This article continues our series on Derek Webb’s latest CD. We are reviewing every song from the The Ringing Bell. This post is written by Southern Seminary student Matthew Wireman from Off The Wire. Previous posts from this series can be found under the category Derek Webb.
I am convinced that pacifism is the illusion of an over-realized eschatology. The main premise for pacifism is that love of neighbor will conquer all. This love is demanded of the Christian in Jesus’ command to love our enemies. This command is then taken by the pacifist to the totalizing level of government and a prescription for all. Rather than killing the war-mongerer, we are to extend our arms out to him and love him.
I say this view is over-realized eschatology because it lives in a world that fails to make the distinction between the already and not yet of the Christian life. As Augustine taught, Christians live in the city of man but are citizens of the city of God. One day there will be no wicked men who rape women and gloat over the poor. But we do not live in that New Heavens and New Earth. I wish we could love our enemies to death. But we can’t. There is a cataclysmic battle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. We do not see with our eyes this battle clearly, but it wages nonetheless. Manifestations of it can be seen in men like Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler and Mao. Hungry for power and willing to destroy any obstacle to their lust for more, these anti-christs live among those who are starved for peace.
Because of this mixing of the wheat and the tares (so to speak), God has instituted government to make sure the oppressors do not become the majority. This is a gracious gift that ensures that the message of the Kingdom of God will continue to spread and save. Thus, governments are commanded to wield their swords with integrity. They are to squash any attempt the serpent’s descendants have of world domination. This gift of government is why I cannot be a pacifist (though I do have strong inclinations to be). On with the song…
it’s the desire of my heart
it’s the anthem of my birth
I love you till you cross the line
then watch my faith turn into works
here’s to hoping we evolve
here’s believing that we will
blessed are those who seek for peace
in control are those who kill
Webb acknowledges by these lines that he understands the tension between the already-not yet. His reference to evolution is provocative but fair. We are born into a degenerated human race. Compared to Jesus, who is the very image of God, we seem like beasts. In this sense our only hope is a new evolution caused by Christ. Until then humankind will never have real peace.
Webb is very covert in his rebuke. His slap across my face (as non pacifists) is very intelligent. It took me a while to figure out what he was saying. “Is he speaking to Jesus? What does he mean by his faith turning into works?” Well given the context of the song, we know that Webb is speaking of loving our enemies and turning the other cheek. He is speaking to his neighbors. Once you cross the fence and set yourself against me and mine, I will not settle for that. No, I am told to love my enemies and, in theory, I do a great job of that. But as soon as the ideal becomes incarnate I will react. In other words, I say that I will follow Jesus and turn the other cheek, but as soon as someone impinges on my assumed rights my faith in God’s sovereignty wanes and I take revenge in my own hands.
What a slap this was when I figured out he was talking to me! He believes he is taking the high road by taking the more humble road. I would rebut by pointing to the distinction between Jesus’ command to individual righteousness and large-scale governance. When Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, it had to do with personal offenses. We cannot generalize his command to his disciples and make it a political stance in all cases…there is a time to stand down and another to stand up.
an I for an I
will never satisfy till there’s nothing left to see
I really like this pithy chorus. Obviously this is a play on “I” and “eye”. What is interesting about this phrase that he has chosen to use is that when we seek to take the life of someone else we are replacing their rights with ours. We are saying, in essence, that my existence (read ‘being’) is more valuable than yours. In other words, to kill a murderer is not solving the problem. It is merely multiplying the perversity.
To this I would heartily disagree. We live in a society that is growing more degenerate and perverse. The day when torture is entertainment as is simulating the rape of a 15-year-old is a day when darkness has clouded the light. It is a day when we must not turn the other cheek for this would be an abomination. It would be scarring to the image of God present on us all.
I was born to go to war
it comes so natural to me
sure as a hammer finds a nail
death is the only way to peace
What is ironic about this verse is that Webb is right in his sarcasm. That is, peace is only found at the end of the sword. I am speaking of the sword that Jesus will wield at the end of the age when he returns and establishes the New Heavens and New Earth. The wicked will be sent to eternal condemnation and righteousness will dwell on the earth. Death truly is the only way to peace.
However, I do not want to twist Webb’s words. He is highlighting his own struggle with pacifism. Again, this is why I love Webb. He is honest, even when it hurts. It is hard for him to be a pacifist because he believes that pacifism is the right exercise of faith in God. And so, although his flesh cries out for retribution, he will extend his arms and embrace the murderer. I would argue that pacifism is lack of faith in how God has ordered the present world that awaits the consummation.
I’ve got a killer instinct bringing out all of my best
I’ve got a poison conscience telling me to go with that
this may not work and I don’t guarantee that it will
but I’ve got no choice unless you tell me who Jesus would kill
See above paragraph for a glimpse of how we must look forward to the return of Jesus. He will kill people who are set against him. This is a far cry from Webb’s vision of Messiah. Indeed, it is a far cry from our Sunday School flannel boards.
The bridge is Webb’s last cry for the non-pacifists to persuade. Until he can stop his assumption that non-pacifists are blood-thirsty, he will never be persuaded. Until he stops believing that governmental retribution is the product of a poisoned mind, he will not have his mind blamed.
Again, you must realize that government is not set in opposition to God’s decrees. It is one of the means that God has ordained so that splinters of peace will be lodged in the calloused skin of the unrighteous. May we exercise faith in God’s grace. And may we raise our voice when the sword is not wielded as it ought – specific instances can be seen in totalitarian regimes. May we look forward to the New Heavens and New Earth where righteousness dwells. May we hasten the day of our King’s return. And may we as disciples of Jesus leave our personal pandering for vengeance to his eschatological hand.
Posted By Matthew Wireman