The Cross, Victory and the Non-Violent God

[ This article was originally written in 2011 - thought I'd blow the dust off it and share it again.  fresh thoughts are in [*].

Worldview runs silently in the background of our consciousness, filtering and shaping the way we interpret the world around us.  It is from these interpretations that our worldview shapes our reactions to people and situations often filling in gaps with unspoken assumptions.  We must realize that we are not as objective as we sometimes think we are and while we can still make decisions and have opinions comfortably, to understand that we see through a glass darkly, that we see through a particular paradigm.   This illustrates the need to be self-aware and walk with some humility because the truth is - we don't know what we don't know.

A mentor and friend said "Unhealthy thinking produces unhealthy actions" and I believe this to be true in all of life.  If we think people will reject us, our actions will manifest in such a way to reduce the risk of the anticipated rejection and resulting pain by either people-pleasing or rejecting others before they reject you.  The same idea is true about God.  What we believe about God - His character, what God values, how God works will, in turn, impact the way we see God, ourselves, others and the world around us.  If we see God as a wrathful and exacting judge, our actions will reflect that belief.  If we see God as a celestial Santa Claus, then our actions will be different again.   So the way we think about God is foundationally important to understand our relationship to God, how to interact with God, and how we feel about ourselves and those around us.

   To this end, I have been thinking about the cross and the victory of God.  Part of this is carefully reflecting on various ideas around the atonement and the idea of a non-violent God.  I understand for many, in various traditions, the issue of a non-violent God is not new.  Many rich, thoughtful and prominent denominations hold a non-violent view of God.  However, there are a number of us who have been raised with a view of the atonement which portrays God committing violence to people and His own Son as punishment for transgressions.  This is a very prominent view of the atonement in the West and many of us raised within the Penal Substitution Atonement paradigm get very uncomfortable with the suggestion that there may be other equally valid ideas (theologically, historically and logically) in which God is, in fact, non-violent.  This view does not ignore Scripture rather reads the same stories through the lens of love - allowing love to shape ideas of justice and the character of God instead of human shame.

[The Eastern Church doesn't hold to doctrines of Original Sin or Penal Substitution Atonement (PSA).  They generally hold the enemy of (hu)men is the fear of death, sin and the devil.  They rightly argue that through a spiritual worldview that affirms Original Sin and PSA that they in effect make God himself our enemy instead of our rescuer.) 

  There are several voices - Christian authors/thinkers throughout Christian history who understand the atonement through eyes love and resist the violent paradigms of atonement that many of us have grown up with.  This shift is allowing me to understand victory as thorough and complete through mercy, forgiveness, and love.  By the very act of loving - laying down His own life, He resoundingly defeated the power of sin and death, making way for the reconciliation of His creation to Himself.    There are several ancient voices and numerous contemporary voices that are challenging the inconsistent and at times, the unhealthy paradigm of a violent God.

   St. John of Chrysostom (circa 400AD)  is generally considered "the most prominent doctor of the Greek Church and the greatest preacher ever heard in a Christian pulpit". (source:   In this treatise, he eloquently proclaims the power of love and its overcoming of Hell and death. 

Let no one grieve his poverty,

for the universal Kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;

for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

let no one fear death, for Death of our Savior has set us free.

He destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.

He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His Flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,

"You of Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it is done away with.

It was in an uproar because it is mocked.

It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed

It is in an uproar for it is annihilated.

It is in an uproar, for now it has been made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.

It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?

O Hell, where is they victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!

Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!

Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;

for Christ having risen from the dead,

is to become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

   I appreciate the way he suggests that by encountering the personification of love (Jesus) - the power of love decimated Hell because love being what it is, naturally dispels fear, loneliness, darkness, anger - that's what love does.  It is not the retributive return of violence for violence!

Hell took a body and discovered God.

It took earth and encountered Heaven.

It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?

O Hell, where is they victory?

Spend some time reflecting on the implication of the Christian world-view you hold. This isn't an exercise to convince you of anything but rather to engage with something that may be outside of your God box.

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