A letter to a friend, who argues for Christian pacifism, and claims only non violent resistance is compatible with the example of Christ…
You want the paradox, or contradiction, dissolved, with one horn of the dilemma removed. It can’t be.
What was Christ’s ‘love without anger’ toward the money changers in the temple he lashed with a whip? He came to redeem the world, not judge it as irredeemable, but redemption needs the paradox of both Sword and Cross.
What is shaming is not only that the church ended up defending excessive wealth and privilege, but also that it just handed this world over to the devil, and told people that this failure of heart did not matter, because they would go elsewhere, to a place outside the world. Both justice and mercy, anger and forgiveness, are the paradox, or contradiction, we live within.
Many Christians fear Christianity becoming too harsh, but what I see in these times is that it has become too soft. I have more respect for this challenge by a native elder to the white man to whom he is telling his life story, so it can be recorded. After praising this man for his honesty, the elder continues:
“But you’re a coward.”
The words hit hard.
“You’re afraid of other people’s anger.”
I let out a nervous involuntary laugh. The accuracy of that insight was frightening.
“Do you see everything so clearly?” I asked.
“There’s a reason why my people have survived” he said. “Now, I want you to understand this. People are going to get angry with what you write. They are going to be angry at you and they are going to be angry at me. I don’t care. I am not a coward.”
I made a mild protest. “That’s an awfully harsh word.”
“Let me finish. You cannot be afraid. There is good anger too, and you have that. It is the anger from seeing clearly. It’s the same anger I have. It’s the anger the Old Ones warned me about. You must learn to control [in order to direct] that anger, then it can be of use. But there is bad anger too. It is the anger of people who only want their own way. That anger is selfish. It is a child’s anger, and you must not back down from that anger. If you back down from it you are being a coward. Do you understand me?”
“I think so” I said.
“Good”, he answered with finality. “You will use your gift well if you stop being afraid of other people’s bad anger.”
Grover wanted to emphasise the point… “He’s saying you write what you see and you write what you hear. You are a keeper of the fire.”
[The old man] nodded his approval. “Keepers of the fire cannot be cowards. They are carrying light.”
I quote this story because too many Christians are afraid of ‘other people’s anger’; too many Christians are afraid of ‘the world’s bad anger.’ They justify this with all the talk about forgiveness, forgetting that without justice establishing the costs and consequences of the things people do to each other in the situation of their total inter-dependence, there can be no ‘letting off the hook’ in a more radical magnanimity. Without the Sword, and only the Cross, there is sentimental mush; without the Cross, and only the Sword, there is judgemental keeping scores.
If God kept scores strictly, we would all be lost. That is true.
But there is another side of the coin, and that is to do with being accountable for one’s deeds. There can be no responsibility for making heart action without this accountability. Accountability is not keeping score. It is honesty about where one’s heart is, and what its motive is, as revealed in its relationship with other hearts. If we are not simply ontologically glued to each other in a state of Non-Duality; if there is Otherness so there can be Love, and hearts must therefore take a chance with each other, personally offering their hearts to each other, as in Martin Buber’s I—Thou, then what we ‘do’ to one another has ultimate implications. It cannot be skated over, nor can it be left to karma to sort out. It may be so that ‘what comes around goes around’, but that does not address what our relationship is, heart to heart, person to person. It is not a moral question of good and evil, it is an existential question of trying to love and failure to love: both have immense, and different, consequences. Buddhism confuses the self attached and non ecstatic identity it calls ‘ego’ with the ‘royal personhood of the heart’, who has to personally offer that heart, ecstatically, to the venture of coming together on one Heart Ground with other persons who offer their hearts to this same venture.
Clearly, forgiveness in its ultimacy is to keep us together, one people united as brothers, so no one ceases to be a ‘relative’ to us. But this entails ‘bearing the brother’, carrying their weakness, and accepting the hurt they have done to us; it is paying a price for them, to keep them with us.
‘Forgiving’ is merely that disgusting Christian masochism so widespread, when those whom we have had to bear in this manner are at the same time never called to account, and will not acknowledge what they have done to add to the burden we already carry in existence. This is forgiving as pretending ‘it didn’t happen’, and that does not work. It is unreal, and unreality cannot be changed in any way, and it certainly cannot be redeemed. Anger is the witness who says it did happen, and the fact that it happened is grave for those to whom it happened. Most anger is too personal in caring only about offences done to me or mine; the rarer spiritual anger cares for all mankind.
For, humanity is a community of brothers and sisters, a single body of Christ; and as such, we stand together shoulder to shoulder, and we help each other carry each other’s burdens. But, as Martin Buber makes clear, when one of us refuses his own burden, this burden has to be put on another, and this may cause that brother to stumble under the weight. Every single person born into the collective of human society owes a debt of thanks to many others who by standing with him, allowed him to stand. Hence, evil deeds refuse that debt to those many others, and creates a worse debt: such evil injures not only the specific person it is directed at, but the whole community. The community already carries burdens in its togetherness, so those who break ranks for what they see as individual advantage simply put down their own portion of the communal weight, forcing someone else to pay the price for this by having to bear its consequences.
Existential guilt is a matter of acknowledging what one has done in putting down one’s own burden and thereby placing it on another, and therefore on the community. Without this admission of ‘cost and consequences’ we inflict on one another, there can be no forgiveness. This admission is a willingness to make reparation to our brother, for the sake not only of being in relationship with him, but of honouring the community where we all hold and uphold each other.
But it is not only that Christians, in their softness, misunderstand and distort the actual ‘facing of reality’ involved in forgiveness, but it is also that they use this cowardice to mask and justify their unwillingness to pay any price for calling the world to account. Some Christians do work for the transfiguration of the world towards its eschatological destiny; but this is often soul philanthropy and charity, not heart anger for truth which exposes the Biblical ‘wickedness in high places’ and puts the world on notice that it is not going to be handed over to the devil. Christian mildness–never putting one’s head above the parapet, but always looking the other way, by crossing over to the comfortable side of the street when trouble hits—is not only a collusion with worldliness, it is also a collusion with the devil who is already ‘prince of this world’ and bidding to become its king.
The human heart was called by God to be the world’s warrior—king, and the heart’s anger for truth is not only a warning to worldliness that its absence of heart and its bad heart is not going to pass unnoticed and uncontested; more radically, it is a warning to the devil that this world is not going to be handed over to him. If he wants it, he is going to have to come and take it, and he will not take it without a fight. Anger is not going to hand the world over without a fiercesome fight, from which it will never back off. The heart’s anger comes from ‘the wrath of God’, and just as God’s wrath is protective of us, so too is our human anger. For too many centuries Satan the Accuser sat in the seat of Christ in all the Christian churches, spilling out his moralic acid and spiritual murder stemming from judgementalism, but once he is dethroned from religion, he still tries to seize the world through brute force and intimidation designed to break our heart’s spirit.
In some final way, Christ’s Cross carries and pays all the existential debts that are beyond repayment, beyond reparation and restitution, for all of humanity, and this is a defeat for the Satanic way of keeping scores and moral retribution masking retaliation out of loss of belief in any brotherhood.
But Christ’s Sword makes it very clear that there is a debt and a price, and that it is the fewer noble in heart who will have to carry and pay for the many ignoble in heart. In this process of resolving a paradox, a contradiction, the anger for truth will be the only line in the sand preventing evil from over running everything. Heart anger cannot kill off the evil that wants to kill the whole venture of heart God and humanity are embarked on, since God does not allow evil to be eliminated from the world process; but anger is called upon to drive evil back, and hold a line beyond which evil cannot pass. This is necessary, for without this Sword, the Cross cannot operate. A stand for truth of heart, against evil, is made by the Sword, and this clears a space for the deeper and greater give away, and sacrifice, of heart, exemplified by the Cross.
The line drawn by the Sword has had to be defended many times in history, most recently in World War Two in the defeat of Nazism. Hitler had to be stopped, at any price. Many peoples shed blood to stop the evil that possessed the Nazi mythology, but chief among them was the Russian people. Without what Russia gave to this fight, neither Britain nor America could have prevailed.
This is a cosmic drama, but not simply between moral good and evil: it is an existential drama and is really about ‘what is the heart made of.’
The point is, both Sword and Cross are a conversation with evil. If the Sword had the power just to wipe out evil in one fell stroke, this conversation would be cut off prematurely, before it reached its deepest and greatest moment, in the Cross. God could easily suppress evil by sheer power. But this would not help the heart grow to its full stature. Evil is needed as the prod, the ‘adversary’, pushing the heart farther than, by itself, it would go. Evil is part of what sifts the heart, tests and proves the heart. By the opposition of evil to its way, so the heart must grow clearer and stronger in its way.
This is a dangerous game God has set in motion, because the Evil One is not joking, he is serious in wanting to bring God and humanity’s conjoint project of heart to final break down and annihilation. It could be said that the devil’s particular ire and jealousy is directed against the ‘Christ’, more than against any lawgiving Moses or any enlightening Buddha, for Christ is the victory of the divine and human hearts woven together as one ‘divine-humanity.’ Hence God will not relent in the test and proof of the human heart, readying it for not simply the visitation but the indwelling of the divine heart, and this means, no brute spiritual power will be allowed to eliminate evil, but rather, the human heart will have to converse with evil, accept its assaults, and overcome them by getting to the root where the way of heart and the way of evil are truly locked in ‘spiritual warfare.’ The root must be exposed, and the heart way must be chosen and preferred in a fair fight with the evil way: this is not a fight of opposite forces, it is a fight between the Truth and the Lie. But, it is a truth of heart vs. a lie of heart. The battle ground is in the heart because the battle is about what the heart ‘really’ is and what the heart can ‘really’ do. At stake is: what is the heart to become? And because it is a battle for the heart, it is also a battle for the world. Also at stake is: what is the world to become?
This ongoing conversation about the heart’s nature, call, and destiny, can only happen if evil remains as a prod, an adversary, prompting the heart to either give in to its heartlessness, or to grow more grounded and more strong in the truth of its heart way. It needs God’s help to fight this battle, but it also needs to play its part. God will not perform any magical rescue, like a father intervening on behalf of a child being bullied; the child has to grow up, and face the bully, and defeat him out of his own heart. God is in a high stakes game with humanity and the devil: what can kill us off is also what is, if we stand up to it, the making of us.
The Cross would not be a stumbling block to the Jews if it did not reverse their moral dualism of good and evil, through revealing a Love deeper than evil and greater than good. This rules out Protestant America’s ‘John Wayne scenario’ of ‘the good guys vs. the bad guys’, as much as it rules out Fundamentalist Islam’s current ‘holy war.’ Equally, the Cross would not be foolishness to the Greeks [and all Oriental religion] if it did not reverse their moral relativity in which good and evil only arises in the absence of spiritual enlightenment, by revealing a ‘contest for love’ that is more ultimate than any illumination of the mystic. Yet this contest of love is ultimately resolved not by ending up with the duality of winners [saved] and losers [damned], nor by escaping into the non-duality of everyone needing only to see the light to do good, evil being merely due to blindness.
Jews can get stuck in a narrow heart, and Greeks [and all Oriental religion] can place themselves outside the heart.
Martin Buber lays out the truthful situation in regard to the existentially real heart difference of good and evil. He says, evil is to be suffered and redeemed. This opposes both Oriental monism and Western dualism. It suggests a genuine third way, which rejects their familiar opposite positions.
 It rejects the Oriental view of the relative reality, or even unreality, of evil, because it either disappears when oneness is attained, or is subsumed within its higher unity. Here, you get beyond evil, rather than suffer and redeem it.
 It rejects the Western view of the absolute reality of evil. Here, you crush, suppress, vanquish evil, or God does it for you if you are among the good guys and not among the bad guys, rather than suffer and redeem it.
Evil, in the human being, is contesting the root of the human heart; thus redeeming evil means that, in the suffering of evil, that root is won from evil, and given to God. This transfigures evil not so much into good, as into Love. Whilst the contest at the root still is raging, and its outcome remains in doubt, good and evil sharply polarise, and good is used as a bulwark against evil. Once the contest is won, the heart can no longer be tempted by evil inside itself, and the sign of this is that the heart suffers evil outside itself in a totally new way. Once evil is overcome inside, it can be challenged on the outside in a clearer, stronger, more radically Loving way.
But until we become singular in heart, or whole hearted, we must bear and endure having two hearts, what the Old Testament calls ‘the heart of flesh and the heart of stone’ [Ezekiel, 11, 19-20; Ezekiel, 36, 26-27]. Despite our Fallenness, we still have a bigger heart, but we also have a smaller heart; we go two ways, we are always conflicted. In Hasidism, the radical doctrine is proposed—very upsetting to Christian ears—that God created humanity with these two hearts even before the Fall. I believe in this teaching, because I do not believe human beings were ever perfect and threw it away [if they were perfect, this could not have happened]; rather, they were innocent and hence perfectible, but in this very innocence lay both the possibility for pushing it towards something more profound and radical, or betraying it and trading it in for something more superficial and open to the inducements of evil. If God was to test and prove our heart, then there had to be two Trees, two alternatives, two possibilities, latently at war from the beginning. Even without the devil, we are conflicted as to whether to be big or small in heart. But the devil intervenes, as an outside force that comes in, to lead us astray, to play on our smallness and offer it pseudo grandness and bloodless short cuts and pseudo solutions to its aching dilemma. It is because the heart is inherently a dilemma to us that the devil can play upon it. Following the devil or God is therefore a matter of taking very different routes from within the same human heart.
This means that evil has an attraction to us, and takes root in the root of our being. We go on Protestant American style crusades against the outer evil when we have not confronted the evil inside ourself. ‘No one is without sin.’ Even the hero aimed at holiness has a heart of stone, not just a heart of flesh, where the evil can and has got a hold. Christ warns against this crusading mentality, when he asks how it is we notice the mote in the other person’s eye, but refuse to see the beam in our eye. Crusaders always attack in others the evil they never own up to in themselves. In psychology this is called ‘projecting the shadow.’ The faults and evils that most arouse our moral disapproval toward others are invariably the faults and evils we most hide from in ourself.
The point is, the battle between good and evil, or bigger and smaller heartedness, is in everyone. This must be so, because God is testing and proving every heart, personally, and all hearts together, communally, by letting evil possess and thus challenge, prod, and even hurt, the heart, so the heart is forced to become what otherwise it could not: a king and warrior, a prophet and sage, a sacred clown and holy fool. What evil pushes the heart to, personally and communally, is that Love which exceeds all good and evil. Love redeems the battle of good and evil, because it carries its weight and pays its cost. That is the Christ.
But on the way, the journey is long, the battle is severe. People of big heart are needed, or the people of small heart will be sucked down by the devil. The bigger heart always carries more, always pays more, for those who can carry nothing and pay nothing. This is what truly defeats the devil, in the end. The warrior, in particular, is needed every step of the way, or the road is lost.
The warrior leads on the bad black road of worldly difficulties and war, by the red of his honour and his blood.
The warrior is: firm and fierce toward those who seek to obliterate the sacred origins; tender and merciful towards those who have been hurt by evil; forgiving and long-suffering towards those who have done evil but have repented of it; a good brother to those trying, as he is, to carry the shared weight of the common destiny.
The warrior has always had and always will have three options: to die in the fight; to kill another in the fight; to offer up his own life in the fight rather than kill anyone. All three are ways of fighting.
A warrior is ready to die, not because he wants the tension of carrying a very heavy weight to end before the time comes to put it down, but because of the truth about the heart, and of all humanity, he serves. There is a sacrament here: a kind of holy mystery, of death transfigured by the sacrifice which only love can make. When you die for the people, for their common destiny on the heart ground, they are all with you when you die; you don’t die alone. The whole of nature watches, the whole of the world of spirits watches, and urges you on. They rejoice in your manner of dying, because they know it is a victory not only for your heart, but a victory for the heart all creatures and things and human beings rely on. A victory on the killing ground that is the heart ground we all stand on together.
Both Sword and Cross ultimately declare, live out, and enact the same mystery of heart, the mystery decisive for all of humanity and all the world process from beginning to end.