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Cultivating Shalom in a Violent World, Part 2

The way of nonviolence

The way of nonviolent engagement constitutes a third characteristic of shalom people. We take seriously the teachings of the Master to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-48) and to put away the sword (Matt. 26:42), and we interpret Jesus’ death on the cross as his way of overcoming hate with love and evil with good (Matt. 26:53; Rom. 12:17-21). We see neither retaliation nor passivity as acceptable responses to the world’s death-dealing violence; we see a third way.

Popularized by New Testament scholar Walter Wink, this “third way” is the radical way of nonviolent resistance, based primarily upon the teachings of Jesus concerning turning the other check, giving one’s undergarment, and going the second mile (Matt. 5:38-42; Luke 6:29-30). Contrary to popular interpretations that these illustrations teach victims to subject themselves to further humiliation and pain in response to bully tactics, Wink shows that they actually convey resistance by denying a bully the power to humiliate while simultaneously seizing the moral initiative in the situation. For example, in Jesus’ time and culture, “turning the other cheek” would force an offender to strike the victim on the left cheek, which was willfully offered. But this action actually elevates the victim to equal social status—the exact opposite of what the striker intended. Nonviolent resistance disarms the violator while maintaining the dignity of the victim. According to Wink, this and the other two illustrations demonstrated a third way of response to dominant violators of human dignity and life—not the first way of violent retaliation nor the second way of cowering acquiescence, but the third way of nonviolent, righteous resistance.(24)

Wink cautions that we must be responsible in teaching nonviolence to victims of domestic abuse, racism, and the like, lest we teach them the way of passivity and cowardice.(25) I agree, but we still need more to concretize nonviolent righteous resistance in our lives. Peace activist Richard K. Taylor offers five principles that I believe can help guide shalom Christians in the way of gospel nonviolence:(26)

1. A deep faith in God and God’s power (Rom. 1:16; 2 Thess. 1:11). Gospel nonviolence is so contrary to fallen human nature that it takes nothing less than deep faith to enable us to practice it—even for Jesus (see Matt. 26:39).

2. A resolve to resist injustice—or, stated more positively, a strong sense of justice (Jer. 7:5-7; Mic. 6:8).

3. Goodwill towardwrongdoers (Luke 6:35-36; Rom. 12:14-21).

4. A willingness to suffer for what is right (Matt. 5:10-12; 1 Pet. 2:19-21).

5. A refusal to inflict suffering on others (Zech. 7:9-10; Matt. 22:39).

If these guiding principles seem superhuman, it is because they are; go back to Principle 1!

Waging peace

Finally, shalom Christians understand the proactive aspect of peace—namely, the call to make peace, to initiate it and help shape the world by it. It is not enough to keep the peace or to respond nonviolently to enemies of peace; we must also advance to make peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9). I confess that my heart warms when I pass a vehicle sporting the bumper sticker, “Wage Peace” (attesting to the fact that once in a great while, a bumper sticker gets it right!).

To wage peace takes on at least three practical dimensions. First, shalom Christians forgive, as they bask in God’s forgiveness for them (Matt. 6:14-15). A church cannot promote peace in the world unless it learns to extend forgiveness even to those who have done great harm. The story of Eric Irivuzumugabe comes to mind. A Tutsi who survived the infamous Rwandan genocide, Irivuzumugabe learned to forgive Hutus, who massacred many of his loved ones and friends.(27)

The story of the Amish community that extended forgiveness to the man who murdered five of their children and injured five others in a school shooting in Nickel Mines, PA, also comes to mind.(28) These stories speak of “the divine logic of forgiveness.”(29) To forgive is to wage peace.

Second, inseparably related to forgiveness is the practice of reconciliation. We are commanded not just to love our neighbors but also to love our enemies. The ministry of reconciliation ensures that forgiveness goes the distance (Rom. 5:18-20). In a sermon on loving our enemies, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached, “We can never say, ‘I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.’ Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies.”(30)

And third, shalom Christians engage in subversive acts of compassion and justice. By “subversive” I mean to emphasize that we aid those suffering due to political conflict or injustice, not just because they need desperate help, but also as a statement to the powers that their decisions destroy lives. To wage peace is to oppose war and injustice by helping the suffering poor who are so often caught in the crossfire.

Excerpted from chapter 9 of Missional Preaching: Engage, Embrace, Transform by Al Tizon, copyright © 2012 by Judson Press. Used by permission of Judson Press.

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