news that can redeem and restore and liberate each and every person in the world.
But the reality is, often the words go on deaf ears because what has been displayed shows absolutely no concern for the very real person that is right there. The answer is given without any regard for the problems, struggles, fears, hurts, accomplishments, dreams, successes, and goals reached. There are no stories heard and shared, just one message proclaimed to be accepted or not.
Rapper Derek Minor speaks of this kind blindness within the church in this poignant and convicting video. (Warning: contains colorful and profane language)
Nonviolent action and justice
The power of nonviolent resistance has been shown throughout history. Women and men have pursued justice and peace and civil rights through nonviolent forms of protest and action. Rosa Parks sat on a bus. “Tank Man” stood in front of tanks in Beijing. The people of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon hid Jews from the Nazis. Chicano student groups walked out of high schools. Students demonstrated in Tlatelolco Plaza in Mexico City. Women prayed and sang in a fish market in Liberia. Nonviolence has proven to be compelling when fighting systems of oppression, injustice, and inequality.
However, nonviolent action goes beyond subversive methods. One of the major issues in humanitarian work, mission trips, and missional living is the violence that can be shown through simply trying to help. This often happens because a group of well-meaning people see a person or a family or a community that could really use their help. They go in as the power brokers, the group with the resources and make some changes, build some nice houses, give lots of money, throw a “Fiesta Jesus,” and even do some training. While this is all good stuff, the problem is they went in without any knowledge of the real needs of the people. From their mindset, they could see the needs, they didn’t need to be told by the people that they wanted to help. Thus, they have been unnecessarily violent and even unjust toward the people they most wanted to serve because they had eyes of the “other” rather than eyes of community and relationship.
In the end, violent action is easiest. It is much quicker. Get in and get out.
But nonviolent action and justice take time. They take the commitment of a whole life. They take the commitment of generations, not just a small group of people, and they are pursued and lived out with people who are known rather than simply seen.
Irma, a missionary in Peru, is one of the greatest examples I have witnessed doing this. In believing God’s desire for her life to go to the tribes in the Amazon, she went and she sat, and she listened, and she learned, and she joined the people that she most desired to serve, and in doing so, she has been able to communicate and serve the genuine needs of the people. The gospel she believes in is not a one-size-fits-all, rather it is moldable and flexible in that it can and will meet the needs of every single person and every single group of people right where they are. Even more, she has had her greatest needs taken care of by the very people to whom she believes that God sent her.
In missional living, nonviolence is the only way to go because it is the only place where we can all be equals. It is a diffusing of power so that in the end, the mission belongs everyone involved.