Perhaps the most common objection to nonviolence is that it simply doesn’t work. Of course, the first question that comes to my mind is, “Work for what?” If you mean “Nonviolence doesn’t get rid of all the violence in the world”, or something along those lines, you’re right. Nonviolence doesn’t work for that. Having said that, there are numerous examples of when nonviolence has worked. Rather than copy and paste examples that others have worked hard to gather, I will simply send you to this website for a timeline of nonviolence throughout history.
The question that must be asked, then, is “What is the goal of Christian nonviolence?” In other words, if we say that nonviolence does or does not work, we have to ask, “Work for what?” We’ve already come close the answer in a previous post. We find the answer in the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 5:13-16. The goal of Christian nonviolence Continue reading
We come now to the climax and foundation of the Christian argument for nonviolence—the life and example of Jesus. When we look at Jesus’ life, we find that Jesus’ life and example was extremely nonviolent. In order to see this, though, we should first look at the context in which Jesus lived and the expectations that Jews had for what a Messiah would look like.
During New Testament times, it was expected that the Messiah would be a king who delivered the Jews out from oppression and bring his own kingdom. Many, if not all, Jews expected this to happen through a violent revolution. If you read Josephus, for instance, you see some stories of these Jewish Messiah figures and the revolutions they started. From the Bible and other sources, we know of Judas of Galilee, Manahem Ben Judah and the Sicarri, and Theudas, among others—Messiah figures who all led violent revolts.
We know the story of Gamaliel in Acts 5. The Jewish leaders had become upset at some of Jesus’ followers and planned to move against them. Gamaliel warns the other leaders and says, basically, “Be careful! If this movement is of human origin, it will die out like all the other false messiahs’ movements died out. But if it is of divine origin, then you will be working against God! Best leave well enough alone.” Gamaliel is here referencing other messiahs who had led violent revolts, who had been killed and whose movements had then died. Gamaliel knew that these previous Messianic figures had led violent revolts. (It is interesting, in this context, that at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when he is tempted in the desert, the temptations have to do with Jesus taking up kingdoms and practicing power in ways that more traditionally align with Jewish expectations of the Messiah.)
It is in this context and with these expectations that Jesus begins his ministry. Jesus does claim to be the Messiah, and this is clear because he is eventually crucified, probably for sedition and blasphemy—claiming to be God, and claiming to be king. But Jesus does not turn out to be the kind of Messiah the Jews were looking for. Continue reading