Ted Grimsrud

Pacifism, God, and the punishment of children

In Justice, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Salvation, Theology, Uncategorized on May 17, 2014 at 10:05 am

Ted Grimsrud—May 18, 2014

[This paper originated as a presentation at the conference, “Mennonites and the Family,” at Goshen College in October 1999. It will be published later this year in Ted Grimsrud, Embodying Peace: Collected Pacifist Writings, Volume 4: Historical and Ethical Essays (Harrisonburg, VA: Peace Theology Books]

What difference does it make to assert that nothing is as important for our theology as pacifism (i.e., the cluster of values which include love, peace, shalom, wholeness, kindness, mercy, restorative justice, nonviolence, and compassion)?

I propose that one difference pacifism makes (or should make) is to cause pacifists to look critically at all justifications for violence – and to question all theological underpinnings for such justifications. In this essay, I will focus critically on one case – theological underpinnings that help justify acting violently toward children (what is commonly called corporal punishment).

I want to discuss six points concerning the theological problem of the justification of violence against children.

(1) Human beings tend to be reluctant to act violently toward other human beings. We usually require some kind of rationale to justify such violence. We must believe some value is more important than nonviolence. For Christians, this value or conviction is usually expressed in terms of “God’s will.”

(2) A theological framework, that I will call “the logic of retribution”, underlies the rationale for the use of violence against children. In “the logic of retribution,” God is understood most fundamentally in terms of impersonal, inflexible holiness. God’s law is seen to be the unchanging standard by which sin is measured. Human beings are inherently sinful. God’s response to sin is punitive. Jesus’ death on the cross is necessary as a sacrifice to provide the only basis for sinful human beings escaping their deserved punishment.

(3) Consistent pacifists must raise theological concerns here. When God is understood, as with the logic of retribution, primarily in terms of impersonal holiness, legal requirements, and strict, vengeful justice, the biblical picture of God as relational, compassionate, and responsive is distorted.

(4) Not only is it justified according to problematic theological assumptions, corporal punishment also has problematic practical consequences. It may well intensify the dynamic of responding to violence with violence, actually educating young people into the practice of using violence. It may also contribute to a stunted experience of life for its recipients.

(5) Given that all theology is humanly constructed, we may (and must) reconstruct our understanding of God in order to foster consistently pacifist theology and practice.

(6) Foundational for such a theological reconstruction, the Bible may be read as providing bases for a “logic of restoration.” According to the logic of restoration, God’s holiness is personal, flexible, dynamic, and relational. God’s justice is concerned with restoring relationships and community wholeness, not with punishment, vengeance, and balancing the impersonal scales of an eye for an eye. God’s mercy is unconditional, not dependent upon human beings in any sense earning it.

Good grief

In Biblical theology, Theology on April 6, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Ted Grimsrud

Sermon at Shalom Mennonite Congregation—April 6, 2014—John 11:35

The scripture text this morning is short, in fact don’t yawn or anything like that when I read it or you might miss it. But you probably know it. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. The King James Version of John 11:35 says it this way: “Jesus wept.” The New Revised Standard Version is a bit more expansive: “Jesus began to weep.” I guess those translators couldn’t stand it that an entire verse had only two words.

Small verse, big message

I want to take these two (or four) words, this little Bible verse, and make a big statement. At this point of Jesus weeping, of Jesus experiencing deep grief—the word translated “wept” could actually be translated “wailed and lamented;” it signifies something quite intense—when Jesus weeps he shows us the intersection between the divine and the human like nothing else he ever did. In his grieving, Jesus most clearly shows us what God is like.

It’s notable that the Gospel of John, of all the gospels, shows us that Jesus wept. John’s Jesus is the most divine of the four gospels, the most—we could almost say—superhuman of the four Jesuses presented in the gospels. Yet John makes the point that Jesus weeps. I want to say that this fits; the most exalted, God-manifesting Jesus is the one who weeps, the one who grieves.

The godness of God is seen in God’s grief. The divine presence in humanity is seen, as much as anywhere, when we grieve. Our grief marks us as creatures made in God’s image, as creatures who possess the spark of God—even as our grief also marks us as human, all too human, fragile creatures, all too fragile.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually think of grief as all that great of a thing. I think of the few moments of deep grief that I have experience and I would be more than happy to have bypassed those moments. Though, as I reflect a bit, I realize that what I would want to bypass are the experiences that led to the grief, not the grief itself—grief was a response on the way to healing.

Let’s think about how we use the word grief. But first a tangent.

Revelation Notes (Chapter 10)

In Biblical theology, Eschatology, Revelation on March 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

Ted Grimsrud—February 19, 2014

[See notes on Revelation 9]

Revelation 9 concluded with a picture of “the rest of humankind” continuing to worship their idols even in the face of the terrible plagues that had killed “a third of humankind” (9:18). “They did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their fornication or their thefts” (9:21). It could be that the point of this image is to underscore just how stupidly stubborn these humans are, that God—in the plagues—had tried to get them to change their ways and they continued to refuse. However, it is much more likely that a different idea is being conveyed here.

We should understand the plagues not as directly sent and controlled by God but more as a way of describing the on-going traumas of fallen human existence in history. The plagues picture something that actually (we will learn beginning in chapter 11) has its direct source in the machinations of the Dragon but that nevertheless does not defeat (and even providentially furthers) God’s purposes. Hence, we may recognize that the point here is that the plagues could not hope to bring about repentance and the turning from idols. Indeed, though this is not an explicit point the visions are making, we can understand that the plagues tend to exacerbate the problem of humanity trusting in idols.

People trust in idols, and as a consequence are pushed by the idols toward “murders, sorceries, fornication, and thefts” (9:21), because they are insecure and traumatized, fearful and in pain. So if God wants to reverse this dynamic, it would make much more sense for God to take a different tack. And this different tack, already described back in Revelation 5 (the hermeneutical key for the entire book), will be detailed beginning in chapter 10.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 853 other followers