In “Might God call Christians to participate in a future genocide?” I pointed out that Christians who believe God commanded genocides in the past should be open to the possiblity of God commanding a genocide in the future. I gave, as an example, Revelation 19 which seems to narrate a future war when a population will be completely eradicated. Consequently, I argued that Christians who believe in divinely sanctioned genocides in the past should prepare themselves mentally for the possiblity of participation in a genocide in the future.
Jerry Shepherd responded as follows:
“You’ve suggested there are only two options; but I would suggest a third. There is no need to prepare myself for participation in the hypothetical genocide. In this age (dispensation? though I am by no means a dispensationalist), God has called those who align themselves with him to live pacifistically; i.e., no retaliation, no tit for tat, no use of violence, no taking vengeance into one’s own hands. In the OT, this was not the case. There, the attitude was more along the lines of “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition (see Ps 144:1; 149:6). Neither directive or attitude in either dispensation is to be seen as morally inferior or superior to the other. For Joshua to wage a genocidal war against the Canaanites at God’s command is not morally inferior to the Christian’s not doing so in obedience to a different command from the Lord in this dispenation. If, indeed, there is a futuristic fulfillment to Rev 19, and the saints of God are called upon to join the Lamb in his war, I am confident that the necessary preparations will be taken care of at that time. The only preparation necessary in this dispensation is that of and an absolute unquestioning commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.”
There are two key aspects to Jerry’s response. The first is that Joshua’s genocide is no better or worse than Jesus’ pacifism. Each was appropriate to its circumstance. (By analogy, a windbreaker is not better than a parka. Each is an appropriate jacket for certain weather conditions.) The second point is that if and when it becomes appropriate for Christians to participate in genocide again, God will prepare them for the task.
Let’s take some time to digest the extraordinary nature of Jerry’s proposal. Imagine that we take a time machine back in time and stop in two different periods. At our first stop we see a soldier hack apart an infant with a scythe in front of his screaming parents. At our second stop we see a soldier refusing to kill an unarmed and wounded enemy soldier.
In order to answer the question of whether either soldier acted in a noble, Christlike manner, we would have to know what age we are in.
If soldier 1 is in Joshua’s army then by hacking up the infant he acted in a noble, Christlike manner. But if he was in our present age then he committed a moral atrocity contrary to Christlikeness. If soldier 2 was in Joshua’s army then by refusing to kill the unarmed, wounded soldier he committed a moral atrocity. But if he was in our present age then he acted in a noble, Christlike manner.
The cost of Jerry taking this position is a complete loss of moral integration. Indeed, his position ends up looking morally schizophrenic. (Here I’m using the term “schizophrenia” in the popular sense of a lack of cognitive integration.)
Consider Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45)
The mainstream interpretation of this passage would have it that Jesus is claiming that hatred of enemies is wrong. To be a Christlike disciple in the past and going forward into the future is to love one’s enemies and to pray for them.
But not on Jerry’s view. On his view, Jesus was simply offering a command for a particular time, one which did not obtain in the past and may not obtain going into the future:
“It used to be right to ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But until you hear otherwise I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Discerning the Lordship of Christ in history
Let’s turn again to Jerry’s final sentence: “The only preparation necessary in this dispensation is that of and an absolute unquestioning commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.” This sounds pious. How could a Christian find fault with the claim that we should have an “absolute and unquestioning commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ”?
The problem starts with the fact that fallible human beings are the ones attempting to understand the Lordship of Jesus Christ as it is worked out in history. Throughout history, time and again, Christians have made egregious mistakes in attempting to discern that Lordship. And time and again they have committed egregious atrocities as a result. Think, for example, of the zealous Anabaptists occupying Muntster in 1534-5 and proceeding to slaughter the non-Anabaptist population. No doubt many of them thought they were living out Revelation 19.
Jerry’s ethical framework offers no way to know when Christ may withdraw the pacifistic stance of love of enemy and reinstitute the merciless slaughter of the enemy. Consequently, Jerry’s view offers the real world consequence that Christians at some point in the future could reasonably come to the conclusion that fidelity to Christ at that time in history means slaughtering the non-Christian civilian population in their midst.
It is difficult to overstate how shocking and disturbing this position is.
The changing trail for sanctification
This leads to another practical problem. Imagine that you’re going on a hike up a mountain. You are handed a trail map and you diligently set out on the marked trail. Though the path is arduous, you are strengthened by the thought that every determined step brings you closer to your destination.
For the Christian, the life of Jesus serves as the map for the road to sanctification much like the climber’s map serves as the path to the top of the mountain. If you want to become Christlike, follow the map of the life of service of Jesus.
Now imagine that as you start hiking you do so on the prospect that at some point the trail you’re on could be closed and another completely different trail opened to the top of the mountain. What would that do to your resolve to follow the trail you’d been given?
That is equivalent to the view of sanctification that Jerry is presenting us with. For now our roadmap toward sanctification is to follow the footsteps of Jesus, the one who loved his enemies and prayed for those who persecuted him. But at some future point Christlikeness could suddenly become once again the hatred of the enemy and the willingness to hack apart the enemy and his infant children.
What kind of picture is this supposed to be of the Christian life?
Jerry’s response is to say “If, indeed, there is a futuristic fulfillment to Rev 19, and the saints of God are called upon to join the Lamb in his war, I am confident that the necessary preparations will be taken care of at that time.” In other words, if a different trail toward sanctification opens up and the present one is closed, God will simply pick us up from this one and plop us down on the other one.
Let’s think about this a bit. In his landmark study On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (Boston: Little, Brown and Co, 1995), Dave Grossman studies the profound aversion human beings have toward killing other human beings and how modern warfare has sought to overcome it. As Grossman notes, the only people who have no aversion to killing others are clinical psychopaths (technically speaking, psychopathy is not recognized by the DSM IV but antisocial personality disorder is). Properly functioning human beings, by contrast, have a profound aversion to killing others, particularly at close range where the enemy cannot be objectified.
So what are these “necessary preparations” that God will make to prepare his children for battle? Presumably it will include deliverance from the kind of deep, debilitating emotional trauma toward killing that Grossman identifies in psychologically healthy people. This means that in terms of emotional disengagement with the slaughtered enemy God will transform Christians into people who look much like clinical psychopaths.
This is not to suggest that Jerry is committed to sanctification being exactly equivalent to psychopathy, for on his view Christlike disciples would still have a profound love for God and other Christlike disciples. Thus, Jerry is in fact proposing a new kind of moral creature in future sanctification, one that has psychopathic detachment toward the enemies of God but love for God and his disciples.