I’m looking at one of the sermons that came out of Mars Hill Church a couple of months ago: Is God A Pacifist? People, even popular pastors, speak only their opinion: not the words of God.
Recently, Mark Driscoll (of the ever popular Mars Hill Church) held a sermon series on the 10 Commandments (Mars Hill Church, 2013). I don’t usually follow large churches nor their pastors; my personal opinion is that once a pastor has reached significant success and people start to look up to him (or her), he (or she) can be infected by his (or her) own popularity. Arrogance is hiding just around the corner, and he (or she) might start to consider that his (or her) understanding of the Bible is somehow unique and special, above the rest. It is not. Popularity does not equate to propriety. I’ve seen it happen too many times, and the result is not pretty.
It took me a while to remember why I was first alerted to this sermon: it was because I read an article about his use of the word “pansy” in the text (Jimmy Doyle, Red Letter Christians, 2013). Although I completely agree with Mr. Doyle, I found that there are a lot more troubling points about the sermon. I’ll start with the “pansy” comments, but there’s not much to say that Mr. Doyle hasn’t already described (and done so quite well). The problem is essentially that Mr. Driscoll tries to use “pansy” as a synonym for “pacifist”. The practise is not only linguistically incorrect (the two have nowhere near the same meaning), but it is stylistically unnecessary. He only uses the word three times in the sermon: and every time he uses it, it is done in combination: “pansy and/or pacifist”. The word has no independent meaning in this text other than with “pacifist”. But apparently that is part of Mark’s goal in this sermon: to link in the minds of his hearers and readers the two words, “pacifist” and “pansy”.
I couldn’t disagree more. I don’t have to listen to the sermon to understand the derision with which Mr. Driscoll would have said those words. I don’t think God is a pansy: but that is independent of my opinion about pacifists. Indeed, I’ve known some extremely strong and resourceful pacifists. As Mr. Doyle says, “Pacifism is not passivism. Pacifists are often determined and tireless fighters, but their weapons are not of violence and their concern is not limited to a notion of victory that can only happen at a destructive cost to the personhood, dignity, or existence of those who would be their enemies” (Red Letter Christians, 2013).
But beyond that, I want to deal with the heart the question posed by Mr. Driscoll. Is God a pacifist? Absolutely not. That is obvious from even a casual reading of the Old Testament. But how does that possibly impact me or my relationship with Him? Because God is justified in violence, does that mean we are, too, Mr. Driscoll? God is a lot of things that I’m not. For one thing He’s omniscient and omnipotent: and He has every right to exact vengeance, violent if He wishes it so. I am none of those things: nor are any of us. My goal, indeed, is to follow God and to be more like Him: and I do so in the halting way that we all must. That does not mean I feel any need to be as violent as the God of the Old Testament: I respect Him, and am quite pleased that Jesus acts as an intermediary between us, lest He (God) give me what I’m truly due. Pacifism is not something that I adopt because it makes me more like God, in and of itself: it is something I adopt because to not do so would unquestionably make me less like God. It’s not that I must be pacifist: it’s that I cannot not be a pacifist.