Violence and the End

Violence and the End October 20, 2015

“Eschatology and violence are intrinsically connected,” writer Robert Jenson (Ezekiel, 76). So much the worse for eschatology, one might say. It needs to be purged from Scripture and theology. 

The problem, Jenson says, is that when we purge the violence, “nothing is left” (76, fn 5).

The violence of eschatology is inherent in the Christian and Jewish conviction that there is a plot to history at all, a plot that comes to an end. Aristotle didn’t believe this. He was “adamant that while a great drama has a clear plot, reality as a whole has none, and that is good, since no great drama has a happy ending.” Some of the religions of India agree, but “more perceptive than Aristotle, they grasp that endless undifferentiated time is a horror, and their endeavor is to escape it altogether” (76).

Scripture offers no escape from plottings and endings, and therefore no escape from violence: “in what we know as time,” after all, “there is no drama without violence. There is no plotted sequence of events that arrives at its end without conflict on the way. Nor can there be any penultimate sorting out of history that does not find some guilty of capital evil” (76).

God may be inactive in this age. But if He is Lord of history, then “He too must be a ‘man of war.’” If he had not fought, there would be no Israel, and therefore no Christ of Israel.

This is offensive. Late moderns want a God who is above the fray, outside the conflict. Jenson argues “we must hope that this is not so. For the fray is not going to stop short of an end of what we now know as history, and if God does not fight the forces of evil, they must triumph incrementally” (76).

After the 20th century, we can no longer be deluded about human goodness. But “there is never a moral equivalency” in the battles of history, and that means “however flowed and infected both sides may be . . . we must pray that God fights for the better side” (76-7). And this isn’t merely a matter of waiting on God to act apart from human will. Not all historical agents are called to renounce violence, “nor can God’s actual creation occur without those ‘who bear the sword’” (76, fn 6).

Jenson understands that “God’s continuing involvement in the violence of history is indeed a reason to turn one’s back on ‘the God of history.’” Many Jews did after the Holocaust. Jenson instead urges Luther’s counsel: Measured by any standard known to us, it seems that “either God is wicked or God is not”; Luther said we should “defy such reasonings” by clinging to the cross.

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