It is easy to get angry at the violence in Scriptures – even with the violence of God. But the message is not the violence. The message lies behind the violence.
This idea does not justify the violence. To justify violence is as wrong as the violence itself. But we can’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Using the idea of a punishment/reward aspect as a cultural norm, violence becomes a natural facet of punishment. Different degrees of bad behavior require varying degrees of punishment.
A child does something wrong; a child is punished. The problem with this type of learning tool is that we feel punished far more often than we feel rewarded. Good behavior – since it is expected – is often merely that…expected. No fanfare or pats on the back because we did what was expected; rather, ordinary good behavior is most often ignored. Only exceptional behavior receives applause, laud and honor.
Yet one screwup and the reign of terror begins.
Since this is an age old way of dealing with children, does it not seem likely that it is one of those generational things we learned – one of those “traditions” that regretfully has been learned and remembered all too well? “Spare the rod; spoil the child.”
It is evident that the authors and interpreters of the Word of God fully believed this lesson.
The Hebrews do as is expected and God sits in heaven and is pleased. The only way that the Israelites know that God is pleased is by the fact that crops are growing, rain is proportional and all is well – meaning, there are no plagues of disease or insects or captivity. God only make the Holy Presence known if that Omnipotent One is Pissed Off.
Is the meat spewing out of the Israelite nostrils the main message in the Numbers 11 Scripture? No, of course not. Yes, giving the whiny Israelites what they seemingly deserve is a violent punishment and personally, I gave a certain perverse giggle at the thought of all the spewing that swept through the greedy Israelite camp. But is this truly God or merely an interpretation of the people who were inspired to write their thoughts? As is the case now, so was the case then – greed is the message.
What do I need to see in this Scripture? How does it apply to me? What does it require that I change?
Would I have been satisfied with the sweet manna from heaven each day every day for a long period of time? I seriously doubt it. From my exalted privilege of standing in front of a near full refrigerator and stating “there’s nothing to eat”, I hardly think manna every day would quench my desire.
With our crucifixes firmly attached to our walls and in our minds, we concentrate on the actual death of Jesus. The New Testament may not have God burning up cities , crushing entire armies or even sending plagues , but the idea of being nailed to a cross is fairly violent. It is easy to see how some can be distracted by it but is the message of Jesus actually about the crucifixion? I don’t believe so.
Hanging offenders on a cross in public was a punishment meant to deter others from the same crime. It was a normal way for the Romans to mete out punishment. Jesus was a terrible offender. He offended mightily those who held tightly to what they perceived to be their own authority. Therefore, as is the case then and now, if a person offends the authority too much or for too long, that person is at minimum incarcerated or at most (or in Texas) killed. It is just the “norm”.
Did Jesus have to die? Don’t know. Don’t care. Not the point in this argument.
What I do care about is what I perceive to be the dual message behind the violence of the crucifixion – the life of Jesus and the resurrection of the Christ.
To concentrate on the crucifixion, even to berate and decry the violence of it, is to lessen that life which Jesus lived and which ultimately led to his death. He lived a life that was in such contrast to that life being taught; he frightened those in power, so much so that they wanted him dead.
The message is this – If we buck the system, we run the risk of dying.
Because of the death, we have the Resurrection. Those who give their lives will find their lives. Jesus said so.
No one can take away that which is given to us by that message.
Even if we die, we will live. That is the stuff of martyrs and saints.
What is this life but a chance to Live? Are we not called to follow Jesus? But how far? A little bit of the way? Half way? Or all the way? How far?
All the way into the Resurrection…
And how can we get to the resurrection if we don’t follow the life? How can we get to the resurrection if we stop at the Cross?
We could live without the violence. But…would we have paid as much attention?