A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled #BadGod and the Conquest of Canaan. The post asked how we reconcile the pacifism of Jesus with the God who the people of Israel say commanded them to slaughter thousands of people and take their land. Since that post, a few experiences have served to muddy the water further in my mind.
The first experience actually occurred prior to the writing of that previous post, but my processing of it has continued since. At the invitation of a friend and colleague, I took something called the enneagram, which is a sort of personality assessment. On the enneagram scale, I tested as a 9. Here is a description of the Enneagram type 9 from the Enneagram Institute:
Nines are accepting, trusting, and stable. They are usually creative, optimistic, and supportive, but can also be too willing to go along with others to keep the peace. They want everything to go smoothly and be without conflict, but they can also tend to be complacent, simplifying problems and minimizing anything upsetting. They typically have problems with inertia and stubbornness. At their Best: indomitable and all-embracing, they are able to bring people together and heal conflicts.
What this tells me about myself is that I HATE CONFLICT! This explains a bit of why everything within me rebels against violence and war. It stands in stark contrast to my desire for peace.
In the midst of contemplating this information about myself, I attended a youth conference. There were two things at this conference that bothered the peace-loving side of me greatly. First, on the third night of the conference, we celebrated communion together. The morning session that day focused on purity and the speaker at the evening session drew upon that for his talk. He showed a few clips from movies to illustrate how Hollywood has distorted our picture of what romantic love is. He said that our perception of romantic love has been corrupted. Then he had a picture put on the large screens of (a Hollywood depicted) Jesus…hanging on the cross, blood on every inch of skin, battered, bruised, and abused. I felt truly sick looking at it. And the first thing I thought to myself was, “How can we, on the one hand, criticize Hollywood’s portrayal of love and sex, but then, in the same breath, lift up a graphic picture of violence?” Are we not just as corrupted by Hollywood in our views of violence? Perhaps even more so if the speaker felt that picture was perfectly okay to show.
The other experience I want to mention from that conference came on the fourth and final night…with the same speaker again. This time, he spoke about spiritual warfare. Now, I read and enjoyed the Frank Peretti books just like the rest of you, but here’s the thing about those books: THEY ARE FICTION! Don’t get me wrong. I believe that we face struggles and temptations in life that come from some strong force…call it evil or the devil or what-have-you. However, the war imagery bothers me. Yes, I know that the Bible uses that sort of imagery…armor of God, war against powers, blah blah blah. But, frankly, it still doesn’t sit well with me. And it doesn’t seem the type of message we should be focusing on with our youth, who already have been largely desensitized to violence through movies and video games and what not. I’m not sure that using war imagery with teenagers whose closest experience with fighting is World of Warcraft is really very helpful. Especially when we make it seem like we can somehow WIN that battle. Only God can defeat sin…and that battle has already been won…through sacrifice…NOT war.
So, that leads me to look at one specific Bible text and ask a few questions about it. The passage is Ephesians 6:10-17:
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
My first question is: Why do we use this metaphor to talk about going to war as if we are the attackers? The only offensive weapon listed is the sword of the Spirit, but Paul says the sword metaphor represents the Word of God. And isn’t the Word of God Jesus? And how did Jesus combat the forces of evil? By laying down his life.
My second question is: Who are we supposed to be protecting with the armor of God? Most people that I’ve heard interpret this passage to be about protecting ourselves from the temptations of evil in our lives. But couldn’t it be possible that we are to put on the armor in order to protect others? Perhaps those who are being abused or attacked unjustly?
And my final question about this passage: Why do I rarely hear talk about the shoes that make us “ready to proclaim the gospel of peace?” (underlines are mine) Is it because they do not seem to have a specific metaphor attached to them? Or is it because that tricky word “peace” is in there and people don’t know what to do with it if they want to interpret this passage as being about war?
Maybe you think I am over-analyzing all of this. If so, help me out. Tell me how you see things. If you can relate to these struggles and questions, tell me that, too. It is always helpful to me to know that I am not alone in this. If you think I am simply off my rocker, you can tell me that as well…but be nice about it. I’m a peace-loving person, remember. I’m not looking for a fight. 🙂