I was reading 1 Maccabees the other day and was struck again by Mattathias’ call to arms in 2:40-42.
After the report of a slaughter of fellow Jews who had refused to fight, Mattathias and his friends are despondent.
And each said to his neighbor: “If we all do as our brethren have done and refuse to fight with the Gentiles for our lives and for our ordinances, they will quickly destroy us from the earth.” So they made this decision that day: “Let us fight against every man who comes to attack us on the Sabbath day; let us not all die as our brethren died in their hiding places.” Then there united with them a company of Hasideans, mighty warriors of Israel, every one who offered himself willingly for the law.
It seems to me that this turn to violence perfectly captures the logic that drives so much rhetorical and physical violence on the part of religious people, Christians and non-Christians.
The feeling is that the honor of God and the existence of God’s people (our survival!) are at stake. Because of that—because the stakes are so high—we must put aside some of the central convictions of our faith.
Christians, however, must draw upon God’s grace to remain in the shape of the cross even when our survival appears to be at stake, or when things appear to be out of control in our culture. Remaining in the shape of the cross (refusing to retaliate, returning evil with good, loving those who hate us, controlling ourselves to speak kindly to those with whom we disagree) embodies faith in the resurrection and trust in God’s sovereignty.
God is, after all, the just Judge who will judge righteously. God is, after all, the one who will take vengeance and will do so with perfect justice.
Sadly, an election season turns up the rhetorical temperature in an already over-heated culture war. Christians find themselves engaging in rhetorical violence against this or that candidate, verbally blasting this or that supporter of this or that party.
Let’s remember that cruciformity is the only way of hope and promise for those who confess loyalty to the Lord Christ. The way of violence (rhetorical and physical) is only and always the way of death.