Jesus’ peace without forceBy Marlin Jeschke
On my desk is The Jesus Factor in Peacemaking by C. Norman Kraus, published by Cascadia, 2011, 126 pages, $12.95.
Kraus, a retired Mennonite professor and pastor, describes how Jesus provides a basic pattern of spiritual assumptions and moral perspectives for peacemaking. This pattern is open to all people of good will, as the angels announced over Bethlehem. It is not a peace imposed by force “but through God’s offer of conflict transformation across religious boundaries.”
Unfortunately, Jesus’ kind of peacemaking got obscured or distorted when Christianity became identified with the Roman Empire. The peace of Jesus got redefined as a pietistic inner peace. However, “for Jesus the separation of the spiritual and the social was unthinkable,” Kraus writes.
In the New Testament, the peace of Jesus is framed in terms of the kingdom of God, which clearly is political-social terminology. This kingdom-of-God peace is still the norm for today, though democratic systems and language have left kingdom systems and terminology behind.
What remains relevant in the New Testament’s kingdom-of-God language is its presentation of the nature of God. In the teaching of Jesus, God is not “the sovereign power who intervenes with violence to overrule human irresponsibility and enforce shalom.” Rather, God’s basic characteristics are love and forgiveness.
This view of God, notes Kraus, invites us to abandon the concept of God as punishing Jesus for the sins of the world. Kraus laments that in Protestant evangelicalism the law demanding retribution remains intact. Of this view, he writes: “The right to overlook offenses against divine holiness is based not on God’s infinite goodness but on satisfying God’s need for vindication before the natural law of the universe. Peace is understood as the assuaging of God’s anger.”
True, God judges human behavior, but this judgment is neither retaliatory nor vengeful. God’s way of peace offers the possibility of repentance and forgiveness.
Some readers may be startled by the author’s claim that “love may involve one in coercive actions but never in violence.” Behind this assertion lies Kraus’ conception of law. He rejects the traditional Protestant notion that law is antithetical to grace. He writes: “Law and its coercive [not violent] enforcement should not be contrasted to agape… Love transcends law; it does not cancel it out.”
Legitimate coercion is thus not retaliatory, vengeful or violent, though it may require restitution. The goal of the Jesus way of peacemaking is restoration of goodwill, not the “peace” of having gotten even or of having punished some wrongdoer: “In Jesus’ teaching, vindication (retribution) implies recompense and righting a social wrong or injustice, not vindictive retaliation.“
Kraus sums it up well: “The goal of peacemaking is not to prevent all conflict but to transform antagonistic conflict (combative enemy) into efficient conflict (cooperative opposition).” If necessary, the peacemaker is willing to follow Jesus’ example and “absorb the violence in nonviolent self-giving.”
The resurrection, Kraus says, “signifies God’s transcendent endorsement of Jesus’ self-sacrifice.” The resurrection is God’s endorsement of the Jesus way of peacemaking.
Marlin Jeschke is professor emeritus of philosophy and religion at Goshen (Ind.) College.
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