(This post follows up nicely on yesterday’s post about hell from C.S. Lewis.)
I finally finished reading a challenging book about Christian reconciliation called Exclusion & Embrace by Miroslav Volf, a theologian from Croatia who lived through the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. He believes that a Christian commitment to nonviolence (which he affirms almost without qualification) must be premised upon God’s violence, i.e., the God of love is also a God of vengeance. Christ as suffering Messiah does not contradict Christ as the Rider on the White Horse of Revelation. Only God can resort to violence justly.
He observes that Christians of the Anabaptist tradition (for example, Mennonites and Amish), who tend to be most committed to nonviolence in this world, are themselves most comfortable in talking about God’s vengeance at the end of it. Volf believes that’s the right perspective.
Maybe this talk of a violent God—as opposed to a God who is always “nice”—makes us uncomfortable? Here’s his devastating response:
My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone (which is where a paper that underlies this chapter was originally delivered). Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: a Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect noncoercive love. Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die. And as one watches it die, one will do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.†
† Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 304.