957: God can handle our honesty, emotions, hate. We can give these things to God and be free
Day 957: Saturday, October 29, 2022
God can handle our honesty, our emotions, even our hate. We can give these things to God and be free.
Grappling with Violence in the Bible
Pat O'Connor sent this reflection focusing on how to understand the violence contained in scripture and in our world. Thank you Pat.
Please check out the Announcements at the end of the reflection.
In the first chapters of the book of Genesis, God creates a beautiful, harmonious world. In Genesis 4, a man kills his brother. And in Genesis 6, God floods the earth, having determined that it is the only way to stop the overwhelmingly violent tendencies of the human race.
The violence of these early chapters of Genesis bleeds throughout the Bible, a book we read and pray with, a book we proclaim in our sanctuaries, a book we revere as an authoritative missive of human and divine love. This violence can confuse and even scandalize us. Didn’t God call for an end to killing (Gen 9:6)? Didn’t Jesus command that we love our enemies (Luke 6:27)? Isn’t peace the ultimate promise of God (Isa 25:25)?
Here are a few things to keep in mind when we encounter violent imagery in the Bible:
Ancient living was tough. Really tough. Many violent stories in Scripture that cause us to recoil in horror are reflections of the time and place in which they were told and written. Violence was a harsh reality in ancient cultures, where food was scarce and neighboring tribes clashed on a regular basis.
Depictions of Israel wiping out entire tribes at God’s command (e.g., Deut 2:34; certainly exaggerated accounts, see below) or Judith beheading Holofernes (Jdt 13:8) are not simply examples of gratuitous violence. They are reflections of a time when people resorted to violence in order to survive.
People aren’t perfect. Even people of faith. Only one person in Scripture is called “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Sam 13:14), and that is David—the same David who had a man killed so he could marry his wife. Two of Jesus’ disciples—in fact, two of his inner circle—asked Jesus if they should “call down fire from heaven” to “consume” some Samaritans who were not welcoming to them (Luke 9:54). The Bible reflects life: all people, not just bad ones, are capable of violence.
Know what kind of text you’re reading. One of the most famous examples of violence in Scripture is Psalm 137, a prayer that ends with a call for revenge upon Israel’s enemy Babylon, even going so far as to say, “Blessed the one who seizes your [Babylon’s] children / and smashes them against the rock” (v. 9).
That certainly doesn’t sound like the appropriate response of a person of faith! And it isn’t. But it is a fully human response, one that expresses the pain of an exiled people who themselves have experienced violence and death at the hands of their enemies.
After all, this is not a treatise on how to act or how to forgive. It is a psalm—a prayer, a poem, a cry of the heart. Keeping this in mind helps us understand that the Bible is not endorsing this attitude, but neither is it shying away from the human reality of pain and the natural desire for revenge.
There are other examples of violence in the Bible where knowing the genre, or the type of text we are reading, is helpful, whether we are reading an epic biblical history (where violent escapades were often greatly embellished) or hyperbole (purposeful exaggeration, e.g., Jesus’ suggestion that we cut off our hands or feet, or pluck out our eyes, in order to stop ourselves from sinning; Mark 9:43-47).
It’s in both testaments. When reading the Bible, it’s important to avoid the misconception that violence is found in the Old Testament but not in the New. The book of Revelation is one of the most violent books in the Bible! And some of its violence is wrought by none other than the Lamb of God, the risen Christ. This is symbolic language, to be sure, but its author intentionally chose it, and we are left to reckon with it.
Give it to God. Gut-wrenching pleas in Scripture like the psalmist’s bitter cry for revenge (137:9) or the martyrs’ cry for vengeance in Revelation (6:10) may upset us, but they also have an important lesson to share.
Those who cry out—who have themselves been treated violently—are not seeking vengeance on their own. They have not taken matters into their own hands. They may wish violence upon their enemies, but they place those wishes into God’s hands.
This is what faith does. It doesn’t necessarily change the way we feel, but it does change the way we respond. God can handle our honesty, our emotions, even our hate. We can give these things to God and be free.
The Bible is not always easy to read. But we never need to ignore parts of Scripture or be embarrassed by them. They have the power—raw as it may be—to shine light on the complexities of human life and relationships. They remind us that we are a people in need of a saving God. They are part of the story of our salvation.
By Amy Ekeh
Announcement #1 of 2:
Announcement about a new program in Restorative Justice for Sonoma County:
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
For the past several years Bob and Nancy McFarland and I have been involved with a program of Restorative Justice run by a non-profit called Restorative Resources. We received our training several years ago and have taken active roles as "community members" in challenging conversations that bring youths who have committed low level offenses into direct contact with their victims.
These conversations are held in a "circle" which always include several members of the community (Nancy, Bob, David and other volunteers). Others who might be included in the circle: family members, law enforcement, probation, school administrators -- in short, those who have been negatively impacted in some way by the actions of the youth. Within the circle we listen to the youth and make sure they take responsibility for their actions. We listen to the victims and community members who describe how they have been impacted. We then plan ways in which the youth can make amends: community service, letters of apology, chores at home and school etc.
The circles are held within the context of a rigorous 12 week program of group meetings the youth must attend to complete the program and obtain release from the judicial system.
Because of its success Restorative Resources is launching a new program called Diversion Opportunity for Transformation or .RJ (pronounced dot RJ -).
For this program, youths will be referred directly from law enforcement officers at the point of citation, for diversion to a program of Restorative Justice. The youths will avoid going to Juvenile Hall and bypass the traditional judicial system in favor of a system of personal accountability and restorative justice.
Those youth who enter, and successfully complete theprogram, will not be referred further into the justice system for that incident. .RJ is modeled after Restorative Resources Accountability Circles program which has been operating for nearly a decade.
Youth will meet in groups with other youths for approximately 9 sessions. Each youth will be scheduled for a Restorative Conference (circle), to be held during a 2 week break between weeks 6 and 7 of their program. They will spend their last 3 sessions completing community service and making amends to the person or persons to whom they have caused harm. Amends could potentially be made to the individual who was harmed, a place – (graffiti), or to a School or other place in our community. The whole point of Restorative Justice is to acknowledge that harm has been done and to make amends for that harm.
Restorative Resources has the capacity to serve 75 youth over 12 months. New to this program, for our community member volunteers, will be an opportunity to mentor youth in completing their plans.
Restorative Resources is currently recruiting and training additional volunteers to serve as community members at Restorative Conferences and mentors in plan completion.
Trainings are scheduled for mid-November in modules that include:
Introduction to Restorative Justice; Volunteer Orientation;
Intro to Restorative Justice Community Member, and
Intro to Restorative Justice Mentor.
I’ve attached the flyer here, and invite you to share it with others who may be interested.
Feel free to reach out to Jane Weil, Director of Programs and Training if you have questions or comments. Jane is a great resource who is passionate about Restorative Justice.
Director of Programs and Training Cell: 707-888-0734 Office Phone: 707-542-4244
Here's the flyer in JPG and PDF Formats for sharing with others:
Announcement #2: Diarmuid Visits!
Plan to be at Knox on Thursday, November 10, 2022, for an intimate chat with our friend, mentor and wiseman Diarmuid O'Murchu.
Time: 1:00 - 3:00PM
Bring your questions
(Remember this from so long ago. Diarmuid has been such a good friend)
And please remember the public meeting with Diarmuid:
(files attached below for downloading and sharing)