Friday, November 21, 2003

Well, it has been a busy week almost entirely devoid of blog posts, but I still have a response to one of the comments that I scribbled furiously on a napkin at a low moment at work last week, and there's no way I am going to do all that scribbling and then not post it, even if just for my own records. I want to get some of these ideas down now to develop a little better later...

So anyway, Mitch and I were talking about ruler's and their relationship to a Christian witness. Mitch had this to say:

My view of the atonement is that Christ's mercy is for everyone, even political and military leaders who have to enforce laws and put down rebellion, even with the sword. When the Centurion came to Jesus to ask for his servant's healing, did Jesus tell him to lay down his sword and resign his office? Did Peter say this to Cornelius? Did Paul suggest this to Felix or King Agrippa?

And so my very late but still applicable response is:

Arguments from silence are a dangerous way to form the principles that drive our practice because they can lead us a long way from the things that Jesus did say very clearly. It is a risky thing to live your life according to what Jesus didn't say. We might note that Christ was also silent about Zacchaeus' life as a corrupt tax collector, but was overjoyed when Z understood the implications that Christ had on his life, and made a change. Might it have been the same with the rulers and soldiers you mention?

But while we are drawing arguments from silence, perhaps a more compelling one is that at no point does Christ (or Paul) qualify or add conditions to their words on the radical call of living out Love. At least in the case of divorce Christ says it is wrong "except for marital unfaithfulness". But when it comes to loving enemies there is no hint of "love your enemies, unless you are a ruler or a soldier, in which case this is of course impossible". It is a common argument that Paul's words on governments being instituted by God is a case of this, a place where, as the argument suggests, Paul makes service in an army just a matter of obeying the government God has put you under. But do we really dare include within that obedience to authority cases in which our government calls us to violate the teachings of Christ? According to such reasoning, a WW2 German Christian joining in on the killing of Jews would be completely off the hook, as one who was simply acting in obedience to the goverment.

Whether it is Jesus saying, "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you," or Paul saying, "for though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does," the call is universal; every believer is invited to at least try to join Christ in the impossible task of loving enemies. Is that journey more difficult for the rich and the powerful? Jesus words to the rich young ruler would seem to say yes. And maybe that is why Jesus spoke of his gospel as "good news to the poor" - because the call to give up your power and your money sure ain't good news to the rich.

So I agree, grace is for everyone, but entering in to Christ's grace has big implications on how you live your life. It has to, otherwise the life and teachings of Christ are irrelevant to how we live now, and the atonement becomes an "atonement of death", as Todd Hunter puts it, little more than a get-out-of-jail-free card.

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