Asher Witmer

rediscovering Jesus

Do Not Resist the One Who Is Evil, But… warfare the way God designed

“When we buy into the American narrative that focuses on ‘flesh-and-blood enemies,’ we are spraying the tip of the flames, not the source of the fire. America could nuke the entire Middle East, and Satan would walk away untouched. China or Iran could conquer America, and God’s kingdom wouldn’t feel a thing. As long as we pray, love, suffer, and herald the good news that Jesus is King, we will continue to see the Kingdom of God thunder against the kingdom of Satan. We need to make sure we’re fighting in the right war with the right means.” –Preston Sprinkle

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For too long the church in America has walked under the intoxication of militarism. We’ve been duped into believing that it is our responsibility to protect our lives on this earth, whether by providing churches with armed security guards or by preaching a gospel compatible with materialism and the building of wealth.

But this is not the way of Christ. Not as laid out in Scripture, at least.

We are to love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us. Not make sure their evil never happens again by protecting ourselves with guns or campaigning for laws to protect our religious freedoms.

We are to conquer with Christ by absorbing violence, not participating in it.

 

In America, John’s book of Revelation gets abused perhaps more than any other book of the Bible. James Carroll said, “In no text of the entire Bible is God’s violence, and the violence of Christ himself, more powerfully on display than in . . . the book of Revelation.”[1] John MacArthur said, “Armageddon . . . will actually be a slaughter” of “millions of people engaged in the Battle of Armageddon,” and “it is the Lord Jesus Christ who crushes out their lives.”[2] Mark Driscoll believed the book of Revelation depicts Jesus as “a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed.”

“That is a guy I can worship,” Driscoll said, “I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”[3] Perhaps that is why Driscoll is the way he is.

Whatever the case, the violence we read about in Revelation is not executed by God. Rather, it is done to God.

Driscoll’s prizefighting Jesus does judge His enemies—His clothes are dipped in blood and He defeats His enemies with a sword. But His authority to judge comes by first being conquered by them.

To quote Sprinkle again,

The suffering of Christ, His death on the cross, becomes the means by which Jesus slays the dragon (Rev. 19). And the blood spattered on His garments comes not from His enemies—but from Himself.[4]

Furthermore, the sword used to slay the dragon and all who oppose God, comes from his mouth. All throughout the book of Revelation, a sword from the mouth refers to a word of judgment.[5] This is not a violent act of Christ. He is not slaying thousands of people with a sword from His hand, as Alexander the Great did.

Instead, He is defeating His enemies with a word of judgment.

 

In Revelation 5, John weeps because there is no one with authority to open the scroll. But then he hears someone say to him, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”[6]

But when John turns to see this conquering lion, he does not see a violent, blood-hungry beast who has devoured all his foes; he sees a lamb, slain.

The Lamb of God conquers evil not with more evil and violence, but with laying Himself down to absorb all violence.

We, then, as Christ-followers claiming Jesus as our Lord and Prince of Peace, are to lay down our lives in response to God’s invitation to work with Him in reconciling the broken to Himself. And through suffering with Christ (by counting our lives on this earth as nothing) we can experience the resurrection, the glory and riches of God.

There is no other way. If we want to experience God and live with Him eternally, if we are going to advance His kingdom and conquer evil in this world, we can only do so by actively laying down our lives.

 

Too often we approach this discussion as activism versus pacifism (or nonresistance). God does not call us to be passive. He does not tell us to be peace­keepers. We don’t not resist evil.

On the contrary, we are called to resist evil. We are to actively engage in warfare so the kingdoms of this world can be absolutely dismantled and we, as God’s people, are not conquered by Canaan.

But we fight not against flesh and blood. We don’t fight with swords and spears made of medal.

We fight with suffering.

 

Through prayer, love, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, walking in faith, and teaching people Christ’s way of life, we do more damage to Satan’s kingdom than nuclear bombs will ever do to us. We walk in boldness, not because we won’t ever lose our lives; but because in doing so, our enemy is defeated.

The dragon is slain. He and all his followers are thrown into the sea of sulfur.[7]

Perhaps the most graphic modern-day story of suffering love I know is the story of the five missionaries killed in Ecuador trying to reach a reclusive, malicious tribe. They had guns with them, but only to scare off any attackers they faced.[8]

Their commitment to not using the guns on attackers, themselves, came from a deep-rooted confidence that “We are ready to die. They are not.”

On January 8, 1956, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, Jim Elliot, and Roger Youderian waited on a beach along the Curaray River, expecting a group of Huaorani Indians to arrive sometime that afternoon, if only to get plane rides.

Around three in the afternoon, the Huaorani arrived. First, two women appeared (their attempt to divide the foreigners before attacking).

As Jim Elliot and Peter Fleming waded into the river to greet them, they were speared from behind. Jim fired a couple shots from his pistol into the air, attempting to scare the attackers. Peter, desperately reiterated friendly overtures, asking “Why are you killing us?” before being speared to death in the river.

All five missionaries died in the attack, leaving behind their wives and children.

 

As it stood on January 8, 1956, evil had won. Gospel-tellers had died. How could this be good? How could this be the way the church conquers Satan?

But the story wasn’t over for Huaorani people on January 8, 1956. Rachel Saint (sister to Nate) and Elisabeth Elliot (wife of Jim) returned to Ecuador and eventually led the murders to Christ. In fact, Steve Saint (Nate’s son) would later be baptized by two of his father’s killers.

Christ conquered evil in the Huaorani not because the missionaries protected themselves with guns, but because they laid down their lives in death.

 

Every week, my wife and I take our boys, with others from our church, and share the Gospel on Drew Street in North East Los Angeles. It doesn’t sound spectacular until you realize this is an area of the city known for gang violence. Things have drastically changed in the last eight years, but still, shootings take place often enough cable companies get paid overtime to go into that neighborhood. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago a shooting involved some friends of people we know.

If we buy into the American mindset that we need to protect ourselves, that we need security guards at church, we wouldn’t target that area of the city for discipleship.

But Christ calls us to enter the chaos of violence and be conquered so that others can live.

 

Teresa and I lived on Drew Street for a year and a half before moving overseas. During our time there, we were able to develop some relationships that kept on after we left. People from our church continued regularly visiting Drew Street and having Bible clubs with the folks there.

Now we’re back, and it’s hard to believe what God is doing. A place where people never hung out after night, now finds itself buzzing with laughter and screaming from children at play long after the sun has set.

We’re not the only ones working there, God has raised up several of other Christ-following groups to engage in spiritual warfare for the hearts of the people once held in bondage to violence.

If we are nonviolent only because we don’t want to have to go to war, if we are pacifists simply because we want other people to like us, then we may as well give it up. Something has silenced the very people most noted for their suffering love in previous generations. Few of us today, engage in active, cruciformed resistance.

We need to be awakened, again. We must resist.

 

Only, we resist evil with good; not violence.

We are nonviolent because through cross-bearing discipleship of those who don’t know Christ, the Lamb of God dips His robe in blood, in victory over His enemies. Our resistance is shaped by the cross.

What are you doing to overcome evil? How are you “laying down your life”? Share in the comments below.

 

Citations:

[1] James Carroll, Jerusalem, Jerusalem (2011), p. 45

[2] John MacArthur, Revelation 12-22 (2000), pp. 117, 188

[3] Mark Driscoll, “7 Big Questions: 7 Leaders on Where the Church Is Headed,” Relevant, Issue 24, Jan/Feb 2007

[4] Preston Sprinkle, Fight—a Christian case for nonviolence (2013), p. 178

[5] Rev. 1:16; 2:12, 16; cf. John 12:48; 2 Thess. 2:8; Heb. 4:12

[6] Rev. 5:4-5

[7] Rev. 19

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Auca#Palm_Beach

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About Asher Witmer

I am a son of God, husband, father, and difference maker. I love helping people sort through hard questions they face and rediscover Jesus. I have written three eBooks dealing with church frustrations, and send out daily posts addressing faith, church and relationships.

  • Samuel Stoltzfus

    I like this. Recently my students and I had a discussion on this topic, and they raised the question of what we should do if someone came into our school and threatened to kill us. Would it be okay to knock the guy out or somehow incapacitate him to keep him from hurting us? Shouldn’t I, as their teacher, do something to protect them? Would I just stand by and let the guy shoot my students? The Bible talks about suffering for Christ, but what if the suffering has nothing to do with my faith in Jesus? I’m curious if you have any answers to these questions.

    • Samuel,

      Thanks for the comment. I received an email, recently, with a similar question, and I told that person that I generally find hypothetical questions dangerous and unproductive. Mainly because they are framed as if there are only two possible solutions. Hardly ever are the realistic, and never have I heard of an actual attack going down just as we hypothesize.

      Having said that, this is something I’ve often thought about as my family and I have lived and do work in parts of the world known for violence. What would I do.

      First of all, I don’t intend to give the impression this is an easy answer. I’m going to leaves a couple of thoughts just for the sake of clarity because of the challenge of communicating online. So, if my short response feels like a blanket answer, I apologize.

      There are at least two things we need to consider seriously when wrestling with hypothetic situations–especially, in search of a reason to use violence. First, are we convinced God doesn’t work through prayer? Would crying out to God not work? Is my act of violence toward an attacker actually going to work better than anything God could do? We love the idea of God when it comes to saving us from hell, we shrug Him off when it comes to totally relying on Him for protection of our lives.

      Secondly, we at least need to consider whether Jesus ever once permitted or commissioned His followers to use violence. In short, I can’t find any evidence He ever did. So, if we are going to be followers of Jesus. . . should we not follow Him? (I highly recommend Preston Sprinkle’s book, Fight: a Christian case for nonviolence, for a much more thorough study on this topic. http://amzn.to/2AXsWjZ.

      In light of these first two considerations, we must remember the cross. That’s why we are nonviolent. Because of the cross, all of life is about faith. Any time I choose to give my life instead of protect it, I am demonstrating the counter-culture transformation of the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus has conquered, and we don’t have to worry about our lives on this earth. I admit, writing it so briefly here in a comment looks ridiculously trite and nearly heartless, but it’s reality. The reality in which we live is a Kingdom ruled by Christ.

      Would I try to protect my family, or students in a classroom if an attacker came in? Absolutely. But I would seek to protect through means other than violence. I could go into how history actually has yet to prove violent responses to evil attackers actually works. In fact, it seems to only bread more violence. While on the other hand there are hosts of stories (largely forgotten or altogether missed) of people who protected thousands of others through nonviolent means. But I’ll leave at this for now. 🙂

      Do you have any further thoughts on it?

      Blessings!