I wrote this post on Thursday, and was about to post it this afternoon when I heard of the horrible attacks in Paris. I debated whether or not I should wait and post it later, in honor of the dead but I feel the best way to honor them is to call for an end of violence in the physical realm. Here is what I wrote.
Usually in any discussion of pacifism, after I’ve laid out my reasoning about the image of God in all of us and our role as care-taker I get my first real objection. It starts out with some crazy scenario about, what I would do if a man had a gun to my wife’s head and said if I didn’t kill him or somebody else he would kill her and then me. What do we do with the truly evil people in the world?
Evil entered the world in Genesis 3.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” [Genesis 3:1]
Satan, (Hebrew for The Adversary) represented here as a snake begins by asking questions, seeding doubt and leading astray. So the first thing you must understand about evil is that it lies. The answer to the serpent’s question should quite simply have been no. No, God did not say you couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden, he warned not to eat from a specific tree. And that specific tree is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
It’s the one word and that very important distinction that many people miss. Good and evil exist there is nothing we can do about that. So, why is it that God does not want us to have any knowledge of good and evil?
Because we can’t handle it!
God is Love. He created us out of love. What parent wants their child to know anything other than pure love? To know good and evil is to know pain, shame and judgement. God didn’t want us to know any of that so out of love he forbade it. Satan came along and made it seem like Eve was missing out on some great mystery of life, that by learning about good and evil she would someone be greater and have a fuller life. That was a heinous lie.
Think back to your childhood, before you knew the world could be a harsh and nasty place. Life was a great idyllic utopia of perfection. You were safe in the knowledge that your parents loved you and only wanted the best for you. Then something happened, maybe you discovered a friend who didn’t have the same kind of you life you had, they couldn’t afford the after school program or didn’t have a dad at home. How did that make you feel? Shocked, confused, sad, betrayed somehow? I remember when it happened to me, and those were just some of the emotions I remember feeling.
As you went through school you eventually learned that life isn’t fair and the sooner you figured out how to deal with that the better off you were. The sooner you learned to play the game, and perpetrate a little evil of you own, the easier it got to live in this often cruel and unfair world of ours. Satan won a great victory the day you accepted his lies and decided that the world was full of evil people that you needed protection from. You started to isolate yourself and build walls to keep the bad people away.
We were created to have no knowledge of good or evil. We were created to know only God and gain our living and being solely from him. When we learned otherwise we lost everything, we lost our life in the garden and nothing has been the same since.
The apostle Paul once said that his goal was to know nothing except Christ. [1 Corinthians 2:2] Dietrich Bonehoeffer said:
Man, at his origin knows only one thing: God. It is only in the unity of his knowledge of God that he knows of other men, of things, and of himself. He knows all things only in God, and God in all things. The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with his origin.
But we do know that evil exists. The genie is out of the bottle. So what are we now to do with this knowledge?
If we accept it at face value Satan wins. We become afraid. Afraid of what could be lurking “out there” in strangers half way around the world or just up the block. We isolate ourselves from people who aren’t just like us we create segregated communities, spend thousands of dollars on security measures and buy guns for production. All because we know about evil.
But what if we didn’t know evil? How can we eradicate the damage it has done to our society? How can we rebuild our lost community with those who are just a little different from us?
Evil cannot exist, where love prevails. God is love and He cannot co-exist with evil.
Fear is mostly fear of the unknown. The best way to combat our knowledge of evil is with knowledge of another kind, knowledge of facts over rumors conjecture and innuendo, knowledge of individuals over people groups, community over cultures, specific teaching over long held and outdated tradition and knowledge of community over isolation.
The problem of evil is a problem of knowledge. What we know and what don’t know and even more sinister, what we think we know that is false.
Therefore a pacifist and a Christ-follower must confront the problem of evil people bent on violence with learning. First learn the truth, and then combat the lies that surround it. In this way we can avoid unnecessary conflict based on nothing more than misunderstanding, misrepresentation and distorted lies.
When we see ethnic minorities moving into our communities and influencing our culture don’t be afraid, get educated. Reach out, learn their stories and welcome them into our community. Those people, the ones we might consider evil people are just one conversation away from become our people. At the end of the day, we are all image bearers of God (see part 1).
But what about the really evil people, the ones bent on destruction. Shouldn’t we try to stop them by any means necessary? Yes – and No.
Yes, try to stop them by educating them in a different path, but no do not try to destroy them in kind, you are not fighting physical humans but deceptive practices and the lies of Satan. Satan wants us to destroy one another, that is one of his favourite weapons to use against God. If we kill each other, he wins and when one deceived person dies there are a thousand more ready to take his place. Violence is a no win situation for humanity.
Make no mistake, there is a war going on all around us in the spiritual realm, but we can’t fight it with physical weapons. Some may die; it is a war after all. But dying for a cause is admirable. Killing for one only plays into the enemies hands. Far fewer die when we confront evil with truth than weapons of mass destruction. Pacifists know that and practice it while they actively pursue peace in the physical realm.
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