If God is For Us…


Pacifist Lamentations Volume 4

It’s been a while since I wrote a Pacifist Lament.  This one has been on my mind for a few weeks.  I stems from some bad preaching I heard recently on Romans 8:31.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Taken out of context, as this verse often is, it could seem that Paul is saying that with God on our side we are invincible.  And while that may be true, it leads to a violent interpretation of what we are capable of when God is “for” us.  Sadly, Romans 8:31 has been mis-quoted in this way from the barricades of revolution and war for hundreds of years.

“God is on our side!  Therefore; let us go and slay our enemies!”

But taken in context of the entirety of Romans 8, we begin to form a very different picture of what it means to have God “for” us.

In the first half of Romans 8, Paul lays out a detailed analysis of what happens to us when we believe that Jesus dwells in us and is transforming us from the inside out. Put simply, we have become so deeply like Jesus that we have become children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus himself and co-heirs to the kingdom.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. [Romans 8:16-17]

Provided we suffer with him, not provided we go out and fight for him!  Paul goes on to talk about how all believers will be treated and “glorified” with Christ.  We will suffer in this world, but we can count it all as nothing in comparison to what awaits us.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [Romans 8:18-19]

And then we get to the big question that is so often taken out of context – If God is for us, who can be against us?

God for us is an expression of love.  Deepest, most profound and all-encompassing LOVE.

If God is for us.  If God, who in his very nature is love, expresses that love toward us.  If God has made us part of his family.  Who can do or say anything that will negate or make any negative impact on that?

No one can stand against that!

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39]

More than a conqueror!  This is not a violent image.  This is not about dominance.  This is about transcendence.

We can remain above and outside of violence!  Nothing that is done too us can have any impact on our salvation.  We therefore transcend violence and remain passive, continuing to love our enemies and work toward reconciliation even in the face of our own death.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  God is for us!

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.  

 

The Problem of Evil


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?

evilhappyfaceIn order to answer that question we first must understand the origins of evil.

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.

nofairAs 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.

hijabwomanWhen 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.

For more information on The Meekonomics Project and Pacifist Lamentations write to: themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

The Image of God – Pacifist Lamentations


I haven’t written about this for a while but I was recently challenged by a friend to clarify and explain my position. This is going to take a while and require more than one post so I’ve decided to start series that I’m calling Pacifist Lamentations.  Maybe there are other bloggers out there who want to join the conversation.  Comment below or write your own post with the hashtag #pacifistlaments and maybe we can start a healthy conversation about this important issue.

soldierfrombehindThe first thing everyone needs to know about living life as a pacifist is that it is a very difficult path to walk. I came to this position through years of struggle and holding onto it is a constant exercise is submission to what I believe to be the overarching will of God. It’s that point, in part that gives a lot of people fits. Many of the people I have discussed this idea with vehemently disagree with me that pacifism, even in part, could be God’s will. But before I attempt to explain my point here I need to back up a bit.

I was raised in a Mennonite church in Southern Ontario. Mennonites are perhaps the most visible minority group that publicly identifies as pacifist. As a kid I took that position at face value. It wasn’t until the first Gulf War, when I was just 18 years old that I really started to examine what it meant. My best friend at the time decided to join the army reserves as a summer job and as I started my own job search for the summer I said to my mother that as a Mennonite I didn’t have that option. She challenged me on that comment. She said that sometimes she felt that a lot of Mennonite teenagers hide behind the pacifist banner without ever really examining it, they don’t understand why they are pacifists they just used it as a convenient excuse not to make hard choices about what they stand for.

That stung a bit. It stung because it was coming from one of the most important people in my life. And it stung because it was true.

A few days later I told my mother that the reason pacifism made sense to me was that I believe all human life is sacred. That satisfied my mother and I filed it away as a catch all answer for anyone else who would question me on it.

And that worked for about 20 years.

Back in 2007 I moved and joined a new church. For the first time since I was seven years old I started to attend a church that isn’t connected to the Mennonite denomination. The church I now attend is a part of the Brethren in Christ denomination. If the Mennonites are in the minority within the Christian church, the B.I.C. are an even great (smaller?) minority. And I soon discovered that this particular church at least is even more committed to pacifism than my Mennonite brothers and sisters growing up. Once again I was forced to re-examine my position on the matter.

This time I embarked on a journey through scripture that is still unfolding eight years later. The deeper I go the more convinced I become that God’s will is for his people to remain on the side of pacifism and non-violence.

It all starts in Genesis 1.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. [Genesis 1:27]

Just twenty-seven verses into the word of God it’s that one word “mankind” that brings me up short. It’s inclusive. There is no one, not one person on the face of the earth, in all of history or the future to come who is not, and will not be made in the image of God.

The implications of that realization are infinite.

What does it mean to be made in God’s image?

For one thing it means that you are made in the image of love. “God is Love” [1 John 4:16]. It means you possess within you the potential for infinite love. And it means you are infinitely valuable.

So as a pacifist I lament the loss of this realization in my fellow Christians. We have become isolated from one another and we have forgotten that we are all intended to be family.  The image of God is broken.  War, indeed all violence seeks to dehumanize the “enemy”. But I can’t support that position with scripture.

kidonabusWhen I see pictures and videos of men, women and children committing violence to one another my heart breaks, and I am convinced that it breaks the heart of God. When I see images of refugees wandering in the wilderness, hungry and cold, I see God. When I hear my fellow men and women complain that there are too many of “those” people in our neighborhoods and how we need to protect ourselves from anyone who is different, I mourn the loss of community and connectedness.

We are all image bearers of God. We may be broken and distorted images of Him. Many of us may have forgotten our divine connection to another. But we are all made in the image of love and I for one cannot justify violence toward anyone in whom I see the face of God.  And in case you haven’t been paying attention, that’s everyone.

“To love another person is the see the face of God.” Victor Hugo

For more #pacifistlaments or information on The Meekonomics Project write to:  themeekonomicsproject@gmail.com

 

Church Unity – The Whole World is Watching, We Have To Get this Right…


Those of you who have followed my writing for the last few years should have noticed by now that there are a few things that I am really passionate about. 

1)      Responsible stewardship

2)      Peace, Justice and Reconciliation

-and-

3)    Church Unity

It’s that last one that I want to touch on again today. 

A few months ago I wrote a post about the Chick-Fil-A controversy in which I was careful not to come down too hard on one side of the debate or another.  I got criticized for that.  Not because my opinion was viewed as wrong by a certain element of the Christian Church but because, as one person put it, they couldn’t figure out what my opinion was and therefore couldn’t decide if I was a heretic or not. What??

I couldn’t figure out what to say about that other than to ask them to read the post again.  My opinion on the specific issue wasn’t what I was writing about it was my opinion about the behavior of a church divided that mattered.   

This past week in my morning devotional I happened to read through Romans 12-15.  Contained in these four chapters are some of the most beautiful descriptions of Church unity and instructions on how people at different points on their faith journey are to work together ever written. 

Over the years, as a pacifist I’ve had to defend my position on the church’s role in government and society on numerous occasions.  Inevitably the discussion ends up landing on a “proper” interpretation of Romans 13.  If the entire book of Romans were just that one chapter, my detractors would have a point, but when I remind them that Romans 13, follows Romans 12 and proceeds Romans 14, the conversation usually stops, or is deflected in a different direction.  Why is it that people who are strong in their convictions about certain things just refuse to look at them in a broader context?      

 Here’s what the passage in Romans 13 says. 

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. [Romans 13:1-5]

They way most people read that is to provide justification for their assertion of a Just War theory or that it’s important for Christians to get the right guy in power so the will of God can prevail but that’s not what it says at all.  If you read that passage as a stand-alone statement it’s very easy to interpret it as meaning that we are to do everything the governing authorities say without question because ultimately God has put them there for His glory.  That’s easy to say when you agree with the government but what about when you don’t?  How many Christians today, especially right wing evangelicals would honestly agree that Barak Obama is God’s servant for their good?  Conversely, how many left leaning social justice Christians would vote for Mitt Romney on the same grounds?

 Who’s in power isn’t the point.  The point is that God can and does use whoever is in power to achieve His goals at different times.  What this passage is saying is that we are to have faith that whatever is happening on a earthly level, God is still in control and we need not try to force our agenda on top of what God has already done. 

 If Romans 13 gives the church instruction on how to live under governing authority, Romans 12 gives us instruction on how to govern ourselves within the context of the church. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2]

We then go on to learn what a “living sacrifice” does; it is a humble part of a larger body, loves sincerely, “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”, (v. 12) and “lives at peace with everyone” (v.18).  This is unity in action but it doesn’t stop there. 

After the aforementioned passage in Romans 13 on submission to governing authorities we are reminded that love is the fulfillment of the law.  “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (v. 10). 

And then it gets really interesting… 

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. [Romans 14:1-4, emphasis mine]

 Here’s where I really get into some trouble but to me this is the heart of the matter.  While truth is not open for debate, as one of my detractors once put it, one’s ability to live by faith and his or her ability to accept or apply that truth may vary significantly at different points in their life.  There is therefore no point on brow beating people with a truth stick.  God’s grace is sufficient no matter where you are in your faith journey, ours is not to judge but to walk along side and support.

Finally in Romans 15 the point is driven home indisputably. 

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. [Romans 15:1-2]

Don’t judge your neighbor for their weakness but please them and build them up.  Wow!  Many would say that is just pandering, I call it being compassionate and acting like Jesus.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. [Romans 15:5-7]

Amen! – Go and do likewise…

A Timeline of Passive Resistance


So I asserted the other day that Pacifism was a weapon, when deployed properly, against which there is no defence.  Allow me to illustrate what to my mind is the typical timeline of passive resistance.

Phase 1: Invasion/Takeover – A strong army invades or otherwise takes over the territory of a weaker party.

Phase 2: Victory/Defeat – Due to their superiority the invading army achieves rapid and decisive victory and moves to…

Phase 3: Domination/Subjugation – The invading party establishes its power base by setting up institutions it can control; government, business etc.  At this point it is no longer prudent to kill or torture innocent civilians because they need them in order to run those institutions.  The dominated party is now a quasi-slave to its new master.

Phase 4: Resistance – The pacifist at this point slowly begins to erode the power base of the aggressor through passive and subversive acts such as avoiding work that helps the aggressor, refusing to purchase goods and services from the aggressor and even direct sabotage.  The aggressor’s only hope in defeating the pacifist is in recognizing the power of this resistance early and negotiating a settlement.  If the aggressor responds with more violence and oppression they will only drive the pacifist further underground and prolong the process.

Phase 5: Critical Mass – Sooner or later the pacifist cause will begin to be seen as a viable alternative for the oppressed masses and more and more people will be won over.  By now it is too late for the aggressor; any attempt to suppress the pacifist opposition will be seen as bullying.  If a pacifist leader is arrested or killed at this stage they will instantly become a martyr.  I don’t have scientific data to back this up but my best guess is that critical mass is achieved when the pacifist cause attracts somewhere between 20-30% of the population leading to…

Phase 6: Uprising – With roughly a quarter of the population rallying to the cause protests erupt spontaneously throughout the country.  At this point it is critical for the pacifist leader to keep his followers on message and prevent violence from erupting within his ranks.  It is critical to remember that even with a large number of followers you are still the weaker party in terms of fire power and entering into violent conflict will likely send you all the way back to phase one.  The aggressor will likely try to bait you into a violent encounter but if you have done a good job in phases 4 and 5 this will fail.  Your support will swell to well over 50% of the general population and finally lead to…

Phase 7: Overthrow – As the aggressor realizes they can no longer control the population through intimidation and the time to negotiate from a position of strength was three phases ago they will have no choice but to cede to your demands or leave the country altogether.

Now the real work begins, criticism and resistance is the easy part, governing is hard.