|Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes - Spiritual Nourishment for the Soul - October 2007|
Let Us Not Do Violence In God's Name
Christianity is different from other religions in a very important way: the God of Christianity, although He took on our flesh and became a human person like us, nonetheless never lowered Himself to the inherent follies of our human nature. Even when exceedingly provoked, He never “hit back.” He never spoke spitefully, never ridiculed anyone, never cursed anyone no matter how badly He knew they had behaved.
The ancient Greeks and Romans had deities who sometimes exploited human beings for selfish reasons; the Hindus’ Krishna, who many people compare to Christ, sported and cavorted with mortals in sometimes scandalous ways. The god of the Buddhists seems distant and impersonal— indifferent to the sorrows and suffering of this world. And Allah seems essentially stern and vengeful and his followers seem to have little interest in promoting peace, equality, or justice for all!
But Jesus, even in the physical weakness of His full humanity, reflected always a God of gentleness, of patience and forgiveness, of infinite love and understanding and good will toward all the creatures He had created.
Nowhere is the Nature of our Christian God more clearly and succinctly illustrated than in Jesus’ own direct words: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). Thus He made it clear that God is about love, that love trumps even our well-deserved judgment, even God’s potential punishment of us for our rejection of Him and our frequently horrible behavior toward one another.
So why do we Christians, who know we serve a God of love, so often and in so many ways commit violence against each other and the rest of God’s creation, and even do this supposedly, incredibly, in the Name of God?
Life has always been complicated. Today, in our increasingly complex world, it is more complicated than ever. We serve a God of Love but should we make ourselves defenseless in the face of an enemy who threatens to eradicate us from the planet? And what of the incorrigible criminal in our midst— the serial killer, the repeat child molester, the pornographer, the terrorist whose ingrained hatred of us and our God prompts him to commit mass murder of defenseless civilians, even children as was the case at Beslan?
And is it permissible to hate some classes or categories of our fellow humans because we feel their beliefs or lifestyles are so unacceptable by our standards that they must surely also be condemned by God? Jesus did not hate groups or individual human beings with whom He had profound moral and religious disagreements; instead, He desired to talk and communicate with them all. How then can we know that God “hates” abortionists or homosexuals, atheists or adulterers or promiscuous hippies or know-it-all liberals or sanctimonious ultra conservatives or (fill in the blank for whatever kind of sinners you personally find most objectionable)? These are hard questions that Christians continue to struggle with and will continue to struggle with, until the world ends and God Himself tells us the “right” answers.
Meanwhile we have some clues from Jesus’ own words… “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43 – 48).
For a Christian, God is Love and serving God is about loving one’s neighbor, whoever and whatever that neighbor may be. That does not mean the Christian must approve of everything the neighbor is or does. As thinking beings, we have a responsibility to discern right from wrong, good from evil. But discernment is not the same thing as judgmentalism or condemnation of individuals, even when we should rightly condemn the acts they commit.
If the neighbor is a thief or a prostitute, a drug dealer, arsonist or even a murderer; if the neighbor regularly pollutes the environment, beats his wife, kicks his dog or curses your children, we, as people of God, should condemn that behavior. But as Christians, we also have an obligation to attempt to bring our neighbor to repentance and support him in living a better and more godly life. This is not because we ourselves are “better” or more righteous: certainly all of us are sinners. But as Christians, we must never forget that to bring others to God is the ultimate act of love. Above all, we must not condemn the neighbor; we must not think him unworthy of salvation, even if he has done us, personally, some grievous harm. Because indeed, God does love him, regardless of what he does or is. We know this because, at the very end of His earthly life, as He Himself was dying from the horrific wounds human beings had deliberately and maliciously inflicted on Him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Peace to your soul!
Humbly in our Risen Lord,+Very Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes
Who prays for you and with you!
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(c) Reverend Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes