The Nonviolent Way of Love

Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove on the surprising civil disobedience of Christ.

I am sitting in the lobby of a small hotel in Baghdad, listening to an American grandmother who has spent her last six months in Iraq. She is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT), a literal reserves for foot soldiers in the army of the Lord. Since 1986, CPT has made its mission to “get in the way” of violence by practicing direct action nonviolence in conflict zones—to say, “Another way is possible.”

A few years later, as they are leaving a meeting with Iraqi partners, four CPT-ers are taken hostage by a group of extremists. Muslim friends in Iraq condemn the action and ask for the peacemakers’ release. Off and on, the hostages are in the news for months.

God’s people remember that no king is higher than the King of the universe, and the Creator of life is stronger than death. If the law of the land contradicts the word of our Lord, we know whose command we must follow.

After months of waiting, we get the news. Tom Fox, the lone American hostage, has been found dead on a garbage heap outside Baghdad, one bullet through his head and another through his heart. I think of his friends from the Quaker meeting in Northern Virginia who joined us just weeks before to keep vigil with CPT outside White House, praying for Tom and asking our country’s president to listen to his witness.

Another way is possible, indeed. But it might cost you your life. People like Tom know this. Their lives have been claimed by a God who would rather die in love than guarantee justice by the threat of violence. Having found new life in Christ, Tom lived and died
in that love.

Kings and presidents are used to people heeding their commands. If we do not, violence is their trump card. But God’s people remember that no king is higher than the King of the universe, and the Creator of life is stronger than death. If the law of the land contradicts the word of our Lord, we know whose command we must follow.

Jesus inhabits this tradition of divine obedience (and civil disobedience) when He is called before King Herod and Pilate in Jerusalem. From His triumphal entry to His cleansing of the temple to His death as a political criminal, Jesus challenges worldly authority by submitting to the Father. “Not my will, but yours be done,” He prays.

But Jesus is also doing a new thing.

Though the new era of God’s peaceable Kingdom was real in the community of the Messiah, the early Church knew from experience that the kingdoms of this world are also still very real. Christians understand themselves to be living the way of the peaceable Kingdom right alongside the violence of an order that is passing away, its ultimate defeat assured at the cross.

The challenge, for early Christians, was not to overcome the world. Jesus had already done that. The challenge was to faithfully inhabit Jesus’ way of engaging the powers. The new thing they found in Jesus was a new way of being in the world.

In the midst of a “war on terror,” it can be difficult to remember why we would rather die than kill. But to forget the peculiar witness of martyrs like Tom Fox is to forget the “new thing” the New Testament celebrates as the unique sign of Christ’s resurrection power.

In the midst of a “war on terror,” it can be difficult to remember why we would rather die than kill.

We remember these saints as a way of reminding ourselves that no power deserves our allegiance more than the One who raised Jesus from the dead. No way is more trustworthy than the way of nonviolent love.

Adapted from Awakening of Hope by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. ©2012. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com

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