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. In fact, for some people it is so violent they believe that the God of the Old Testament cannot possibly be the same, loving God found in the New Testament. We will explore the six dimensions of being created by God. Understanding who God created us to be will help us discern proper response to violence and war that has become so prevalent in our world. Consistently, the Old Testament moves the community from a culture of warfare to a culture striving towards lasting peace. We will see that being created in the image of God empowers us to interact with our world with a different mindset. It will prepare us to be a community that upholds and strives for peace to preserve relationship between God, humans, and created order. Imago Dei One of the key issues for the discussion of war is the idea of “Imago Dei.” Genesis 1 asserts that we were created in the “image of God.” There are implications that this “image” imposes on our interaction with God, humanity, and created order (Gonzalez). As such, it is vital to understand these implications so that we might better understand and answer the question of war and ethics in light of the Old Testament. As portrayed in Genesis 1 and 2, God created us as: composite creatures, laborers, stewards, moral creatures, communal creatures, and as equals. These characteristics will structure our Biblical response to war and violence. The Value of Human Life To start, we must first establish that we are composite creatures. We consist of
2 both body and spirit together. These are not two distinct, separate components of our nature. These components are joined and inseparable. In Genesis 2, God formed us from the dust and breathed the breath of life into us. This “breath” can also be translated as “spirit” (Unger 1043). Likewise, Ezekiel 37 paints a picture of God making dusty bones live again by breathing new life into them. This indicates that life is derived from God, not humanity. Moreover, this picture indicates that people are composed of dirt and breath, body and spirit. These two components are inseparable aspects of the human creature. War tends to twist our perspective of the human creature as only body while ignoring their spirit. This, in a very real sense, makes people just animals. When we divorce the body from the spirit of a person, we desensitize ourselves to their unique qualities bestowed by God, an essential quality of their humanity. We also lose a sense of their meaningfulness to God as a unique, integral part of His created order. As with Psalm 8:4, we may question, “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him” (NIV)? God places value on every individual. In Genesis 4 we have the story of the first murder. Cain kills his brother, Abel, due to jealousy and anger. God states that Abel’s blood cries out to Him from the ground. God then proceeds to pronounce judgment upon Cain for his sinful action. Why is Cain’s behavior wrong and destructive? In reality, it is based on the value of human life instilled by God. More than being a story simply about murder, this narrative shows disrupted order of brotherly unity and community. Cain has neglected brotherly responsibility (Brueggemann 60). Despite this neglect by Cain, it is important to note God’s reaction towards Cain’s violence. Hearing God’s judgment upon him, Cain states that he cannot bear this punishment. God then shows unbelievable mercy to this
3 murderer by marking him with a sign of protection. God chooses mercy over retribution (Brueggemann 61). Like God, we must seek reconciliation over retribution. Created to Create/ Shepherding Stewards People were created to labor in creation and be stewards over creation. These two concepts are closely connected and difficult to separate, so we will talk about them in conjunction. God created humanity to add value to creation and not merely toil in creation. As such, God has empowered us to “govern” over creation as seen in Genesis 1. This is a vital construct of right-relatedness in our interaction with God, people, and created order. Concerning human life, C. S. Lewis aptly wrote in his book, The Weight of Glory, “You have never met a mere mortal (15). In other words, life is valuable and precious. We have a significant role in shaping the lives of others, for the good or the bad. Erwin McManus, lead pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles and founder of Awaken, noted, “A significant part of seizing divine moments is recognizing that God’s intention is to use us as vessels for good. Not simply to do good, but to generate good, to lead others toward good” (126). This is a great responsibility not to be taken flippantly. We were created to be agents of the Divine in the world, to enhance not destroy. This Godgiven dominion is not tyranny but rather becoming a servant to and for creation (Brueggemann 31-35).. As such, creation, including humanity, as God’s good work is not to be exploited and domineered but nurtured to produce life. This service to creation can be seen as the preservation and nurture of right relationship between God and humanity, as well as, human to human relationships. The idea of stewardship is vastly different from ownership. Martin Buber in his book, I and Thou, argues that the relationship of an owner is “I-It,” whereas the
4 relationship of a steward to an object is “I-Thou-It.” Simply, stewardship involves our [I] care of creation [It] with and for God [Thou]. The “It” is not under our solemn control. We are caretakers, shepherds, and servants of creation with and for God. This is still very much God’s created order, not to be confused as our own (Buber). When we view ourselves as stewards, we have a true perspective for how we are to treat others. For instance, in the narrative of 1 Samuel, Israel has demanded a king. Saul consequently is appointed ruler over Israel. Over time, Saul becomes controlling and self-seeking. He shifts from seeing himself as God’s appointed servant for Israel to the mindset that Israel serves him. This attitude leads Saul to make numerous attempts on David’s life due to the fear of losing “his” kingdom. Wisdom literature, especially the Psalms, label such pursuit as vain and out of touch with reality. The Psalmist often claims that all of heaven and earth is God’s domain. We must ultimately answer to God for our stewards, or lack thereof. War is often fought out of a sense of ownership. Ownership can take many forms: resources (including people), national pride, and entitlement. Having a healthy perspective as stewards, we can relate properly to God, others, and creation. We correctly understand that we are responsible to others besides ourselves, including the Creator. Moral Creatures God created us with certain boundaries to abide by. Most often these are thought of as the Law. The Law helps to regulate behavior that is destructive to our relationship with God and others. One of the most convincing arguments against war is found in the Decalogue located in Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder.” Murder is an ethical
5 violation of God’s Law because it ruptures and violates relationships. In addition to this external Law, we have a sense of internal inhibitions. There is a sense that as moral creatures, we have the concept of wrong versus right. C. S. Lewis commented, “… human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it” (Horton 165). What is the origin of war? According to the book of Jeremiah, war and violence are the result brought about by the sinfulness of communities. War and violence is a common theme throughout Israel’s history. Several times, as in the book of Jeremiah, the Israelites are taken into exile. This violence brought against Israel was seen as the removal of God’s protection from the surrounding nations. War was allowed to come upon Israel so that they would turn back to God. The book of Judges is also a good picture of this theme. Israel would turn their back on God, God would allow them to be taken captive, the people would cry out against their oppression, and God would save them from their enslavement. War was not simply a punishment but a consequence of sin. There are repercussions connected to bloodshed and war, specifically defilement and disconnection. 1 Chronicles 22, 28, and 1 Kings 5 recall the construction of the temple. It had been King David’s desire to build the Temple of the Lord. However, God denies David this privilege due to the war and bloodshed he participated in. Solomon, David’s son, would be the one that would be granted this opportunity. Solomon’s kingdom would also be marked as a kingdom of peace. In the midst of this peace, God would erect His Temple. Person is People
6 We cannot escape the fact that we are communal creatures. We identify ourselves by our language, geography, region, state, city, and ethnicity. In addition, we identify with people through our education, hobbies, likes/ dislikes, and work. God created us to be this way, to interact with each other in relationship. Genesis 2 shows us the vital importance of relationships in composing our identity and make-up. As such, anything that would destroy community can be seen as being disruptive to God’s will and plan for humanity. War and violence definitely classify within this category. Exodus 19:6 gives us a viewpoint of God’s will for His people. He desires for them to become a community, a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This call for a holy community finds its roots in the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12. God tells Abram that he will be a great nation and have a great name. In addition, God will bless Abraham who will in turn bless the nations. God’s community is called to be a blessing to the nations. As a godly community, we should weigh our actions in regards to the repercussions they will have on others. We are called to be a community set apart. Violence is not a part of the original creation set forth by God but is rather a result of the sin that has pervaded our world. Another example of community is found within the context of Nehemiah. The Israelites had been exiled from their land and Jerusalem was in shambles. Nehemiah gathered the Israelites together to work on rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. The people worked together to re-fortify the crumbling walls. At the same time, the people stood watch over the city walls with their weapons to make sure they were not attacked (Nehemiah 4). Together they protected the city from being attacked and overrun by their enemies. They did not attack the nations that threatened them but were not ignorant of
7 their schemes for destruction. Like the Israelites of Nehemiah, we should endeavor to live in peace without being naïve about the intentions of the other nations. God acts in behalf of community throughout the Old Testament. In the book of Esther, we see a great example, even though God is not explicitly mentioned, of God’s interaction through an individual for the preservation of a community. Haman, the king’s right-hand man, designs a plan for mass genocide of the Jews. However, thanks to two Jews, Esther and Mordecai, the king is warned of this diabolical plan. As a result, Haman is hung on the very gallows he constructed to kill the Jews. Moreover, Haman’s plan is thwarted by non-violent partition from Esther. This narrative underlines God’s concern for the weak and helpless by delivering them from the “powers that be.” God desires the preservation of community. This is a goal we should endeavor to live out. War destroys communities, leaving them ruptured. Families are ripped apart. Life is fissured as a result of such violence. It is important to note God’s concern for community and we should reflect such concern in and through our lives. Furthermore, our methods of opposition, as a community of faith, should reflect a non-violent response and reliance on God’s faithfulness to deliver. Created as Equals War and violence generally have the tendency of making one person or group subdue or bring under control another group. You have likely heard the adage: “Might makes right.” Scripture consistently does not hold this as a desirable situation. The best example of equality is found in the first two chapters of Genesis. However, there is a general concern, at least within the community of Israel, for equality among the people in the community. One man was not to be subordinate to another.
8 In the book of Leviticus, we find the concern outlined in the practice of the Year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee was designed to return the people their land every fifty years. This was so that the poor people of the community would not continuously be exploited and own nothing. It was also a way to equalize the social status of the community. God did not desire for people to rule over other people. 1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles detail the rule of various kings over the Israelites. Many of these kings were sinful, arrogant, and selfish. They made the life of the Israelites hard and miserable due to their wickedness. There are only a few examples of kings that did not have this type of rule (ex. Hezekiah). Yet, the numerous bad examples far outweigh the good. God had warned the Israelite community about the dangers of setting a person over them to rule. We can see, even apart from war, God did not desire for His covenant community to exist under the rule of others. Psalms also has many examples of laments and cries to God for salvation from the oppression of the Psalmist and his community by his enemies. These enemies seek the Psalmist’s life and the life of his people (chapter 9-14, 17, 22, 25-27). These enemies rise up against the author to rule, overthrow, and destroy him. The lamenter cries to God to act on his behalf. God then is praised as having acted for the preservation of the author and the community. God is not a silent bystander. He acts to preserve life and community. Being created in the image of God, we are called to preserve life and community. War poses one person against another. The result is always one person or group triumphing and subduing others. This is in opposition to God’s will for humanity as a whole, to live as equals. With this in mind, it is important that we work toward a world
9 that promotes equality among individuals. War, as an instrument that creates inequality, must be opposed and avoided, if at all possible, by God’s people. Conclusion God created us in His image. This image should cause us to think about our reaction to war in a different light. As composite creatures, we are more than just biological bodies. As such, we are more than just animals, disposable and insignificant. God created us to be laborers that create and add value to creation rather than destroy it through such sabotage. In addition, we were fashioned to be stewards for creation, rather than exploiters, working for the good of creation. We were formed as moral creatures with good desires. However, these desires can be twisted due to sin. Violence and war are examples of the corruption of the good. Humans are communal creatures designed for relationship. Finally, people were created by the Creator to be equals in relationship. War and violence desecrate and sever relationship, which is in opposition to God’s will for humanity. As seen in the Garden of Eden, God desires for humanity to live in peace and right-relatedness to Him and each other. The image of God that we bear is a call to strive to re-create the order and peace found in this picturesque utopia. The Old Testament moves toward a desire for lasting peace between all of humanity.
Works Cited Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. New York: Geneva P, 1986. Buber, Martin. I and Thou. Trans. Walter Kaufman and S. G. Smith. New York: Simon &
10 Schuster, Incorporated, 1971. Gonzalez Justo L., Zaida Maldonado Perez. Introduction to Christian Theology. New York: Abingdon P, 2004. Horton, Ryan, ed. The Portable Seminary. New York: Bethany House, 2006. Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: Harper San Francisco, 2001. McManus, Erwin Raphael. Chasing Daylight : Dare to Live a Life of Adventure. Danbury: Thomas Nelson Incorporated, 2006. Unger, Merrill F. Unger's Bible Dictionary. 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: Moody P, 1980.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?