Achan and the “Logic of Violence”

Just to address, in part, some of the very welcome comments appearing on this blog…

The logic of violence is truly a hard thing to break through. That the Bible is replete with wrath and violence is no secret but to then extrapolate, that, "wrath is an inescapable reality of God’s person" is the "logic of violence". It is, in fact, the "divinization" of our violence.

Let me explain. You’ll remember the story of Achan who kept a bit of spoil for himself, from a previous battle, and as a result Joshua’s campaign to wipe out the Canaanites stalled. After a search they came upon Achan and after a brief interrogation he pleaded guilty for keeping a "devoted thing". And so Achan and his family are killed:

"All Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast stones on them, and raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his burning anger."

The story describes perfectly how the sacrificial mechanism works. The rising internal agitation–in this case over a lost battle–that threatens indiscriminate outbreaks of violence, finally gives way to an exclusive focus on a "culprit" (considering the size of the Israelite army we can guess that Achan wasn’t the only one to keep back some booty). Nevertheless, Achan is killed and God turns from his "burning anger". Peace is restored. Sacrificial violence triumphs.

It is easy to see how the wrath of "all Israel" in the stoning of Achan, is projected on God, as "divine wrath" precisely because "peace" breaks out. And the peace that comes at the expense of the victim is naturally translated as God’s approval.

But now, think about this is personal terms. How often have we been involved in a situation where the group we belong to, or church, or nation etc., is unified by the expulsion of a victim (scapegoat) and is justified in terms of being God’s will, or for the greater good of the people? (Remember Ciaphas?)

This sacrificial mechanism is nothing other than "the power of sin" because it keeps alive our sorting out of "us and them", violent or otherwise, while hiding from us our own involvement.

This "mechanism" is what God wants to destroy because it is destroying us. To continue seeing God as sacrificial, wrathful, is to undo what God is trying to do. It is to charge God with using the same mechanism to destroy the mechanism. It is tantamount to "Satan casting out Satan".

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  1. The suggestion that we are victimizers rather than victims is intriguing to me—how does that fit with our apparent powerlessness in the face of “sin”? Isn’t that in fact how Christianity defines sin—the inherant powerlessness to achieve holiness, being “born into” sin? I don’t know about others, but when I in fact harm another—victimize them—it isn’t because I want to or choose to, it’s because, as Paul said, I sometimes do the very thing I least want to do, and am unable to do thing I most want to do. Wouldn’t that make us all more victims than victimizers?

    Regarding the object of God’s wrath being sin and not his creation, that may be, but if the intent is to destroy sin, why is it that the power of sin continues, while creation suffers?

    And finally, if we really believe the gospel is about the redemption of creation, why would we still hang on to beliefs that justify victimizing of those we deem in the wrong. Justified or “righteous” wrath, I believe, is what keeps us in cycles of violence and destruction rather than redemption.

  2. Hey, Steve, Does your spin on the Achan story depend on the notion that there must have been other “Achans” who weren’t caught?

    But I agree that its easier to justify violence from a position of victimhood than victimizer. This raises, though, it seems to me, the question of the use of violence in the service of justice.

  3. It’s like really hot and I can’t sleep so I thought I’d just respond real quick.
    Hey great discussion. I’m going a a vacation for a couple of weeks and won’t be able to dip back in for a while as I try to distance myself from email, internet and the like. But these are great questions we’re asking and trying to answer.

    The issue of being a victim or a victimizer is certainly an interesting one but I don’t see say Clifford Olsen or Ted Bundy as a victims primarily but more as a victimizers. If they are mere victims then every murderer, molester etc. should remain unaccountable for their actions. Just as you might debate that we should remain unccountable before God for our actions because we are victims born into sin. Now I know that’s an extreme example but one could argue that each of us has the same potential within, because of sin, to act in a manner consistent with theirs.

    Anyway – I am not joyfully advocating wrath in fact I would probably be a universalist were it not for freewill. I believe strongly in the power of people to choose. God gives us the ability to choose redemption through Christ or to go our own way. None of us can choose our flaws, brokeness and failures but we can all choose redemption. I believe that it is God’s desire for each person to receive redemption through Christ but God will not violate our right to choose. Perhaps because we have the right to choose we are not victims.
    Bless you guys!

  4. Certainly murderers are victimizers, as we all are at times—but I don’t believe that just because have to potential to victimize and have all done that doesn’t mean we aren’t also victims. Nor would I ever argue that it means we shouldn’t be accountable for our actions. But I also don’t believe that wrath is a necessary part of the accountability or redemption equation. I just think redemption is a free gift, and that it doesn’t need to involve violence or sacrifice.

    As to the right to choose and having freewill—what then do you do with Paul’s apparent inability to choose well all the time (the good I want to do I can’t, the bad I don’t want to, I do?) I think the “right to choose” phrase we use so readily is only a part of truth that isn’t black and white. There is so much in the psyche of those who choose badly we don’t fully understand, and though I believe in accounting for my actions and trying to make amends where I’ve wronged another, I think it’s wrong to assume we all have equal ability to choose. Take a physical analogy—someone with brain chemistry gone badly awry for example may be as unable to resist acting on a violent impulse as someone in a wheelchair is unable to choose to walk.

    But then, what do I know? I’m only expressing what makes sense and seems right to me.

  5. Jeff, I like your analogy. I remember when our son had a “hitting” problem for about 5 years. We tried everything and then wondered about allergies. We had him tested and took him off milk and orange dye. His hitting quit immediately. When we tried the milk again, the hitting came back. I remember as a mom feeling so much frustration as I tried to correct and discipline. When I found out that there were factors beyond his ability to control and to therefore rise above and “choose” I felt a whole different feeling for him. I’m still not sure how all of this relates to God’s response to us but I think there’s something here…

  6. That was actually me, don’t know why it says Jeff…but I’m glad you liked my analogy! I remember the hitting thing….and just this morning I read about a nutraceutical product (as opposed to pharmaceutical) that’s being researched at the U of C right now, that gets frustrated and minimally responsive to lithium bipolar patients completely off their meds, and symptom free. It’s a vitamin, mineral, and amino acid supplement that was developed to keep some angry hogs from killing their pen mates, if you can believe that!…so, I still think we’re victims of biology, nature, nurture etc, and that a God of love would weep with us, not be angry (unless he needs a nutraceutical too? which, given he’s not exactly a resident in this realm, is unlikely)…hope that’s not too irreverent for anyone.

  7. hmm, as I fear to wade in… I often believe we live between two different problems, most of us on one side or the other, we either tend to over- intellectualize the gospel to make it fit with what we want or we try to take it literally because it seems to fit with what we want. I tend to believe it lives somewhere in between… and usually not what we want (strange why God won’t fit where I want Him to!). My take on the example given is that there are various and sundry forms of free will, as Jeff/Connie alluded, but they all come together as part of Gods plan to give us opportunity to worship Him. In the example given, I would guess that, while the person may or may not have the ability to chose how he acts in a given circumstance, we have the choice of how we react/treat that person…and perhaps that is why he/she is like that in the first place??? I notice that while Paul appears to say he doesn’t have control over his actions, it sure gave him an opportunity for a great sermon 🙂

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