Is God’s justice nonviolent and distributive?
- Many theologians have attempted to explain and/or challenge some of the contentious and incriminating verses found in sacred books
- However, the true God, not the distorted and fabricated one, is always in favor of distributive justice
- Christians should be more active in pursuing political, economic, and social change for greater equality
For thousands of years people have struggled with the notion of a benevolent God who allows the tragic and daily occurrence of evil actions perpetrated by human beings. The violence inspired by religious extremism and supposedly sanctioned by God is causing havoc throughout the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and to a lesser extent the United States.
The challenges posed by atrocities consciously committed by believers ineluctably corrode the fundamental tenets of faith communities. Religious conflicts have plagued many nations and geographical areas and have caused cynicism about the merits and virtues of religions. Many theologians have attempted to explain and/or challenge some of the contentious and incriminating verses found in sacred books. John Dominic Crossan is one of those religious scholars who has been trying to expound and interpret the controversial stories narrated in the Bible.
The purpose of “How to read the Bible and still be a Christian” by John Dominic Crossan is to highlight the violence committed in the name of God by verses and stories that could have been manufactured or doctored by the authors or the alleged authors of the books in the Bible. Is there a cognitive dissonance between the mostly Old Testament accounts in which God orders or sanctions atrocities and indiscriminate killing of innocent people, including children? Is it possible to reconcile these seemingly contradictory accounts found in the Bible?
Some scholars contend that an honest and integral reading of these problematic verses is acceptable and compatible with religious belief. Maybe. But how can we reconcile a divinely approved mass murder and the unconditional love proclaimed by Jesus?
Crossan essays to provide critical insight into this confusing, frustrating, and compelling topic. He quickly introduces the reader to the “historical matrix,” the cultural background, against which
its actions, words, and thoughts were assessed. It is the backdrop “you cannot skip, the context you cannot avoid.” For example, Gandhi should be understood in the context of British colonialism. Martin Luther King should be perceived in the context of slavery and racial discrimination. The matrix of early Genesis is the emergence of the Middle Eastern civilizations, especially the Mesopotamian. Furthermore, Jesus’s mission should be interpreted in the context of Roman imperial rule and occupation, Jewish messianic expectations, etc.
Crossan’s thesis is a binary narrative, a sort of dialectics, a centuries-long conflict between the pull of assertion and the push of subversion that extends from Genesis to Revelation. Radical transformation (assertion) is initiated by God, only to be reversed (subversion) by the “normalcy of civilization.” It also includes God’s nonviolent distributive justice, a divine justice that entails the fair distribution of physical resources, an equitable economic system, and a tolerant and positive moral order. The violent retributive justice, on the other hand, deals with individual and collective sins and their aftermath.
People are disturbed by the violence of the biblical God, or any other god for that matter. However, the true God, not the distorted and fabricated one, is always in favor of distributive justice. The God of justice and compassion is not in pursuit of humanity’s gradual decay and eventual annihilation.
According to some biblical scholars though, if there is no credible fear and proportionate retribution, then, as one of Dostoyevsky’s characters utters, “everything is permitted or lawful.” Many do not find attractive the notion of a god who punishes and rewards based on arbitrary and shifting expectations. Others find it appealing and draw parallels between the secular realm’s law and order approach and the spiritual sphere’s Kingdom expectations.
Jesus preached the Kingdom of God in which the poor, marginalized, ostracized, and the oppressed are given preferential status and treatment since the Roman Empire and the successive political and economic empires have undermined and reversed God’s project of radical transformation. Crossan believes that Jesus was the leader of a nonviolent transformational movement and has the potential to exert powerful influence on individuals, society, and the world if we read the Bible as the nonviolent distributive justice narrative.
Many Christians, especially fundamentalist and conservative, will find serious flaws in Crossan’s arguments. However, a Christianity that fails to take into account Jesus’ key message to not only help the poor and the marginalized but to bring about systemic changes that will truly establish God’s will and distributive justice on earth is doomed to eventually perish. Christians should be more active in pursuing political, economic, and social change for greater equality (God’s will be done on earth).