I am news reporter and communications specialist by profession, I am not a theologian or a scholar. But when I think about the peace movement of Jesus, or Jesus’ stance on non-violence, it gives me pause and honestly takes me on an interesting journey in my mind and heart.
One of Isaiah’s prophesies (Isa 9:6) that points to Jesus literally calls him the Prince of Peace, right? And in the Beatitudes, he calls peacemakers blessed, saying those are the folks who will be called children of God (Matt 5:9). Jesus declares that when we become active peacemakers, we have the same heavenly Father he does.
But then I think of the times that Jesus got mad.
He cursed the fig tree that was flowering but not bearing fruit. Then he gets so upset he starts flipping tables and driving folks out of the temple (Mark 11:12-15). In John’s gospel, he takes the time to braid a whip to clear out the temple. So I ask myself, is that “non-violent”?
As a news reporter, if I were assigned to cover this story of Jesus at the temple, I’d say this was a “violent attack at the temple by a man who had recently unleashed his anger on a fig tree”. And if I were to speak to witnesses who saw this incident, they would likely call it violent too.
But is Christian pacifism the same thing as being passive?
The term pacifism today carries the meaning of “having an attitude or policy of nonresistance” (Merrier-Webster Dictionary). However, the “word ‘pacifism’ is derived from the [Latin] word ‘pacific,’ which means ‘peace making’”, which is not the same thing as being passive. Being passive denotes “accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance” (Oxford Dictionary).
Jesus was a peacemaker, but he was certainly not passive.
Jesus was active in making peace. He actively made peace between people and his heavenly Father, and taught God’s image bearers to make peace with one another. It was in fact this very thing that the religious were stunned, offended, and angered with him for as he “ate with tax collectors and sinners, in hopes of getting the sick to The Doctor” (Mrk 2:17). Jesus actively removes and resists the things that destroy that peace.
Here’s another thing that I find interesting, in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, when Jesus heals the man with leprosy, in the NIV translation, verse 41 is says, “Jesus was indignant”. Other translations say “moved with anger”, while still others translate it as “moved with compassion”, or “feeling deeply sorry”.
When I’m moved to want to commit an act of violence, it’s rarely because I’m moved with compassion or feeling deeply sorry. It is not to actively make peace. When I hear that a person has done something horrible to another person or animal that can’t defend themselves, I want them “to pay”. Of course, justice is Godly, but If I’m honest, what I really want most is vengeance, not peace. Or perhaps I just get frustrated in my circumstances, such as sitting in Atlanta traffic, or feel deeply offended by some insensitive and idiotic thing someone said. When this happens, I am not usually indignant, moved with compassion, or feel deeply sorry like Jesus … I simply want retribution.
So as much as I’d like to justify the use of violence to “right” a “wrong”, it’s simply not the way of Jesus, who innocently died on a cross at the hands of his enemies and entrusted himself to the only one who can truly judge justly (1 Pet 2:23).
Jesus, help me follow you.
1 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Pacifism”. First published Jul 6, 2006; substantive revision Sep 15, 2018, accessed March 25, 2023. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pacifism