This is a very slightly edited version of a post that originally appeared in May 2014.
In his first epistle, the Apostle John tells us that God is love. To me, this means that if you boil it all down, if you strip away all the metaphysical and philosophical baggage and offload all the man-made religion, you are left with the essence of what God is: love.
But what is love?
In modern culture, of course, love has often been either trivialised into soppy romanticism or confused with lust, with sex as its purest and most exalted expression. Needless to say, neither of these comes close to describing the kind of love that God is.
Here’s what Jesus had to say about love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
I would say it’s pretty clear, then: the pinnacle of love is not romance, sentimentality or even some kind of general fondness or affection; the pinnacle of love is self-sacrifice. This is why the purest expression of the very nature of God – which is love – is Christ upon the cross.
Now, think for a moment about violence. What is violence? Here’s my proposed working definition: violence is the use of force – whether psychological, verbal, physical or armed – either to impose one’s will upon another individual or group or to protect’s one’s family, friends or property.
Violence as I have defined it, then, can be summed up as using force either to get what we want or to protect what is ours. Most Christians would agree that using force to get what we want is a Bad Thing. But when it comes to protecting what is ours… well, that’s a sacrosanct, God-given right, isn’t it?
In pondering on this issue, I’ve begun to come to the following two conclusions:
1. Jesus never sought to impose his will on any individual or group. As far as I can tell, he never used any form of coercion to get anyone to do anything. So, if we are to follow Jesus, we should likewise seek to eschew all forms of coercion and violence.
2. Jesus did nothing to protect himself or his friends from violence, even though that violence was inflicted by unquestionably evil oppressors. That’s what he meant by laying down his life. And once again, if we are called to follow him, this is the path he invites us to take.
As I said above, our right to protect ourselves, our families and our property is considered sacrosanct, not to say virtually unquestionable among believers and unbelievers alike. Be that as it may, I can’t get away from the fact that forceful self-preservation, however apparently justified it may be, appears to be utterly incompatible with the kingdom of God.
To quote another scripture, “God is light, and him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). I’d like to suggest this could equally be paraphrased “God is love, and in him is no violence at all”.
Here’s my conclusion, then: God is love, and love is nothing if it is not non-coercion and non-violence.
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