Name: Craig Fickle
Bible and Theology
Q. What are your biggest obstacles to pacifism (Biblically or otherwise) and how have you addressed them?
One of my biggest problems at the time of first seriously considering nonviolence was the gruesome violence of the OT. After a bit of research I discovered that there were many ways of reconciling the OT with a pacifistic mindset. There didn’t seem to be one big foolproof method, but there was enough for me to push it aside for the moment and focus on the teachings and actions of Jesus and his first listeners and followers. After I became convinced of Jesus’ command for a nonviolent approach to healing and ushering in His kingdom, I looked to the OT once more.
Now I would say my biggest obstacle is with my kids and wife. It requires a lot of faith in our Lord not to violently attack someone attacking your kids. Even sacrificing myself is difficult to imagine as I’d be leaving my two children fatherless.
Q. Does/has God used violence? If so, why is okay for him to use it and not us? If not, then why how do you reconcile that the Bible?
I’m still wrestling with this one. On the one hand, if Jesus really is the perfect image of God, it’s hard to see God commanding deaths of people, much less herem. On the other, it seems pretty clear in the OT and even possibly times in the NT that God does indeed commit acts of violence.
It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to me that God is able to act violently while we should not. Part of this comes from my understanding of why violence is bad. I don’t think violence in and of itself is bad. That is not what I’m against. I am against any action which pushes you and another image bearer, no matter how faint their reflection, further away, first from God, the image of whom we should be reflecting, and second from others who also bear His image. Choosing nonviolent methods of conflict resolution is not just about avoiding harmful actions, but about way of healing and redeeming both the victim and the attacker. Put more simply, turning the other cheek is not only about refusing to return evil with evil, but with redeeming evil with good.
As humans we are not capable, or at least hardly capable, of attacking someone with the intent to hurt them without erecting walls of distance between us and our victim. It’s not so hard for me to imagine that God can kill without being affected by it. Of course this implies (though perhaps doesn’t demand) the possibility of some sort of postmortem reconciliation with God. It need not be universalism, but this view requires God’s violent actions to be an attempt of healing towards the victim.
If God is nonviolent himself, then of course we will need to reconcile that with the OT. Here are a few approaches I’ve seen and brief comments about each.
Reject the OT: I find this problematic and having been finding it more and more so as of late. The basic reason is this: The entire reason I’m in this religion business is because of Jesus. He constantly referenced the OT. At times he seems to at least adjust the meanings of some of the scriptures, but usually he is still using it as a source. To follow Jesus because I’ve found him to speak the truth while at the same time saying that he was completely mistaken about the Hebrew scriptures doesn’t sit well with me. And if he truly did teach nonviolence and did rely on the OT, it seems he didn’t find his nonviolent teachings to be contradictory to the OT.
Big Picture: The approach which is most helpful to me is the general direction of the story being told in the OT. As we see in the garden of Eden, God’s ideal is for no violence. The first act of violence is from humans. This triggered a very quick decent into chaos and pain. The conquest of the promised land was, ideally, not supposed to involve any violence at all on the part of the Israelites (Ex. 23:28). It was only when they disobeyed or didn’t trust God that violence occurred. The Psalms, even the violent ones, are filled with calls against trusting in the army. The prophets are constantly harping on the Israelites for being violent and expressing God’s hatred of it. And then we reach the NT where Jesus takes that logical direction, the one brings it to its conclusion. Where Israel continually disobeyed God and created scenarios of violence, Jesus listened perfectly and refused to carry violence on his hands.
This transition is shown clearly in Paul who as a zealous Jew was happy to use violence to push his agenda, but as a messianic Jew refused to use violence for his own means even if it meant imprisonment, torture or death.
Allegorical: This is scary for moderns I know, but it’s a very traditional method. If we can step back from the modern western idea that everything by default needs to be read in a literal, historical-critical method (and that it’s less important if it’s not written literally), then we can recognize that the authors of the books in the Bible were as concerned with detailed facts of history as we were. I find this method helpful primarily in the details. The big picture method works fine for theology, but it doesn’t do much to help when reading through the OT. For that, seeing Joshua’s conquest as a battle against vices can be incredibly helpful.
Hyperbole: This is an appeal to the ANE’s use of extreme hyperbole. Many of the “destroy everything that lives” is thought to be hyperbole and perhaps even a bit idiomatic. They exaggerated their victories and attributed these exaggerated victories to God as a way of worshipping him. It says they completely wiped out the Canaanites, but then later in the Bible we find that it’s just not true. This certainly doesn’t go all the way, but it can help alleviate some of the issues.
Q. What do you think of God’s command in the OT to sacrifice animals? Is it troubling to you?
I don’t love it. I don’t fully understand it. It’s not a major roadblock for me right now. I do think it’s something I will need to tackle later on though.
Q. Is there an acceptable way to physically punish children?
As I mentioned earlier, I am not against physical violence per se. One of the biggest issues I have with physical punishments is the lesson it teaches the kid. Am I teaching them that if someone is acting inappropriately that we need to beat them until they listen to us? Surely they can tell the difference for the most part, but perhaps there is a seed planted that can sprout once they encounter more socially accepted forms of violence.
Some forms I’m not morally opposed to: Using a bit of physical pain similar to what may have naturally occurred had they continued their actions. This is not punitive so much as a teaching moment to show them just a taste of what may happen (naturally) if they continue behaving that way.
Q. Do you see nonviolent civil disobedience or resistance as a useful tool currently?
I do, although I’ll admit that how I see it being practiced for the most part is absolutely not in line with my beliefs nor do I think it’s particularly helpful.
It seems to me that nonviolent methods of dealing with major problems has become a nonphysically violent way of getting what you want. It maintains the soul damaging us vs them mentality. If civil disobedience or nonviolent resistance is not characterized and driven by love for enemy, then I am against it.
Q. What do you think of the practice of martial arts (if they’re not used in real situations)?
Living in Asia, I see lots of people who use martial arts without even thinking of the self defense aspect. It can be enjoyable and incredibly beneficial for the mind and body.
Q. What do you think of “horseplay” between young children (playful fighting)?
I strongly reject the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality. There’s a difference between bullying and horseplay. As long as all the children are being relatively safe and want to be playing like that, I don’t have a problem with it.
Q. How did you stop using violence/work on reducing your violence? What were your first steps? How did others respond?
My first steps towards living a nonviolent lifestyle were not big steps. Of course I’ve never been in a fight and hadn’t ever planned on being in one. I wasn’t in the army. My life wasn’t full of explicit violence to begin with. My practical journey towards nonviolence has been in two general areas:
Inward: As per the Sermon on the Mount, I’ve been trying to monitor my thoughts and keep even those from becoming violent. Should a scenario in which violence is involved occur, one must be well prepared to rely on the Spirit. Ignoring the Spirit until I feel a temptation is not going to end well.
Lifestyle: This includes spending less money on myself, keeping myself away from unnecessarily stressful habits, caring for the environment, ethical purchasing etc.
A third area I’d like to work on is preventing violent leaning scenarios from even occurring. This will include the lifestyle changes in #2, but will also require spending time with, befriending and learning from the poor, working on breaking down harmful societal norms, helping others maintain the dignity of a being a child of God etc.
Q. Do you have any stories of people (first-hand or otherwise) staying true to the path of nonviolence despite the costs?
I’ve read of many, but don’t know many first hand. I’ll share two stories.
First was from a youth pastor at my church. His Christian mentor growing up was this short, old, spunky and possibly homeless guy. He was constantly sharing the gospel. Once while sharing the gospel, the man became angry and pushed him to the ground. The old man sprang back up and said, “Jesus loves you and so do I.” This made the man even more angry so he punched him and knocked him down again. Without hesitation, the old man once again sprang back up and said, “Jesus loves you and so do I.” This infuriated the man so he beat him once more only to be returned with the same declaration of love. Finally he broke down. He could not understand how this tiny little man could keep popping back up with nothing but love for him.
The other story is from C.F. Andrews. Andrews has been a big influence on me. One story in particular gives me the chills and upsets my sense of how things work.
There was a Sikh who fought for India in WWI. Later he was falsely accused of some crime and was sentenced to lashings (I believe) and public humiliation. He went through hell for his country and was then just thrown to the wayside through martial law. He was enraged and, stewing in his anger, became closer and closer to snapping. His friends were concerned that he would become violent so they called C.F. Andrews to try to help. As Andrews approached the man, he spoke the kindest and most powerful words he could muster, but nothing would calm the man down. Finally, Andrews knelt down and touched the man’s feet (a great sign of humility and of respect towards others). He begged for forgiveness for the way his people (the English) had treated him. The man was taken aback. It was not Andrews who had done any of those things. He was so touched that he burst into tears and told him to stand up. That incredible action of taking the blame for what his culture had done despite his personal innocence was what was needed to break through to the man and allow healing to begin.
Q. Is there any pacifist response that makes you groan whenever you hear it (because it’s just so wrong!)
I wouldn’t go so far as to groaning, but I don’t think nonviolent methods are always going to solve the problem. They certainly won’t always solve them immediately. Often the ‘nonviolent’ solutions will indeed become very violent, but violent towards the nonviolent. It will be painful and the effects won’t always be quickly seen. I do believe that violence will ultimately make it worse, but nonviolence isn’t as romantic and peaceful as many seem to think it is.
Q. What resources and books have you found especially helpful?
Well I am compiling a list here which you can check out here.
Some works that have been especially helpful for me:
The Crucifixion of the Warrior God by Greg Boyd — Even if you don’t agree with everything in the book (and you won’t, it’s massive) there is so much good stuff in there.
https://thinkingpacifism.net/ — Excellent, very well thought out essays
The Net of Faith — Freely available and does a good job, in my opinion, of tackling specific issues in the Bible regarding violence