The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

May 20, 2009


The Bible is a book full of violence – troubling, painful, angry, ugly violence. The Bible shows us innocent suffering, unjust retribution, harsh vengeance.

The world portrayed in the Bible is not a world we want to see, much less to live in. But it is the real world.

For most of us the violence of the biblical story seems far removed from our daily reality. We see pictures in the paper of death and mayhem. We hear news stories of horrifying human cruelty. But mostly, on a large scale, we are comfortably sheltered from the worst manifestations of the world’s suffering.

Be we cannot afford to be complacent about the reality of violence even in the protected world in which we mostly are privileged to live. Jesus took the issue of violence to a completely new level when he said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:2122)

The world of the Bible is violent because we are violent. There is violence in all our hearts at times; it may not manifest as murder, but it is none the less destructive to our deepest being and to the well-being of the world and the human community. In Jesus’ view, the violence of a harsh thought or an angry word is no different than the violence of murder.

The problem is that violence hurts everyone. When I belittle another person, or respond with harshness rather than gentleness, I inflict pain that spirals outward to affect the whole human community and the world in which we live. But it is not only the victim of my words or actions who is hurt, I am also damaged. My violence diminishes me as a human being created in the image of God. Jesus said, “it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” (Matthew 15:11) My violence defiles my own deepest and most true being.

I was not created for violence. I was created for gentleness and openness. I realize the fullness of my humanity, not by imposing my will upon the world and getting my way, but by yielding. The winners never win. Jesus said, “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30)

Violence ends when someone chooses to give way. When I am willing to let go, to surrender my cherished position, new ways open, new hope is born. The cycle of violence begins to unwind. The way of the cross of Christ shows that I am the winner when I am willing to be the loser. When I can bear the violence of life without retaliating with further violence, something deep and true opens within me and I find the light that is my true nature in Christ.


Anonymous said...

I am confused. I am a single mom with two children who has tried to deal with a violent ex partner in many ways, including by being kind and loving and inclusive. But the cycle of violence does not end. He continues to be cruel to the children, he continues his horrid ways. My every kind gesture is manipulated and twisted into something it is not, and used against me and the children. There must be a way to stand up against violence and cruelty without anger, and yet without enabling it with tolerance. I just can't believe that tolerating the violence of another is a good answer to a very real situation of abuse of children.

Christopher said...

Surrender in the face of violence does not mean taking no action. It means taking decisive action but from a different place within ourselves. In a Christian understanding, when we surrender we are not surrendering to nothing; we are surrendering to God. God is the force of love and life at work in the world and in our lives. To surrdner to this power of love will lead us to life-giving action and certainly to the care and protection of those who are most vulnerable and powerless.

ernest said...

Thanks for that comment anonymous. It really brings the situation to a practical level.
Jesus certainly did not tolerate violence, especially directed to women, children, and the marginalized. But he knew that violence can never be conquered by returning aggression for aggression. It can be deflected this way, the perpetrator may choose to inflict suffering on somebody less intimidating, but the cycle of violence will remain unchanged. In the world of nonviolent resistance we talk about the 'two hands' of nonviolence. One hand is outstretched, palm forward, saying that we cannot allow you to inflict harm on others and we will stand in your way with every fiber of our being. The other is held out by our waist, like half a hug, saying that no matter what, we believe you are human, made in God's image, with an inborn capacity for goodness and we refuse to let your actions obscure that truth. We must not tolerate violence and we must respond to it to minimize harm. But Jesus' challenge to us is to ask God to keep the humanity of the perpetrator always in our hearts so we do not fall into the chaotic cycle of counter-violence. Responding this way is a matter of grace and creativity. The workers of nonviolence, Ghandi, King, Tutu, and the people next door, know that conflict is inevitable and the answer is not accommodating or tolerating it but rather facing it with courage and surrender. We are surrendered when we seek a creative way to meet the conflict. We know we must stop the violence, we pray that we can find ways to do it without becoming violent ourselves.