PEACE: Imagining God, by John Dear

From Living Peace

Part One

The culture of violence would have us believe that just as we are violent, God must also be violent.  It portrays God as vengeful, waiting to throw us into the eternal fires of hell.  Such a god must surely justify and bless our wars.  Instead of God the peacemaker, we have been taught to believe in god the warmaker.  Since we were children, we have been presented with these false images of God.  This fearful figure still lingers in the back of our minds.

Because of this, many reject God.  Who would want anything to do with such a terrifying prospect of “divine violence”?

The Bible is filled with images of a violent god.  From the wrathful god who orders the rains to flood the Earth and kill everyone except those in Noah’s Ark, to the war-making god who smites Pharaoh’s armies, to the god of the Psalms who hears our prayer to crush the skulls of our enemies’ babies, we read not about the God of nonviolent love but the god of violent retribution.

I think the Hebrew scriptures show the Jewish people struggling with their new faith in God against the culture’s faith in the false gods of empire.  As the stories and books progress through the centuries, a more radical image of God emerges.  Beginning with the prophets, we hear of God as the God of poor, the God who loves justice, the God who leads us to beat swords into plowshares.  With the breakthrough of Christ in the Christian scriptures, we are presented with the image of God as a loving father, as the God who sends sunshine and rain on both the just and the unjust, and in Christ, as a nonviolent activist who heals the sick, resists injustice, and refuses to retaliate.  As a Christian, I believe that Jesus reveals finally the true face of God as the God of nonviolence, love, and peace.  In Jesus, we realize that God does not hurt us or ever wish us harm.

Over the past few decades as I have tried to engage in the struggle for peace and justice, I have sought out the roots of our spiritual problems, including the world’s wars and injustice.  Over time, I have concluded that our spiritual problems as a people result from our basic misunderstanding of the nature of God.  Because we live in a culture addicted to violence that blesses wars and makes weapons of mass destruction, we have grown accustomed to violence, killing, and death.  This getting used to violence has infected our spirituality, and even become the center of our spirituality.  Without consciously doing so, we have accepted the culture’s presupposition that the Creator of the universe must be violent, as the Hebrew scriptures describe, since the world is so brutal.

But the revelation of Christ is that the living God is very different from us and very different from the world.  According to the Gospels, God loves us unconditionally, suffers for us, longs to give us peace, wants each of us to live, and showers us with compassion.  According to Jesus, God is a God of love and peace who forgives us and desires that we all live in love and peace with one another.

If this Christian revelation of God is true – and I believe it with all my heart – then we need to reexamine our image of God in the context of our culture’s violence.  We need to notice how the culture distorts the God of peace, leads us to distrust God, and creates an image of God who wants our enemies dead and maybe us as well.  Then we as a people need to turn back to the living God of peace and start walking God’s path of peace.

The question is: What is our image of God?  Is the God we worship angry, violent, scheming to throw us in to hellfire?  Is our God, in other words, the god of war?  Does our God bless the suffering around us, want the poor to starve or the homeless to freeze?  Does our God support dictators, allow genocide, permit nuclear weapons, or side with armies?

Or is our God completely opposed to all violence, and so different from ourselves that we cannot understand what God is like?  Has the living God been the victim of bad press?  Isn’t God a God of nonviolence, compassion, reconciliation, and boundless mercy?  Doesn’t it make sense that our God would be humble, gentle, and generous?  Because we have known nothing but war, isn’t it possible that we have blinded ourselves to the peace of God, indeed, of God of peace?

2 Comments on PEACE: Imagining God, by John Dear

  1. I read this with deep interest, asking myself the same questions, wondering how, where, if, God fits in with all the horror and disaster around us. I guess I wonder, if He’s there, why does “He” let us get away with all this…especially in light of what just happened in Paris, and what the Jihadist’s seem to want to perpetrate the world over. I listened to Sam Harris’s podcast Sleepwalking to Armageddon and am so disturbed by the notion that there are many who seem to find peace and salvation through this bloodthirsty god. What can we do? I think of the Jews who went quietly off to slaughter in the deathcamps. I’m at such a loss ~ how to pray?


  2. What affinity we have. I have spent the month of November writing to this very topic, starting with reference to John Dear’s book:
    May we be ambassadors of reconciliation.


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