God Is a God of Persuasion Not Force: Early Church Teaching on Coercion
Posted in : Theology and Political Philosophy, Uncategorized on by : Michael Maharrey Tags: government, Jesus, Mathetes. Diognetus, politics
Christian political activists on both the left and right side of the aisle share a fundamental characteristic. They all embrace the use of coercion and force to impose their vision on the rest of society.
But God is a God of persuasion, not force.
Politics always involves force. It has been accurately characterized as “war by other means.” Government provides the muscle. Control the government and you can control the population. Right-wing drug warriors and progressive welfare staters may have vastly divergent views on policy and conflicting conceptions of the “common good,” but they agree 100 percent on how to get there – “secure power and impose thy will.”
But should Christians align and entangle themselves with the state in hopes of harnessing its power and authority to impose the Kingdom of God – or its precepts – on earth? Jesus certainly didn’t think so. In fact, he rejected that option when Satan offered it to him.
“The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Matthew 4:8-10
Jesus refused to harness the evil power of earthly kingdoms for his ends. Jesus could have said, “I’ll take control of these kingdoms and use my power to make the world a better place.” But he knew better than to get in bed with the Devil.
It seems some Christians today don’t understand that lesson.
They want to harness the state – government – to impose their will on the world. Jesus shows us a different way. He woos us. He invites us. He stands at the door and knocks.
But he never forces us.
The epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus is one of the earliest works of Christian apologetics. In the seventh chapter, the writer explains that God did not plant among humankind “the truth and the holy teaching which surpasseth the wit of man,” and “fix it firmly in our hearts,” in the way we might expect. He didn’t send a military officer, or an angel, or a ruler, or “one of those that direct the affairs of earth.” He sent his son – Jesus.
Was He sent, think you, as any man might suppose, to establish a sovereignty, to inspire fear and terror? Not so. But in gentleness [and] meekness has He sent Him, as a king might send his son who is a king. He sent Him, as sending God; He sent Him, as [a man] unto men; He sent Him, as Saviour, as using persuasion, not force: for force is no attribute of God. He sent Him, as summoning, not as persecuting; He sent Him, as loving, not as judging.”
God is a God of persuasion not force – for force is no attribute of God.
So, why do so many who call themselves His children seek to employ force? Why do they insist on using guns and clubs to impose their will on society? God points his children toward a different path – imitation of His son. As Paul wrote, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
It’s time we stopped pointing guns at our neighbors, demanding that they conform to our will and do our bidding. “Love your neighbors,” is the mindset of Jesus. We can’t do that very well when we’re punching them and ordering them around.