Is God a Pacifist?
This question seems to find a place in my heart when I’m going through a tough time, especially during moments of anger or severe discouragement. Why? Well, think about it: When you are angry, you want to put an end to what is causing you pain: this can mean lashing out at your accusers, correcting someone who has wronged you, or expressing your disappointment in seeing your hard work fall apart. Anger is our response to injustice, or rather our own view of it. But, God doesn’t command us to do any of those things.
I’ll be honest: I’ve been angry and discouraged a lot this week. This post is my way of working it out.
You see, ministry is hard work, it’s real work. In fact, your whole life is a ministry. If you are a Christian, you are administering your convictions and expressing your identity daily. In J.C. Ryle’s words, you are preaching a sermon all week with your life. In vocational ministry, this is elevated to a different level. You come face to face with sin daily- not just in your own heart, but also in the people you care for (“Shepherd” if you’re a pastor) and the Christians you congregate with.
Sometimes, two sinners collide: you step on someone’s toes (causing he or she pain), you receive a harsh comment, you catch wind of the gossip going around. It hurts! It stings! It bites! What’s worse is that these people are not co-workers, these people are your spiritual family. You are called to bear with them (Col. 3:24) to stick it out with them (Rom. 12:12), to be faithful to them- you don’t have anything motivating you other than love (1 Cor. 13). Forget about the paycheck, this is where the rubber meets the eternal road.
But, faithfulness is not something we are used to.
Our culture teaches us that not fighting back is pacifism. The worldview against pacifism assumes that we are the only ones responsible for taking any course of action or retaliation, and pacifism assumes that reason rises above confrontation, believing that there is always a better option. The Christian worldview counteracts this and says vengeance is God’s (Rom. 12), and that trusting in Him is not pacifism, but obedience. It’s also not trusting in our own reason, other than making the judgement that the only one qualified to judge the situation and repay the person(s) involved is God.
Those against pacifism usually take the course of action that says if someone doesn’t make you happy all the time, you break up with them. If your church doesn’t give you goosebumps from the music, you go somewhere else with a bigger light show. If your friends don’t listen to you complain anymore, you find new ones. We far too easily give up. This is our way of fighting for our own selfish version of happiness.
Or, think about the famous idea about quitting a job in style: You get to shout expletives, tell your boss to suffer in damnation, spew out all your complaints about the work place, and dash off in a flurry of selfish freedom and self-expression. We want to be set free from whatever we choose; we want our way all the time.
Those for pacifism assume that the human nature is capable of something beyond confrontation: that peace is possible, and capable when placed into the hands of responsible human beings. This is in many ways, basic enlightenment thinking. But, both sides of this coin assume something very wrong: that we have the power in ourselves to direct our lives. We don’t realize we are puppets to sin until we become free sons and daughters of Christ (Gal. 4:1-4).
So, why am I asking if God is a pacifist? It’s because sometimes I wonder how God can be so patient with me in my sin. I wonder how He can be so kind, so forbearing, and so graceful to me, but never withdraws His commitment to saving me. He is sinned against every second of every day (Psa. 51). He is the only One who deserves to be angry (and He is!), yet, He is somehow angry at sinners and forbearing at the same time (Romans 1:18-chapter 2). He has eternal wrath stored up for them, and eternal love extended to them in Christ (Rom. 3:20-27). He is so good to me, and yet He disciplines me without it being out of uncontrolled wrath (Heb. 12). He is sanctifying me. But, this is an invisible work: it’s hidden, so that’s why I have a hard time accepting it. How can God be so patient and not be a pacifist? How can He permit so much to happen, and still deal justly with sin?
For many reasons:
1) God is not a man (Numbers 23-24).
2) God doesn’t lash out as quickly as I do (Rom. 2; 1 Tim. 2:1-4)
3) God doesn’t think the way I do (Isaiah 55:8-9)
4) Only God is judge (James 4)
5) He alone defines what anger, grace, and love really mean: This means I follow His example. (1 John 4)
I see the sin in other people, and I straight up want to tell that person they are in sin and need to repent. This is something I should do as a Christian, but only out of love, intending good for the other person, not out of anger (Eph. 4). When it comes to older men and women, I am commanded not to rebuke them, but to encourage them ( 1 Tim. 5:1-2). This is hard, this is really hard.
The key word here is love: “In THIS is love, not that we loved God, but that HE loved US, and SENT His Son… (1 John 4:8-10).” God loves, God sends a redeemer. God sent Jesus, and now He is sending me. He is sending me out there as His ambassador (2 Cor. 5, Matt. 28-18-20), but I am just a jar of clay that is easily broken (2 Cor. 4:6-7). However, I have the Holy Spirit living in me, who empowers me to kill the sin my life (Rom. 8:1-13), who helps me when I struggle to pray (Rom. 8:26), who searches the deep things of God and teaches me truths that are impossible for the unbeliever to understand (1 Cor. 1-2, 1 John 2). With God, nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).
What’s my point?
Is God a pacifist? No. He doesn’t hold to a standard of pacifism or retaliation, He is the standard (Eph. 5:1). Some sins He chooses to judge on this earth now/onwards (Rom. 1:18ff), and others He reserves for after this life (Rev. 21). What did He do about the sin in other Christians that hurts me? He sent Jesus, not out of a quest for peace among men (a goal of pacifism), but as the key to eternal peace with Himself. With that peace, we can endure anything (Phil. 4:8-10), and we can have peace with each other. Jesus gives us His peace (Jn. 14-15), and He can give us the strength to confront sin with the gospel, the gospel that points to the cross and the empty tomb and says, “it is finished.”
I need to speak the truth to my accusers. I need to be a conduit of God’s love and grace to them. I need to be amazed, yet perplexed that despite everything I know about God, I can’t arrange the pieces in such a way as to fully understand Him (Rom. 11:32-33).
I need grace.