Monday 9 October 2006

Eberhard Jüngel on peace war

“Can the church ... insist that every use of military force is against God’s will and therefore that even the threat of military force, institutionalised in the form of armies, is also to be condemned absolutely? ... Only by describing every war as an offence against God’s gracious and – precisely in its graciousness – holy will, can the church formulate the urgent demand on all states worldwide to condemn solemnly and together the mere threat of military force.... The institution of war can only be abolished if the institution of the potential for war is abolished....

“[I]t is important to ask whether the church can credibly proclaim the Gospel, the glorification of those who make peace, without at the same time rejecting every threat and use of military force. And how can it do this more convincingly than by working for the laying aside of weapons not only by Christians, but by all people around the world? ... [T]he question forces itself inexorably on the church, whether the time has not come in which Christians can only be credible witnesses to Jesus Christ as conscientious objectors.”

—Eberhard Jüngel, Christ, Justice and Peace: Toward a Theology of the State in Dialogue with the Barmen Declaration (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992), pp. 84-92.


Weekend Fisher said...

<< how can it do this more convincingly than by working for the laying aside of weapons not only by Christians, but by all people around the world? >>

Whenever a theologian -- no matter how prominent, or how prominently-associated -- is not completely in step with Christ, that raises a red flag. It's true that Christ told Peter he shouldn't have attacked Malchus that night ... but Christ was also the one who told him to make sure he brought a sword that night.

It's a thin, thin line that we walk. Holding the right tension is never easy. But resolving the tension by falling off to one side or the other, denying that one side or the other has any legitimacy ...? It doesn't sit right with me.

I'm very much in favor of what Paul said, that insofar as it depends on us we should live at peace with everybody.

Take care & God bless

Michael Westmoreland-White, Ph.D. said...

This is a brilliant statement by Juengel. I haven't read much by him, but I like this.

Christ's statement at the Last Supper that the disciples should "sell their cloaks and buy swords," was an ironic statement--of what they should do if they were not willing to tread his path to the cross in faith that God would save or raise them. As usual, the disciples were slow. "Look, Lord, here are 2 swords. Are they enough?" Against the whole Roman army??? So, Jesus replies, "ENOUGH!" (Check out the Greek; there is no verb. It must be supplied.) Not an affirmation, "Sure. Two swords are plently." NO! Jesus is losing his patience with them for NEVER GETTING IT: "Enough of this!" In other words, "Just shut up!"

That interpretation explains his rebuke of Peter in the garden. If he was affirming the 2 swords, then he would have COMMENDED Peter for defending him. Or he would have said, "Normally, this kind of defense would be good, but, now, I, the Messiah, have to die an atoning death. So, tonight put up your sword." NO! NO! NO!

Instead, Jesus gives a general rule: "All who take up the sword shall die by the sword." As Tertullian said, that disarmed every soldier.

Anonymous said...

As ever, Michael, you're right on the money, echoing my own exegesis of Luke 22:38 (Proposition 3, citing I. H. Marshall). But this gives me the opportunity of offering a thousand thanks for all your comments on these Ten Propositions. Indeed you make me feel like a fraud - you should have written them yourself!


Anonymous said...

At risk of harping on, I still think it is a mistake to describe the content of Christian discipleship straightforwardly as non-violence for everybody. Yes, we do not "water down the gospel" when we preach it to the ruler, or the general, or the policeman; we proclaim it in all its fullness: Jesus Christ is Lord, now witness to his kingdom. But this witness is not always non-violence, because punishing those who do wrong may be violent (and may mean war).

O'Donovan writes:
"Christian pacifism... shortchanges the ethical task of describing a witness that takes form within the conditions of the world. The pathos of suffering drowns out the practical demand, the 'it may be' of Providence, that calls us to adventure [1 Sam. 14:6]. Stanley Hauerwas's claim that 'Nonresistance but names the way God has chosen to redeem us' can be sustained only as long as we emphasise the verb. 'Nonresistance' 'names' the dawning of redemption in precisely the sense that the tetragramaton YHWH 'names' God. That is to say, it inducts us into the theophany, but it does not prescribe the praxis of worship. 'Nonresistance' is not an ethical term. As the cross is not the sum of how Jesus 'went about doing good,' so neither is the command 'follow me' exhaustively accounted for by the words: 'when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go."

Weekend Fisher said...

I think that interpretation -- that Jesus wasn't serious about bringing the swords -- is strained. Was Jesus being ironic about taking some money along also? (And did they really bring the whole Roman army to the garden?)

Bless you, I have no doubt that you mean completely well. But the sarcasm about "the whole Roman army" isn't supported. Christ never says exactly why he tells them to take purses and swords, but there's no reason from the text to suppose he's less serious about taking the swords than about taking purses or bags, or that he really only means they should take the money and swords along for the trip if they weren't spiritually prepared. He could have easily said "Leave the swords" instead of "Enough", if he hadn't intended them to bring swords but only purses and bags. (Btw in the Greek I have handy, it's "ikanon estin".)

Jesus did forbid us to fight on his behalf; we can't afford to miss that. His kingdom is not of this world and he won't have his kingdom established by force. There's no sign that he accepts fighting on his behalf as service towards himself.

While the text doesn't say why Christ told them to take swords (and purses and bags), the gospel accounts give reason to believe the disciples feared for their own safety, and that these fears were justified. Mark's account has a disciple running off without his clothes. That would hardly be necessary unless someone had seized him and was restraining him by his clothes. John's account has Jesus asking the guards to let his disciples go since he was the one they wanted. That wouldn't have been necessary to say unless there was some consideration of arresting the disciples along with Jesus. So while Jesus doesn't say it's because he knows they'll be in personal danger, it's hard to imagine another reason he'd want them to bring swords. After all, I'd assume that the reason he'd asked them to bring their bags is because they'd wish they had them; likewise with the swords.

We know the take-home message from the sword exchange: "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword". It's not meant to be reassuring. While Jesus does not condemn self-defense, he does point out that any use of the sword, no matter how justified, may not be the best way to spend your life (or death, as the case may be). Peter wasn't ready for martyrdom at that point. Jesus didn't condemn Peter for not being ready for martyrdom at that point; Jesus wasn't even ready for Peter to be martyred at that point, the time wasn't right.

So if you ever find yourself about to be killed for no good reason -- or find your neighbor about to be killed unjustly -- keep in mind that the Bible goes its whole length without condemning self-defense or defending the helpless. Jesus was the one who told Peter to bring a sword (and a purse and a bag) and then told him to put it away rather than prevent Calvary: "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" I believe he meant it both times. There are acceptable uses and unacceptable uses, and none of them except in a fallen world.

Again, a fine line to walk.

Take care & God bless

Anonymous said...

Hi again, Weekend Fisher. Thanks for stretching us on this one, but . . .

(1) I have three commentaries on Luke, all of which suggest that Luke 22:38 is ironical. George Caird (who was my teacher at Oxford) observes: "The instruction . . . to buy swords is an example of Jesus' fondness for violent metaphor (cf. Matt 23:24, Mark 10:25), but the disciples take it literally, as pedants have continued to do ever since." And on ikanon estin, I. H. Marshall, observing that "the phrase has a Semitic equivalent," says that "It is most probable that this simply means 'That's enough (sc. of this conversation)' and is meant as a rebuke."

(2) As for Mark 14:51f., well, it is certainly possible that the guy scarpers naked because his clothes have been ripped off in a struggle, but such a scene strikes me as more Life of Brian than Life of Jesus.

(3) As for self-defence, show me a single verse where Jesus sanctions self-defence, or acts in self-defence himself. If there is one place absolute literalism is justified it is in Matthew 6:38-48. Ulrich Luz spells it out in The Theology of Matthew (1993): "The commandments given in the Antitheses are concrete and extreme in their demands. There are no limits to the divine will . . . The prohibitions of resistance to evil excludes no areas from its sphere of validity. . . Moreover these examples . . . are worded so radically that they seem to permit no forms of 'peaceful' violence. . . It need hardly be mentioned that these prohibitions were meant to be followed literally."


Anonymous said...

an even crazier idea than thomisticguy's:

instead of flying to Iraq and asking the people to stop the insurgency why don't we stop murdering innocent Iraqi's ourselves, stop supplying radical nations like Iran with weapons, after supplying nations like Iran with weapons we could stop supplying their neighbors with weapons for the express purpose of warfare between them (thereby causing the countries we just armed to hate us)

i totally agree about nuclear weapons. they are inexcusable. unfortunately, the only country to ever use an atomic bomb against fellow human beings is the USA...

oh well, fuck what Jesus would do. this is the western world. we believe wealth, aristocracy, and fox news, certainly not peace, pacifism and equality.

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