When violence is sub-Christian…

These words conclude Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace.

If one decides to put on soldier’s gear instead of carrying one’s cross, one should not seek legitimation in the religion that worships the crucified Messiah. For there, the blessing is given not to the violent but to the meek (Matthew 5:5).

There are Christians who have a hard time resisting the temptation to seek religious legitimation for their (understandable) need to take up the sword. If they give in to this temptation, they should forego all attempts to exonerate their version of Christian faith from complicity in fomenting violence. Of course, they can specifiy that religious symbols should be used to legitimate and inspire only just wars. But show me one warring party that does not think its war is just! Simple logic tells us that at least half of them must be wrong. It could be, however, that simple logic does not apply to the chaotic world of wars. Then all would be right, which is to say that all would be wrong, which is to say that terror would reign – in the name of gods who can no longer be distinguished from devils.

Volf has at this point spent 305 pages elaborating on how he gets to this point. Exclusion, he argues, is at the root of violence – it ostracizes, it wounds, it assimilates, it craves unity over difference. Exclusion wants to remove the reality of the other.

Embrace makes space for the other, it makes room for difference and attempts to see from the perspective of the other. Embrace knows full well it may suffer because of the other but that is the price it pays. Embrace sees non-violence and non-remembrance as the only way to peace and its bearing of pain is its protest.

The Christian position is ever that of embrace because it was and is the way of Jesus and his church. The attempt to justify or nurse grudges, hates and divisions in the body of the crucified Christ, the man for others, is to fail to be the church, it is a failure to extend the grace given to you.

Following the Messiah takes you a particular direction – to deviate from the path of peace and non-violence, forgiveness and non-remembrance, that leads to the cross for the sake of the other is to cease to be a disciple.

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