Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fr Touma Bitar on Violence

Arabic original here.

The Sword

We do not know God as a killer. God is love. No killing is from Him. Killing is from the one that Jesus said was a murderer, that is Satan. Satan the murderer is also the liar and the father or lies. So he pushes people to kill and falsely attributes killing to God in order to distort the image of God and confuse them.

The God worshiped by those who attribute killing to God for any reason is the god of war. This is something that does not exist. This is an idol and an idol is something made by people's passions. When they worship the god of war, they are only making a god of their passions and sanctifying their selfishness, individually and collectively. The worship of idols, stone and intellectual alike, is, according to the Book of Wisdom "The worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil" (Wisdom 14:27).

In the Old Testament, the sword was a human projection onto God, because people's hearts were hard. They only understand the language of the sword. How do you take a people out of their darkness and bring them into the light of life? God providentially emptied Himself and dwelt in people's darkness, even though the darkness did not comprehend Him (John 1:5). There, in their darkness, He spread His light among them. They thought that He was an ally for them, and a God for their darkness. If not for this, they would not have accepted Him. They attributed killing and their wars to Him. In their eyes He became a God for them, who would give them victory over their enemies. He emptied Himself in the sense that He let them treat Him in this way. Why was He pleased to do this? Because, in His heavenly wisdom, to the goals that would be achieved in them, to the fullness of time, to the completion of the plan of salvation in Jesus Christ. His plan was nothing other than to train them to keep the law. "Thou shalt not kill," He said to them absolutely in His Ten Commandments, so how can He be a killer? In His prophets, on account of their hardness He spoke His word to them, "I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts" (Isaiah 65:2). However, at once He reveals His purposes to them and presses them to joy. Thus He says, "behold, I create new heavens and a new earth and the former shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create ... The wolf and the lamb shall feed together ... They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, says the Lord" (Isaiah 65:17-18, 25).

"When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). Some of them accepted Him. "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12). Some of them did not accept Him. Those are the ones who clung to the worship of the god of war. They crucified Him after He showed Himself to be meek and humble. He disappointed them. As they saw it, it was not possible for Him to be the Lord's awaited Messiah who would give them victory over the peoples of the earth, even though the Prophet Isaiah had already described Him to them, "He has no form or comeliness and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief ... He was despised, and we did not esteem Him" (Isaiah 53:2-3). Their god of war, their idol, he is the one who killed Him.

Jesus' words about the sword are clear and explicit: "All those who take up the sword die by the sword." There is no end to the language of the sword other than the cessation of being. Violence is not remedied with violence. Evil is not resisted with evil, but rather with good. Perhaps one might object that when He was about to be handed over to crucifixion He commanded his disciples, "He who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’" (Luke 22:36-37). These words have another meaning. "And He was numbered with the transgressors" is from Chapter 53 of the Prophet Isaiah, in his words about the servant of Yahweh. So the prophecy is realized, but not formally. What Jesus wants is to appear with His disciples as though He was the leader of a gang. Why? Because He wanted to confirm the Jews in their error on account of the hardness of their hearts after they rejected Him. The Lord God will strike those who insist on sin with blindness, as He is the one who says through the Prophet Isaiah, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them” (John 12:40). So here Jesus gives them over to error, so that their conviction will become entrenched that He is not the Messiah but rather a gang member. But to those who want to hear and so that we will understand the truth of His attitude toward the sword, He said to Peter after he unsheathed it and struck the chief priest’s servant and cut off his right ear, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

However, those who bear the name of Christ have a complete weapon with which they can withstand in the evil day (Ephesians 6). First of all, our enemy is Satan. The people who imitate Satan’s character are his instruments. They are swords and the one wielding them is Satan. For this reason we do not resist the sword with the sword, but rather we resist the one wielding the sword with the complete armor of God. Our strength is from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. This is why it is said, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:10-12). God’s complete weapon is not the weapon of humans. First, we gird our waist with truth. Second, we put on the armor of righteousness. Third, we shod our feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. Fourth, and above all, we carry the shield of faith with which we are able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Fifth, we take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. We arm ourselves with all this and we keep watch, praying with each prayer at each time in the Spirit and we persevere in the request for the sake of all the saints.

We say these words as violence grows fiercer, killing multiplies and the abuse of believers in the name of the truth and in the name of God grows in every place. People are falling like autumn leaves. Do you think that there are sheep and wolves in the world and that the battle is a battle with swords for the sake of truth? This is not the case. The struggle is between wolves and wolves. The battle is between falsehood and falsehood. The devil toys with people, annihilating them. And people, because of their hate and the violence of their passions, offer themselves and each other as firewood for Satan. Each one has gods and instruments of war and the one result is destruction. Tears fill the earth and so we look for the time when God wipes away every year and death is no more and there is no more sorrow, crying and pain (Revelation 21).
“Come, Lord Jesus.”

Archimandrite Touma Bitar
Abbot of the Monastery of St Silouan- Douma
March 9, 2008

1 comment:

Collator said...

I am troubled by the OT exegesis involved in this argument. I've seen a similar approach in a talk by Metr. George Khodr. The idea that OT violence was simply a projection of the Israelite's hard-heartedness onto God doesn't work theologically. God is the one who kills and brings to life, who casts into Hades and raises up. Granted, his approval of (even command to) violence in the OT was definitely an accommodation to the spiritual level of the ancient Israelites. But he himself has absolute authority and discretion over life and death, and he often delegated this authority to his saints. Furthermore, the approach of Fr. Bitar and Metr. Khodr ignores the many centuries of theological debate about the concept of "just war" and the actual practice of the Church for many centuries, of blessing the righteous use of arms for defense of faith and fatherland, as a kind of necessary evil. I understand the climate in which sermons such as this one are given, but we can't simply shape theology to our political context.