Last revised: February 18, 2012
My Core Convictions:
Nonviolence and the Christian Faith
Part II: Nonviolence as the Heart of Jesus’ Faith
It is no longer a choice, my friends, between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence…. I believe today that there is a need for all people of good will to come with a massive act of conscience and say in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “We ain’t goin’ study war no more.” — Martin Luther King, Jr., March 31, 1968.1
Nonviolence or nonexistence. The great civil rights leader posed this life-and-death alternative to us in his last Sunday sermon before he himself was felled by violence. I think it can be argued that nonviolence had increasingly become the very heart of King’s faith. It has become the core of mine.
The more that I read and interpret Scripture, especially the New Testament, the more I am convinced (1) that “nonviolence” is also at the heart of Jesus’ faith, and (2) that this posing of alternatives — nonviolence or nonexistence — conveys the meaning behind Jesus’ “apocalyptic” preaching (the subject of Part III).
Beginning with the first of these two theses: Is nonviolence at the heart of Jesus faith? I can anticipate the objection, “What about Love! Isn’t Love the broader category of Jesus’ proclamation?” Yes, of course, God’s Love is the heart of the New Testament faith, when positively stated. Yet the New Testament letter which most clearly thematizes God as Love — namely, the First Letter of John — is also careful to clearly state the case in the negative. For example, in talking positively about love, St. John is quick to add the negative corollary about hate: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars” (1 John 4:20). Even stronger:
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. (1 John 3:14-15).
Here we see the explicit connection with violence, namely, murder. It seems that it is not quite good enough to simply tell us about love. St. John must also make clear to us that God is in no way about death or violence, and so we should not be, either.
There is a good reason for St. John’s needing to be so explicit about violence. I will highlight in this essay our anthropological propensity toward projecting our human darkness onto God. John’s initial summary of the Gospel is careful to state things in both the positive and negative: “God is light and in God there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b). John is implicitly acknowledging the fact that we so often experience the darkness of an angry, punishing, violent God. But in Jesus Christ we come to definitively understand that these experiences are not of the one true God. These experiences of God must be idols. For God is light and in God there is no darkness at all.
Thus, St. John also knows that it is not enough to simply acknowledge our human problem with violence. In fact, the deeper problem is precisely in the acknowledgment: with the help of our idols, gods who command violence, we delude ourselves from thinking of our violence as violence. The gods command it, so it must be the right thing to do. Our gods sanction the violence we use against our enemies. What our enemy does to us is violence; what we do in response we call “justice,” not violence. When it comes to our own violence, in other words, we are in self-denial. With the help of our gods, we lie to ourselves.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes an incredibly condensed anthropological proposition:2
You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
What is the lie? Isn’t it believing that we aren’t murderers? That when we kill we do so with justification? In fact, our most common reaction to this saying of Jesus is something like, “I’ve never killed anyone!” But this is a way of ignoring the truth, of lying to ourselves, that we have killed. Individually, we might never have killed anyone, but collectively we have. In the name of law and order we have executed. We have lived under governments that, for all kinds of reasons, have gone to war. We participate in communities that neglect those in poverty on the fringes, leaving them to die.3
In short, we resist recognizing our own complicity in the darkness of violence (see 1 John 1:6-104). Jesus implicitly recognizes our self-delusion when he ‘ups the ante’ on confronting our violence5 in this crucial passage from the Sermon on the Mount (condensed):
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire…. You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:21-22, 38-39, 43-44, 48)
I suggest that these verses exhibit the core of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection which most distinguish him among all the world’s religions.6 The Buddha perhaps comes closest. But even he allows violence in defense against one’s enemies. In the last century, the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi (one to whom Martin Luther King, Jr. explicitly traveled to study in 1959) held the Sermon on the Mount in the highest esteem when interpreting his own Hindu scriptures to reveal a God who is “perfect” with respect to loving nonviolence.
But is this teaching in the Sermon on the Mount the core of Jesus’ faith and teaching? The ultimate test must be the focus of the Gospels themselves, namely, Jesus’ act of going to the cross. Jesus came not primarily as a didactic teacher of principles to live by, but as a prophet who came to incarnate God’s Word through faith and action. When considering fundamental issues such as a nonviolent response to violence in light of the New Testament, the Cross itself is the center. For the Cross of Jesus Christ is essentially God’s nonviolent response to human violence. Richard Hays, in his essay on “Violence in Defense of Justice,” sums this up well:
When the New Testament canon is read through the focal lens of the cross, Jesus’ death moves to the center of attention in any reflection about ethics. The texts cannot simply be scoured for principles (the imperative of justice) or prooftexts (“I have not come to bring peace but a sword”); rather, all such principles and texts must be interpreted in light of the story of the cross. The meaning of dikaiosyne (“justice”) is transfigured in light of the one Just One who exemplifies it: Christ has become our dikaiosyne (1 Cor. 1:30). When we hear Jesus’ saying that he has come to bring not peace but a sword, we can hear it only within the story of a Messiah who refuses the defense of the sword and dies at the hands of a pagan state that bears the power of the sword. The whole New Testament comes rightly into focus only within this story.7
Placing the Cross at the heart of the New Testament becomes our background, then, in reading its various teachings, including those of St. Paul. It is often noted that Paul elaborates a very different angle on teaching than did Jesus. He is much more theological. But the place where he most closely echoes words of Jesus himself is the above portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Compare it to Paul’s ethical exhortation of Romans 12-13:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil,8 hold fast to what is good…. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you,9 live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath [of God];10 for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 12:9, 14-19, 21; 13:8-10)
We will shortly see how this hortatory text relates to Paul’s wider theology of the cross.
The First Letter of John, with which we began, provides another example, for it is essentially a meditation and elaboration on these themes of the Sermon on the Mount. The side of darkness in which we normally participate is the side of hatred, violence, murder, and lies. The side of light is the side of love, nonviolence, service, and truth. God is completely on the side of light — “no darkness at all.” We have not been on the side of light, but we can begin to be so, through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Overall, when Jesus calls us to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”, doesn’t this begin to make sense in light of a focus on the human problem of violence? We can strive to be children of light in the sense of nonviolence. We are called to love like God with a love that reaches out even to one’s enemies and therefore with a love that never does violence. For violence against our “enemies” is our chief justification for doing violence. If in the cross of Jesus Christ we see God’s perfection in loving even enemies — and thus in suffering our violence and forgiving it, rather than in ever returning it — then our way to perfection in faith is also one of living in nonviolent loving service to others.
The human problem with violence, however, goes much deeper according to the New Testament witness. The sin which is forgiven in the Cross is, according to the Christian tradition of interpretation, an “original sin.” In other words, we understand our sin to go all the way back to human origins. The Christian revelation is an anthropological revelation, even as it is a theological one. It opens the way to a true understanding of what it means to be human, helping us to recognize the sinful ways of being human, back to our origins.
In this essay, therefore, I want to present our sin as idolatry, but especially as a specific form of idolatry for which it takes the event of the Cross to reveal. In short, when St. John speaks of murder and lies from the beginning (John 8:44 above), I want to describe this as our being under an anthropological compulsion to lie by creating gods in our own violent image in order to cover our tracks. I say “compulsion” because it is not a conscious decision of ours to lie, nor to create the violent gods who bid us to do violence. Neither should we think in terms of Freud’s “unconscious.” Rather, as Jesus hangs convicted of blasphemy, an offense against his persecutors’ god, he prays to his God, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The God of forgiveness to whom Jesus prays is quite simply a different god than the one who, in the eyes of those who put him there, justifies his hanging on the cross. In other words, we have a deep-seated problem with idolatry: we insist on worshiping violent gods who command us to do violence so that we can feel righteous in doing so. Thus, our problem is not simply with violence in general, but even more so with righteous violence — that is, with violence that the gods of our unwitting creation deem righteous.11
More bluntly, this idolatry is commonly known as “vengeance” — which, interestingly, the God of the Judeo-Christian scriptures reserves for himself (cf., Gen. 4:15; Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19; Heb. 10:30). One of the most poignant passages in the Hebrew Scriptures about vengeance became part of the great commandment in the Christian Scriptures: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Lev. 19:18).
It may be objected that this is a selective citation from the Hebrew scriptures. For the few passages that assume we shouldn’t take vengeance because it is completely a divine prerogative, we can find many more passages that assume a vengeful God who would seem to justify human violence against God’s enemies. But Luke shows us a Jesus who, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Below I will argue that St. Paul needed to completely re-interpret the “wrath of God” from his own Hebrew scriptures, according to the revelation of the God he met through Jesus Christ.
Re-interpreting theological notions through Jesus Christ does not mean we diminish the importance of the Hebrew scriptures. The latter remains the remarkable record of God’s chosen people coming to the realization of monotheism itself — which also means the realization of idolatry. And through Jesus the Messiah we come to more clearly see (1) that the true God is, along the trajectory of the formula from the Hebrew scriptures, “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love”;12 and (2) that the wrathful God of vengeance is more a function of our human penchant for idolatry. For the Hebrew scriptures are further remarkable in their honesty about how tough it is for God’s people to kick the human habit of idolatry. Should it be such a surprise, then, if it took the coming of the Messiah to help God’s people take the final steps in having our idolatry fully revealed to us?
More precisely, we are faced with an idolatry that turns on the issue of human violence and the compulsion to be deluded about it. For a thousand years, Jesus’ people, the Jews, had grown in their recognition of idolatry and, conversely, in their faith in the one true God who had created the world. But there existed, and continues to exist, an idolatry deep within our anthropology that is most resistant to coming into the light. Tragically, Christians have persecuted Jews for their righteous violence against Jesus — and thereby manifested their own continual falling victim to this same sin. It has required the cross and resurrection to reveal to all human beings the precise sin of idolatry that the cross represents: an act of righteous violence — that is, an act of violence justified by one of our violent gods (who we, of course, are to deluded to think is “God”).
Nonviolence thus becomes central to the Christian faith to the extent that revelation of our idolatry of violence is manifested in the central events of the Christian faith. In the cross Jesus, the “Lamb of God,” submits to our human act of righteous violence, and the vindication of the resurrection reveals that righteous violence as violence — thus ‘taking away the Sin of the world’ (John 1:29).13 At the same time that the cross reveals our enslavement to righteous violence, it reveals God’s righteousness as nonviolence — as radical nonretaliation, that is, as forgiveness — and as a love that reaches out even to enemies.
This, I maintain, is the central theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans, namely, the righteousness of God (3:21), as described most succinctly in chapter 5:
But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath [of God].14 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10)
Whereas we have already noted that Paul didn’t seem as concerned as the Gospels with specifically transmitting to us the words of Jesus himself, he was very much concerned with interpreting the implications of the entire Christ event. His ethical exhortation in Romans 12-13 is rooted in his theology of a God who has loved us even while we were still enemies.
Further, a much more subtle, but extremely important, corollary of the righteousness of God’s unconditional love for us can be seen in Paul’s reworking of the notion of the “wrath of God.” Often the first question in response to the thesis of a nonviolent God in Jesus Christ concerns what to make of the apparently violent God of the Hebrew scriptures, especially the common theme of God’s wrath. I believe that Paul is giving us, in the Letter to the Romans, a crucial response to this concern, one he no doubt needed to answer for himself.
Douglas Campbell has offered a bold new reading of Romans, in his groundbreaking 2009 book The Deliverance of God: An Apocalyptic Rereading of Justification in Paul [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2009]. And a pivotal point in his argument helps cement a reading that students of Girard have offered for a number of years.15 What Girardians have noticed is this: Paul, after introducing his letter, begins the body in 1:18 with a seeming thesis about the “wrath of God” — “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18) — and then works it out, with the word orgè, “wrath,” appearing twelve times throughout Romans.16 Only that first time, however, does it appear as orgè theou, the “wrath of God”; the other eleven times the word orgè appears solo, that is, as simply “wrath.” Why? Because Paul is subtly reworking the “wrath of God” as a function of human idolatry.
Campbell’s reading, though, adds a crucial element: the words wrath of God in 1:18 aren’t even Paul’s direct words! Rather, it is Paul speaking the viewpoint of an opposing Teacher. “Wrath of God” is how his opponent talks, not Paul. Campbell argues (in ch. 13, “Rereading the Frame”) that the only thesis which solves all the questions about the reason for Paul writing Romans when he did is that he had to make a preemptive appeal against the Judaizing Teacher akin to the one at Galatia. That’s why he had to write before making specific travel plans. That’s why much of the language of “justification” is similar to that of the Letter to the Galatians.
But there is also a significant difference from Galatians. He started that church. The Galatians knew him intimately and he them. But Paul hasn’t ever been to Rome. They don’t know him, and so he must speak to the Romans differently than to the Galatians. They don’t even have a first-hand version of what Paul’s Gospel is about. He will need to give them a full version in writing. But he will also have to argue against the opposing Teacher with the disadvantage that he is there and Paul isn’t. What is Paul’s solution? According to Campbell, it is to use the Greco-Roman rhetorical strategy of Diatribe. And the latter always includes a statement of the opponents position, often with a “speech-in-character” effort to put things in the words of the adversary. Diatribe was generally an oral performance with the speaker using different voices, or with more than one speaker involved. Paul would have trained the reader or readers to speak in different voices. The formidable task for subsequent generations is to isolate those different voices in a text that is intended to be read aloud in those voices.
Campbell has begun that process with thoroughness, but it is a thesis sure to be debated for years. Without making a determination about the entirety of Campbell’s thesis, let us at least consider here the portion pertinent to Romans 1:18. Campbell argues that Romans 1:18-32 is Paul’s “speech-in-character” presentation of the opposing Teacher’s basic theology. And the words wrath of God represent the heart of their disagreement. Campbell writes,
In short, Paul seems to be stating in v. 18 — in a suitably pompous manner — that the initial and hence essential content of the Teacher’s position is a vision of the future wrath of God — of God as retributively just. And Paul does not think that this is the essential nature of the God of Jesus Christ. So he contrasts the Teacher’s programmatic theological claim quite deliberately with the initial disclosure of his own position — his gospel — which speaks of the saving intervention of God and hence of the divine compassion (vv. 16-17). Paul is stating here compactly that fundamentally different conceptions of God are at stake in these two gospels. Moreover, it is immediately apparent that the Teacher’s conception has no significant input from Christology. The stylistic parallel therefore denotes a deliberate contrast between two quite different theological programs. (p. 543)
If Campbell is right, this makes the Girardian thesis about “wrath” in Romans even more clear. Paul’s subsequent solo use of “wrath” is a contrast with the Teacher’s typical use of “wrath of God.” Paul says “wrath” because the most crucial and obstinate consequence of our idolatry is the kind of wrath we inflict on one another. Having trotted out the Teacher’s favorite forms of Gentile idolatry, he turns now to the form of idolatry that only an anti-idolatrous person can commit: wrathful judgment against other people’s idolatry. This is made explicit in the “therefore” which immediately follows 1:18-32:
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.” (Romans 2:1-2)
This is now Paul beginning to counter the judgmentalism of the Teacher. When we judge others, in other words, it is its own form of idolatry. We portray our judgment as God’s judgment. And so, several verses later, St. Paul can deduce the logical consequences of this idolatry: “But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). Wrath is simply “wrath” here, and no longer the “wrath of God,” because it can instead be seen to be the wrath we store up for ourselves, due to our idolatry of righteous violence. On the “day of wrath,” namely, the time when our human wrath comes to roost, God’s righteous judgment will be revealed, precisely as something different from our wrath. It will be revealed as a love that reaches out in grace as a free gift in faith (Rom. 3:21-26) even to sinners, to God’s enemies (Rom. 5:8-10). Those who refuse the faith of Christ — namely, faith in an unconditionally loving God — will continue to live in faith to the false gods of our own wrath and so will end in that wrath. It might be said that, on the day of wrath, the alternative will finally be clear to us: nonviolence or nonexistence. Either we seek the righteous, forgiving, nonviolent judgment of God that we experience in Jesus Christ, or we are handed over to the logical end of our own wrathful, violent judgments upon one another — and the wrathful gods we use to justify them.
Paul’s reworking of wrath is such an important matter that we should briefly consider several further instances of the word “wrath” in Romans. First, we have already glimpsed the problem here in this essay, when we quoted Romans 12:19 and 5:9 above, while noting (in footnotes 15 and 19) the gross mistranslations in the NRSV. The words of God in the “wrath of God,” as translated in these two verses, are completely absent in the original Greek text. The NRSV translators inserted the words “of God,” and thus provide an inadvertent illustration of the idolatry of interpreting our human wrath (and the violence connected with it) as of God. Here I am arguing that St. Paul is subtly trying to work towards the opposite insight: that we would finally see human wrath, which we have formally seen as of God, as of us instead.
Second, consider Romans 3:5: “But if our injustice serves to confirm the justice of God, what should we say? That God is unjust to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.)” In this instance, inflicting wrath is explicitly connected with God, but Paul amazingly also makes explicit that this is precisely a human way to think — namely, idolatry. I can hardly imagine a more direct presentation of the thesis here. Paul asks about God’s justice, whether it can be seen in terms of God inflicting wrath on us, and then explicitly tells us that seeing things in these terms is our human way of thinking, a worldview deeply ingrained in our anthropology, not in God’s nature.
Finally, interpreters might still see in Paul’s thinking a connection between God and wrath in Romans 9:22: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction.”17 The translation implies wrath of God by giving us “his wrath,” referring to God. But, once again, the translators have added what isn’t there in the Greek. Technically, the first his (autou in the Greek) is not there, yielding a more literal translation as, “desiring to show the wrath and to make known his power.” I would therefore suggest the following overall message of this verse as: “What if God, desiring to show the [human] wrath and to make known his power, has endured the objects of wrath made for destruction” — the “objects of wrath” being things like the whip, the crown of thorns, the nails, the cross, etc. In other words, “the wrath” and “his power” are being contrasted here. God has made known his power as distinct from human wrath precisely by enduring in Jesus Christ the typical objects of our wrathful judgment. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, in commenting on Romans 1:18-3:20, says:
the wrath revealed in the gospel is not the divine vengeance that should have fallen on us falling instead on Jesus, but rather the divine nonresistance to human evil (cf. Matt 5:39), God’s willingness to suffer violence rather than defend himself or retaliate. It is the permission granted us by God to afflict ourselves unknowingly; it is the divine nonresistance to human evil. It is God’s unwillingness to intervene in the process of action and consequence in the human world by which we set up and operate the system of sacred violence, and so paradoxically a sign of love as the refusal to abridge our freedom and a respect for our choices even when they are catastrophic. (Sacred Violence, 101-102)
In contrast to our violent wrath, God reveals his power as nonviolent love, that is, as love which suffers violence rather than inflicting it.
And I would suggest that Gandhi and King were faithful disciples of God’s power in Jesus Christ in living out what they referred to more simply as the way of “nonviolence.” In short, I believe we have arrived at my first thesis: that “nonviolence” is also the heart of Jesus’ faith, the faith by which he was able to endure the violence of our wrath, because it is a faith in the power of God’s unconditional love, a power that manifested itself on Easter morning as the very power of Life behind Creation. It is a faith that the power of human violence can never ultimately defeat God’s power of Life.
Go to Part 3
1. Martin Luther King, Jr., from a sermon delivered the last Sunday (March 31, 1968), Palm Sunday, before being assassinated, at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., entitled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by James M. Washington (Harper San Francisco, 1986), 276-277.
2. John 8:44 is another key text for René Girard and his students. See the full bibliography on my webpage where John 8 appears in the lectionary on Reformation Sunday.
3. Neglect of the poor might not seem like killing. But consider Martin Luther‘s catechism for the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not kill. What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.”
4. 1 John follows up the summary of the Gospel (1 John 1:5 quoted above) with just such a recognition of our complicity in darkness, alongside God’s bright grace: “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:6-10)
5. Once again consider Martin Luther on the Fifth Commandment in the Small Catechism (see note 7 above) in reading how Jesus ‘ups the ante’ on this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount.
6. For an excellent exposition of these verses, placing them at the center of an argument that the Christian faith is about nonviolence even in defense of justice, see Richard B. Hays, “Violence in Defense of Justice,” chapter 14 in The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996, pages 317-346.
7. Ibid., 338.
8. Notice that Paul says to hate “what is evil” and not to hate the evil person. (The Greek clearly uses a neuter form, poneron, rather than the masculine, poneros, which is generally used to refer to an evil person. There are places less clear, such as the petition in the Lord’s Prayer, “Deliver us from the Evil One” [Matt. 6:13], in which the noun form, ponerou, is both masculine and neuter and so is less easily determinable). Hating what is evil in a person as opposed to hating the person is a helpful distinction.
9. Is St. Paul allowing for personal choice here in the event that our Christian calling to live in peace conflicts with our society’s call to support war? Romans 13:1-8 gives thanks for civil servants who protect us with violence, with “wrath.” But does a phrase such as this one, “as far as it depends on you,” give us a special responsibility within our responsibility to respect governing authority?
10. The words “of God” are added in the NRSV translation (not the King James, however) and are not present in the original Greek. I will have much more to say below on “wrath” in Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
11. The infamous 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers is a clear instance of such righteous violence. Less clear, perhaps, is the United States’ counter-violence in order to righteously defend its freedom, or Constitution — if the latter are counted as transcendent entities, or “gods,” used to justify our violence.
12. This formula appears in nearly identical words in no less than eight places: Exod. 34:6, Num. 14:18, Neh. 9:17, Ps. 86:15, Ps. 103:8, Ps. 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jon. 4:2.
13. Note that the singular “Sin” is original — which makes sense of the characterization here of righteous, or sacred, violence as the most persistent sin plaguing humankind since our origins.
14. This is another instance of the words “of God” being added in the NRSV. See note 15 above and the further discussion of “wrath” yet to come.
15. The basic insight for this reading of “wrath” in Romans comes from Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 101-103, and James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong, pp. 126-128.
16. Romans 1:18, 2:5(2), 2:8, 3:5, 4:15, 5:9, 9:22(2), 12:19, 13:4, 13:5. See the webpage “Nuechterlein on the ‘Wrath of God’ in Romans” for the full text of these verses. The most puzzling of these references to wrath for me are the two in Rom. 13:1-8, a notoriously difficult passage that I need to more closely grapple with someday.
17. The crucial phrase, translated in the NRSV as “desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power,” is in the Greek, endeixasthai tèn orgèn kai gnrisai to dynaton autou.