Sunday, 2 October 2011

Cultural Violence

Recently there was a brief discussion on Facebook related to God fostering violence rather than being a god seeking to bring in peace. God is seen as initiating violence against Israel for her sins and against her oppressors. Isaiah 51:9-52:12 illustrates this with reference to creation and Israel's exodus from Egypt. The commentator, Sawyer (1986), links this with “God's power to defeat all the powers of darkness, not just the darkness of primeval chaos” (p 138). Sawyer through spiritualising the battle seems to want to push aside the violence to people and nature that is claimed to be initiated by God.

Yet I don't want to see God as an initiator of violence. My post (31 August 2011) questioned whether God initiated the riots here in the UK. There I said “God may permit or use people intent on violence to catch the attention of those who claim to be his people.” But what I am doing is attributing historical events to God to suit my theology. As I read this Isaiah passage, I wonder whether Isaiah and the biblical writers are doing the same thing. They want to give a picture of God rescuing his people and ushering in his kingdom but they see his people resisting. The cultural context is one of violence so God is seen to use it to chasten his people and then to bring them forth from the midst of other nations. In effect, the prophet is using language appropriate to the period to convey a message of God's salvation. We look back at it and see it encouraging violence and miss the message of shalom that weaves its way through the passages.

My question in my 31 August blog was “what would God need to do now or permit now to catch the attention of his people?” I see groups seeking to question mankind's rush to mutually assured destruction (MAD) but their messages on inequality and sustainability are ignored. Instead, we continue to create a wealth gap and chase greed then attempt to defend ourselves through weapons of mutual destruction.

Is it likely in this context that our prophecies like those of Old Testament prophets will warn of violence to come and which came visible in the riots and in Libya's rebels. Surely violence and destruction is still part of our culture. It will happen even though we cry against it. Does the prophet then see it as God's inevitable judgement?

Maybe what we see in the Bible is an attempt to write what seemed to be historical events as God's intervention in the world as as Sawyer says God's overcoming of chaos with his salvation. If so then we need to find new ways of talking of God's kingdom that take it away from this link with violence and focuses on the qualities of shalom (peace, wholeness, integrity) but will the people hear?


Sawyer, J. F. A. (1986). Isaiah (Vol. 2). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.

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