Violence on a full tank.

I drove into the first glow of morning today, on my way back from taking my parents and brother-in-law’s parents to the airport. In my sleepy, early-morning stupor, I thought at first that the mix of light and gloomy gray clouds was the reflection of headlights, but I soon realized that something much brighter was shining from the other side. I would be dead to the world for the sun’s official arrival, trying to make up for lost sleep before church, but as I rolled toward the rising sun, I thought about war.

In Judges 7, the passage I read as I gulped down a yogurt at 4am, Gideon takes a whole bunch of men to fight Midian. God tells him that he would rather deliver Israel with a small fraction of the men Gideon thought he needed, so that way it’s obvious that it was God’s power that delivered them.

And God’s power did deliver them. He caused the Midianites to turn on each other as the small band of Israelites attacked, which made the job significantly easier.

God did some attacking. He sponsored the Israelites violent campaign, actually instigated it.

So, when should I get violent?

I kept driving down the highway, picturing one of my favorite professors as I thought. He wasn’t very open about his opinions in the class I took with him last spring, but he did own up to one specific belief.

“I’m a pacifist,” he admitted with one of his signature hand gestures, as if to say well, there’s that. Do with it what you like.

And, since I admire the man greatly, my first thought was whether I should be a pacifist, too. If nonviolence was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.

I think about how often I respond to people violently, harsh words or looks that could kill. I think about the times I’ve wanted to rear-end someone for being inconsiderate on the road (a nonsensical response). Violence doesn’t seem to be a good first response. Speaking of first responders, what if that was the paramedics’ first step? If you can survive this, we’ll give you CPR and take you to the hospital…

But God did it.

I know, that shouldn’t be my criteria for whether or not my actions are just. I should not get out my garden hose and try to flood the earth. I’m just following God, Officer. Really! God has a few advantages on me, the knowledge and the goodness and the power, which give him supreme ability to take care of things.

God’s track record in the Old Testament is filled with patience. He waited hundreds of years before passing harsh judgment on evil people groups (evil not only because they didn’t follow him but because they had vile practices like temple prostitution and infant sacrifice, among others). He was patience with them, gentle even.

It seems that was God’s first response, which matches up with what we see in Galatians.

“For the fruit of the Spirit is violence, judgment…”

Nope. But gentleness, kindness, and self-control are on there, along with patience and peace.

It seems like violence is our last resort. Or at least, it’s God’s. Whether we’re allowed to go that far… I don’t know. I know I’ve been in situation where it seems the only way that the person I’m trying to speak truth to will hear and understand is if I yell and shake them and threaten and dangle them by the ankles off the side of a tall building.

From what I’ve seen of God’s responses to people in the Bible and from his responses to me, gentleness is the status quo. I don’t know what exactly that means for nations and people groups and businessmen, but for me, it means that I need an extra dose of the Holy Spirit.

And probably more sleep than I got last night. Fill the tank, people. Fill the tank.

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