Monday, August 06, 2007

Why Hell?

Hell may be a strange place to begin a discussion about self-defense, but we all know sometimes it's best to start with last things (Schweitzer!?). The more I think/read about hell according to the NT, the more I'm beginning to see a two-fold purpose: to punish disobedience and to stop evil. Beyond question, God takes violent measures to stop evil (John's Revelation is filled with such imagery). And, according to Paul, God even uses evil empires (Rome!) to stop evil (the infamous Ro. 13 passage). In fact, Revelation tells a similar story: the kings of the earth destroy the Harlot and the heavens rejoice. In other words, even from a NT perspective, God takes violent measures to stop evil.

But, here comes the real question: does that give us precedent for doing the same?

The only scriptural justification in the NT that I can see to support using violence for self-defense is Luke 22:36. Here Jesus seems to imply that his disciples are going to need to take care of themselves since he will no longer be with them. Thus, the advice: if you don't have a sword, sell your coat and get one. But, before we build a case on such cryptic advice, we must consider the rest of the story. When one of his disciples reveal the swords they have already been carrying around (I haven't heard a single sermon stressing this part of the story--but, what does that say about the sword-carrying disciple? Maybe he wasn't so sure Jesus would protect him from evil? Where's the faith?), Jesus reveals a reason why he made such a request: having sword-toting disciples will fulfill Scripture when he is arrested. Is this the only reason Jesus gave the advice to buy a sword? I don't think so. It strains at credulity to think that Jesus expects his disciples, so late in the evening, to secure a sword before they get to Gethsemane. Something else is going on here. (I think Jesus knew a few of his disciples were carrying swords--what, were they hiding them in their pockets? Jesus made his statement to draw out the implications of what would transpire in the garden. He wouldn't need their help. But, at the same time, they wouldn't have his anymore.) But, I don't think this one text stands up very well as a proof text for violent, self-defense--especially against the sea of evidence we call the NT. No where do we have stories of Christians using violence to defend themselves. Not even in the Revelation of John do we have scenes of God or Christ marshalling forces on earth to conquer evil. The only armies that do violence come from heaven. Instead, throughout the Revelation, the faithful on earth are encouraged to remain faithful witnesses (martyrs).

So, would God allow me, a follower of Christ, to use violent means to stop an evil attack on me, just like God does/did?

I don't think so. But, that doesn't mean I won't. After all, I'm evil, too (Mt. 7:11).

Which is why, when it comes to stopping evil, I can eventually count on hell.


ben cassil said... thank God for Hell?

a seperate note - in class this past week, the prof (Spilsbury) asserted that Galatians 2 is the same as the Jerusalem Council in Acts. I scoffed, for i was convinced after doing a paper on the topic for your early Pauline epistles class that Galatians 2 records an entirely different trip by Paul. This would explain better the table story that follows. But I forgot what your opinion was, early Galatian theory?

Darryl Schafer said...

Is Jesus' response in 22.38 an expression of grim satisfaction (Scripture will be fulfilled), or is there a hint of frustration in his voice (That's enough, guys.)?

And yes, we're evil, too, but I don't ever want to use that as a crutch. I'm not implying that you are, but I know that there are those who would. Should we sin so that God's grace may abound?

Hard stuff.

For what it's worth, Ben, I'm with you on North Ask me tomorrow, and I might give you a different answer. I think this is a case, though, where "both/and" won't work. ; )

Rodney Reeves said...


At the risk of sounding arrogant, you're missing the subtlety of my point.


In our book, Rediscovering Paul, we argue for Gal 2 = Acts 11. So, I'm hoping you can wait until it comes out to get the "full treatment." What has convinced me is the chronological issue of how to add up "fourteen years later" (Gal. 2:1). The reference point Paul keeps using in Gal 1 and 2 is NOT his visit to Jerusalem, but his christophany experience (a very important datum for Paul). So, Gal 2 is what led to the Jerusalem conference.


Darryl Schafer said...

Dr. Reeves:

Rest assured, you don't sound arrogant. And your subtlety is not lost.

I just don't want to think that I'm that evil (despite the fact that I know better).

Michael Gilley said...

I have read this text expanded in view of this issue before. What are the possibilities of it being a left-over from Mark's tragedy where Jesus' disciples leave him, if indeed Luke got most of his material from Mark? This would seem to fit into this mold.

In view of a realized eschatology, what would self-defense really have to do with us, a new creation not of this world? It simply makes since that we live in a loving community, steered by mercy and pushed by faith in what is to come but not yet seen.

Rodney Reeves said...


You did see it!

What bothers me about some of our discussions about the problem of evil and suffering or the question of the use of violence is, at times, we sound like we're infallible, knowing the evil and the good.

Several times, Jesus questioned those who came to him with confident assertions. "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" I love what Jesus said to him, "why do you call me good? No one is good except God." I think we need to spend much time meditating on those few lines of scripture.

When I hear pacifists sorting out refined definitions of violence, I get a little wary: legalism is lurching right around the door.


Be carefuL! Some may think you sound like a gnostic. This earth doesn't matter? Isn't this a "good earth"?

Darryl Schafer said...

Dr. Reeves:

What you said reminded me of something NT Wright said. To paraphrase, we see evil as a line that separates "us" from "them" instead of recognizing that it's a line running through each of us...

But what do we do about it? Billy Graham received a sarcastic question from a reporter one time: "So, Billy, are you going to Heaven when you die?" "I sure hope so," he said. "The more I learn about God and myself, the more I wonder why he would want me there in the first place."

And I guess that's how I feel. The more I learn of God, the more I learn of myself, and I wonder just how wide the gulf is between us. It makes me appreciate his grace all the more, but it's like I'm hovering on the brink of despair sometimes, wondering if that grace really is enough (again, even though I know better).

I'm rambling. You get the idea.

Michael Gilley said...

Thanks for the heeding. I made short what was/is a long discussion. We are not of this world, our citizenships are of the Kingdom to come, but we cannot be apart from the world. At the same time, we are not to take part in its customs and all-to-often pagan ways. There is nothing wrong in the elements of our world (I love shooting guns at targets), but there is something wrong with intentions of the heart that lead to Cain (I don't shoot people and I can't kill those I'm called to love, those who's right to judge is not my own). This earth does matter for ushering in the Kingdom of God. However, many things of this world do not (vengence). In view of a resurrection faith, these things sudden begin to lose their glamore.

Tom 1st said...

Dr. Reeves,
I know you are wary of pacifists working out definitions of violence - and I agree, legalism is a definite possibility there.

However, I'm just wondering what alternative you might suggest?

Certainly legalism is never desirable, but I'm also afraid that if we don't have some kind of working definition of violence then we're subject to the whims of our circumstances - which tends to favor of our actions always being justified.

Rodney Reeves said...


Sorry for the belated response.

Don't we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit?

Why did Jesus tell parables and not explain them?

What's the point of having four gospels--a bunch of stories about Jesus?

The answer to all three questions is why I don't believe we need a "definitive" approach to holiness.


JD said...

could you explain what you mean by "definitive holiness" and how it relates to tom's comment and the questions you stated in your response?

Rodney Reeves said...


I think my questions have obvious answers.

#1 - Yes, he's the only one who empowers us to live holy lives

#2 - Because he believed in the power of the Holy Spirit

#3 - Because it shows us four different ways to follow Jesus. (what, there isn't only one way?)

THEREFORE, one doesn't need to rely upon a "definition" of holiness (pick any subtopic of holy living, whether it be how to love one's enemies, how to take care of your family, how to worship God, et al.). What ALWAYS HAPPENS is the definition becomes the standard whereby we judge one another. Such confident assertions are irrelevant to the kingdom of God.

Incarnation is the only means of holiness. If we take any other approach, we are denying the power of God.

Like Paul said, I will not be judged by any man. Instead, the only standard of comparison is Jesus.


JD said...

thank you for your quick response.

i think that i got the answers to your questions quite readily. what i didn't quite put together was how they fit into the whole "holiness" schema. thank you for explaining what was going on.

some friends of mine and i are having a discussion right now on facebook about righteousness and justification and how that all relates to the gospel. i'm trying to explain to them that our righteousness and justification come from the work of Christ on the cross and in our lives. yet another example of incarnational living.

jr. said...

I would question the extent to which God uses violence in the Revelation. As I see, the primary theme is conquest through Death, not violence. Reading the Revelation through the lens of Genesis 1-11, I see most of what happens is God removing his hand from the creation and allowing Sin to dissolve the divine power holding creation together.

We are consumed/destroyed by our own sin as revealed by the Word of God (the sword coming from the mouth of Jesus).

I agree that Hell is the answer to violence. But where does this leave us in the now? What if I'm attacked? What if I see someone else getting attacked? What impact does the doctrine of Hell have on this?

Rodney Reeves said...


Your approach sounds rather deistic to me.

Don't want God to get his hands dirty, do you?


jr. said...

mmm... I could see where you'd get that. And I AM uncomfortable with God "getting his hands dirty". If Jesus is God's fullest self-disclosure, and Jesus was thoroughly committed to non-violence, how can we allow for a violent God?

I don't think my approach is deistic, though, because as I read Genesis 1-11, I see the text teaching us that God set boundaries on chaos to create the world (chapter 1) and invited us to cultivate creation with him (chapter 2). We decided not to follow chase after God's creative power (chapter 3) and the result is death as we choose to embrace ourselves rather that the other (chapter 4). Humanity creates [after all, we are still in God's image (Chapter 5)], but our continuing refusal to participate with God results in the bounds of creation coming undone when God finally says, "Have your way, then. cultivate the world by your power rather than mine" (chapter 6).

I look to John 3:17-21 for this: "The son did not come to the world to judge the world, but that the world through him might be saved... and this is the judgment, that the light came into the world and the people loved the darkness more than the light." God doesn't judge us; we judge ourselves by separating ourselves from God, our source of life and creation.

I think this approach fits better into the themes of Revelation, which are decidedly non-violent. How can Jesus in the same breath command us to nonviolence/love of our enemies and tell us to be perfect as our Father is perfect if that Father will destroy the evildoer?

I think that, far from God being removed from his creation, God is in and through all things, holding them together. He has invited us to participate with him in cultivating that creation, in reclaiming what was lost in the fall.

But I don't believe that he'll resort to violence to do so.

your thoughts?

Rodney Reeves said...

"and huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, dropped from heaven on people, until they cursed God for the plague of the hail, so fearful was that plague" (Rev. 16:21).

I'm rediscovering what the Bible says about the wrath of God in active terms. I think our proclivity to clean up these passages says more about us than it does about God.

In other words, I think you have half of the story.

Revelation is not merely passive. It is active.

Our struggle, however, is our role in the wrath of God. There, I think, you/we have a much better argument, i.e., pacify the powers via pure allegiance to Jesus Christ and His kingdom. That theme runs througout the Revelation as well.

So, as I've said before, I want to follow Jesus. But, I might use "evil" (violence) to stop evil to protect myself and my family, which is what God does/did. But I, being evil, do so illegitimately.

jr. said...

Hm... I agree with you that the language is in the texts. And I'm sure you'll not be surprised that I have been and continue still to wrestle with these texts.

What troubles me still is how we are to imitate our Father (who is wrathful) if we are to keep ourselves from wrath and violence?

And if Jesus truly is the full disclosure of the Father, then how do we reconcile his example with wrath (I know, I know, we don't have to reconcile it... it's just there)?

Perhaps we're only allowed to be violent/wrathful in an eschatological context? ;)

Joey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.