Some alternative readings of the politics of Jesus

Still meditating on Jesus’ politics and pacifism, here are some random thoughts:

  • Something I’ve learned from the Biblical Horizons guys (Jordan, Leithart, Wilson, Jones, Meyers etc.) is that according to Scripture, the most effective tool for change (in any context) is worship. If someone finds this controversial I’ll try to find some proof-texts, but for now I’ll just leave it as taken for granted.
  • Given this thought, might this be an underlying principle of Jesus’ politics? It could explain his opposition to the zealots: by opposing the rulers violently, they seem to be implicitly not trusting God (if one thinks that God wants people to obey those in authority), and this implies they think something is more effective than worship, which would imply something else besides God is God. It would also provide some explanation as to how his death was a political act: it was an offering/sacrifice of himself to the Father for our sake, which is to say it was an act of worship on our behalf, instead of using violence against the Romans/Herodians.
  • But then what about Jesus’ apparent apathy towards the rulers, or Paul’s counter-imperial gospel? Perhaps these could be read as opposition to rulers who have put themselves against God and Christ (cf. 1 Cor 2, Revelation, the Gospels, etc.), and not as opposition to violence in general. This is consistent with many of the images and verses I’ve brought up previously: as John says, the whole world is under the sway of the evil one, but as Hebrews says, Christ came into the world precisely to destroy the works of the devil (thus one could agree that at the time of Christ the whole world was under the control of Satan, but without deducing from this that Jesus was saying it would always be this way with regard to states).
  • Further, this conviction about the effectiveness of worship can even be construed as an underlying principle of the just war theory. One of the main purposes of just-war theory is to provide criteria by which we can judge whether it is right in a situation to fight, or right to surrender; this means that sometimes it should be possible to conclude that the only just thing to do would be to allow the enemy to conquer us (or less drastically, to try to respond to the hostile action with less-than violent action), because any other course of action would produce more evil than that. Some of the criteria of just war are based on proportion: the response to the evil must be “an eye for an eye”, that is, reasonably proportionate to the evil (not more!), and decision to engage (or continue) in war must ultimately be “proportioned” to the ultimate purpose of war under just-war criteria: the establishment of peaceful co-existence between the societies/parties at war (not unconditional surrender or complete extermination of the enemy!). As well, the criteria of discrimination means that one can never target those not materially involved in the acts of war simply because it might be effective at ending the war (one thinks of carpet bombing whose sole purpose is to hammer civilians enough to reduce morale to the point of surrender). All of these criteria provide “lines” which should not be crossed for the purpose of effectiveness, or glory, or whatever; if one takes these as commanded by God, then violating them would imply one holds something higher than God, that one is worshipping an idol. If one is willing to surrender to an enemy for the sake of obeying God, this is an act of worship/sacrifice towards the true God, and the Gospel promises that faith in God ultimately justifies, that it is in the last analysis the most effective means of righting the wrongs of the world. All this to say: the supreme effectiveness of worshiping YHWH is in some ways the underlying point of just-war criteria.
  • This reading of the underlying principle of Jesus’ political teachings/actions also connects with what just-war supporters usually give as the explanation for the general pacifism of the early church: the main reason most were opposed to violence was really the inherent idolatry involved in serving the Roman government, rather than the violence itself (though admittedly there were many who opposed violence in general). Further, this gives some reason that Christians should be, at least, critically aware of their involvement with the state (being in power often brings temptation toward idolatry in some form or another; seeking for power or wealth is often criticized, though not categorically).
  • This principle is even consistent with the “non-violent” impulses in the OT: whenever Israel goes to war against the command of God they fail, and Israel is repeatedly to “not put their trust in princes” but rather in the Lord; these are all ultimately about who Israel was worshiping.
  • For obvious reasons, this principle is also inherently in conflict with considering one’s nation to be inherently perfect, impossible of ethical error (and thus effectively the thing one trusts most); one cannot have divided loyalties, and human beings are not perfect. Nationalism is not the gospel.
  • Finally, this principle would, all things being equal, be more likely to lead to non-violence than violence; if one is taught to trust the Lord for vindication rather than taking vengeance, and this behaviour is both a) vindicated by God so that it is the most effective way of living, and b) is infectious, so that it spreads to others (as the early church put it, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”, or as Jesus put it “if a seed falls to the ground and dies it will bear much fruit)), it would ultimately lead to a society (and perhaps a world) of people willing to suffer rather than cause others to suffer. This makes this principle consistent with the OT prophecies about the New Age which construe it as an age of peace (swords into plowshares and all that).