Or, more accurately, doesn’t belong. Because on the basis of the posts we’ve laid out so far, we now have a sufficiently panoramic theological view to see why neither nonviolence nor violence are ever the right strategies for Christians when it comes to ransoming captives, and why Jesus truly is the only way to understand their strategic insufficiency.
As we talked about in the last post, the first rule of ransoming is to ransom the captor. It’s the revolutionary insight that evades videogamers and videogame creators everywhere: Mario should not seek to rescue Peach but should instead endeavor to set Donkey Kong free. Set Donkey Kong free and the endless levels of increasingly complex game play come, amazingly, to an end, no longer necessary.
Fanciful idealism? Hardly. It’s the great insight that’s woven into the very fabric of the universe–the only solution to ransoming the captives that does more than to displace, postpone, or exacerbate the otherwise intractable problem of captivity.
It is what Gandhi saw in Jesus that transformed his struggle against the British…into his struggle with the British for Indians and Brits to be set free, together.
It is what Martin Luther King saw in Jesus that transformed the American Civil Rights struggle as well. Once you see–really see–the captivity of those whom you were absolutely positive were your sworn enemies, nothing about the struggle can ever be the same again.
The insight, notably, has always come historically from people beholding Jesus and the way Jesus beheld his enemies–as captives even as they thought he himself was their captive–crying out to his father for them, not him, to be set free:
39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:39-43, ESV)
4 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34, ESV)
Regrettably, though great men apprehend much in beholding Jesus, there is one area where they still miss the essential Jesus (and thus, likely, his divinity). Our battle is not against flesh and blood: Correct. But this does not mean there is not a battle, and thus it does not mean that nonviolence is either the answer or even a viable strategy. There is a battle, of such magnitude and incomprehensible dimensions that it simply makes the fighting and nonfighting of humans silly and irrelevant.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12, NIV)
The Scripture does not say we do not battle. To the contrary, it says that the battle is on–against the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
And, incredulously, it says that we are the ones who battle against such forces. And this is why neither nonviolence nor violence are ever the right strategies, and why nonviolence is never advocated by Jesus or his immediate successors as the strategy; namely, earthly violence is simply on a different plane as heavenly powers or spiritual forces.
Mario can’t, in the terms of our diminutive example, set Donkey Kong free either through nonviolence or violence. They’re irrelevant–attempting either is a strategic category error. For Donkey Kong to be set free, the software itself has to be rewritten–an intervention that is only possible from outside the frame of the game.
Nonviolence and violence describe the relationship between the avowed combatants in the contest. The recognition that combatants are actually co-captives is a epoch-shaking insight, to be sure. But by itself the insight remains pitifully insufficient to set captives free. It is why civil rights movements lead to advances but never quite to transformations.
No, nothing happens unless a force is definitively and permanently engaged from outside the frame. And the foundational testimony of the Christian faith is that there is but one such force: God himself.
And that is why Jesus acts neither nonviolently nor violently toward his captors as he hangs on the Cross. Instead, he acts toward the only force he ever acts in his life–the only force with which we ourselves should ever act in matters of ransoming the captive, or with regard to any matters at all:
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:44-46, ESV)
It is only when we are finally disabused of our faith in both violence and nonviolence that we can definitively engage the battle and unleash the one and only power so disruptive that prisons can contain neither captives nor the praise of those who, set free, sing the song of triumph of our God.