God’s Non-violence

I have appreciated the comments and questions from Len in a few of my "atonement" posts. I'll attempt to respond to some of his questions over the next number of posts.

There is however a question about God's nature that touches every question about Christ's death, any question about atonement. It is this: Is there violence in God? Did God command the wholesale slaughter of nations, the wiping out of false prophets, the killing of first born, and so on?

If yes, then God's supposed institution of rites and ritual sacrifice, both to recall some of these events and for obtaining virtual purification makes sense. As well, with respect to purification, the recognition that sacrificing bulls and goats is a temporary solution until the ultimate (human/god) sacrifice could be enacted, also makes sense.

In this case God is a good God but with a violent and sacrificial side. A god, in other words, that is not unlike the pagan gods, except, perhaps, much stronger. To equate God's violent side with God's acts of justice, as is sometimes done, seems to me, only adds to the confusion.

If however, Jesus is the perfect ontological reflection of God, or as the New Testament has it, "the exact imprint of God's very being", then the sacrificial mechanism, that is, the mechanism of doing away with others to preserve and solidify the group or nation, needs to be exposed and undone. And the Hebrew sacrificial system of formal rites and rituals, needs to be re-storied.

If Jesus, who prayed for and loved his enemies, is "the image of the invisible God", then there is no violence, retribution, or vengeance with God. Jesus in fact is God moving toward us, standing in as ultimate victim, not as payment, but as self-gift. As such the substitutional atonement which is violent at its core, asks to be reinterpreted in light of God's having-nothing-to-do-with-sacrificial violence.

To call Jesus' self-gift as the "ultimate sacrifice" is of course legitimate as long as sacrifice is understood rhetorically and not as sacrifice as payment or appeasement.


  1. Well put, Steve. I have for a million years had difficulty accepting violence as part of God’s character (I thought even as a four-year-old that it seemed monstrous, and too much a contradiction with the other main concept we learned — God is love.) I tend to think Jesus was crucified not because God required it, but because we didn’t like him upsetting the religious, political, and economic status quo (and still don’t), and because he hoped his response to those who wanted him dead would help us “get it” (which we mostly still don’t.) I think he was trying to tell us that violence for violence is pointless, that violence in the face of stubborn stupidity is pointless, and trying to put an end to blood-as-atonement sacrifices, to say “fine, you think God needs bloodshed, shed mine, and then no more.” Of course I’m no theologian, just being honest about how I can still call myself a Christian.

  2. “Is there violence in God? Did God command the wholesale slaughter of nations, the wiping out of false prophets, the killing of first born, and so on?”

    I hope not but…

    I agree that we need to see Jesus as the true face of God and so we do not have a vengeful, violent God but we do have a God who either ordained or at least passively allows a world that knows too much tragedy, violence , suffering, and degradation.
    This is some kind of indication of what God at least tolerates.

    I like what Jesus said about divorce, that the law allowed it but only because of the hardness of our hearts. Much like the church and God(?) was able to wink at slavery for 1850 years after Jesus came to show us the way.
    We are progressing towards Gods full reveaaltion.

    These are very difficult issues but they may be the most important if we are to re-experience the Gospel in our time.

    Jesus was God even when he didn’t have omnipotence. It was his character and virtues that made him God when he was emptied of powers. Perhaps God theFather is also emptied of some powers till the revelation of the Sons of God is complete. Until then we may say God would change things if He could (and still reach the goal of creation) but since He can’t he has entered our pain and shared the degradation that mankind maybe subject to from the beginning of time till the purposes and mystery are fulfilled.

    I don’t know how to think of this clearly but perhaps an inkling is enough for this time.

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