Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

I Don’t Want No Peace (GD Lesson 23)

Posted by BrianJ on June 27, 2007

Peter Tosh, the Stepping Razor, grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. As one of the original “Wailing Wailers,” along with the more famous member Bob Marley, and also in his own solo career, Tosh was one of the pioneers of reggae music. While many of his contemporaries, however, were preaching a “peace and love” message, Tosh released “Equal Rights,” an album whose title track contains the refrain:

Everyone is crying out for peace, yes; None is crying out for justice;
I don’t want no peace; I need equal rights and justice.

In 1987, a former friend shot and killed Tosh in his home.

My Questions

This song had been stuck in my head as I’ve been preparing my Sunday School lesson. I doubt that I will bring Tosh’s quote into class, but I wonder if his sentiment can help me understand what Jesus teaches in John 14.

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

How does the world give peace? How does Christ give it? Does the difference lie in how the peace is given, or in the type of peace given?

Other uses of the word “peace”

There are, no surprise, many scriptures that use the word “peace.” I can’t consider all of them, but here are a few.

Peace as the Lord’s favor

The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace. (Num. 6: 26)

The Hebrew word translated here as “peace” is familiar to most of us: shalom. It can also be translated “completeness, soundness, safety, prosperity, tranquillity, friendship.” What is interesting about this couplet is that it ties peace to being looked upon by the Lord; i.e. when the Lord shows his face, you have peace, but when he hides his face (see Deut. 31: 17-18 and Psalm 27: 9) you have no peace. But I still don’t know what that peace is.

The price of peace

…the chastisement of our peace was upon him…. (Isaiah 53:5)

Why does our peace have a chastisement? What does that mean? The NET Bible has a helpful note:, offering a slightly different reading:

“the punishment of our peace [was] on him.” שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace”) is here a genitive of result, i.e., “punishment that resulted in our peace.”

Publishing peace

Isaiah exclaims,

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings; that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth; (Isaiah 52:7)

We, of course, remember this as the scripture used by King Noah’s priests to accuse Abinadi. A brief discussion of this point is found on the Feast Upon the Word wiki, with the following statement:

It seems that the priests were using Isaiah’s praise here for those [flattering the people]…. In contrast, Abinadi was telling the people that they were sinning and needed to repent…. The next several chapters are Abinidi’s explanation [of the scripture in Isaiah]…. Abinadi explicitly answers the question of what it means to publish peace in Mosiah 15:10-14.

I think this is probably an accurate description of the priests’ strategy and also of Abinadi’s response, but I don’t feel that I’m getting much closer to understanding John 14.

Peace in Christ

Reading further in John, we find another time that Christ promises peace:

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

This makes me think that I have an answer to one of my questions, “…or in the type of peace given?” It seems that the peace Jesus offers is an inward or spiritual peace, despite the tumult and commotion we experience in the world (see Abraham 1:2 and D&C 88:91).

The world’s peace

But I am still left wondering whether there is something different in how the peace is given. I understand the concept of having inner peace amidst outward tribulation, but at some point I take the title “Prince of Peace” to apply to social settings, if not today then at least during Christ’s Millennial reign. How will he usher in that peace? How is that different than the way the world attempts to do so? In other words, there are many people today who are striving to establish peace on earth: is their way of going about it not Christ’s way, and therefore “bad“?

I want peace

When the “world” is mentioned in scripture, it is usually (always?) shorthand for wickedness, unrighteousness, etc. But here we have the world establishing peace. I can’t see how peace is ever a bad thing, but maybe that’s due to my perspective. A few weeks ago, I was listening to the world news and said to myself, “Why can’t these people just live in peace? Why can’t they stop fighting. The world would be a better place if we would just stop fighting.”

Just as I thought those words, however, I realized what was behind my sentiment: I am pretty happy. No, my life isn’t “easy”—I’m swamped at work, home, and church—but I see my efforts bringing me closer to my goals. And so why wouldn’t I want “peace,” why wouldn’t I want to maintain the status quo?

That made me wonder whether this is always the case: the “haves” are always going to be calling for peace, while the “have nots” want change. In a sense, as one of the “haves” (relatively speaking), I could say that I don’t have anything worth fighting for, because that which I lack (more money, a house, or this beauty) is not worth an actual fight, and that which I do have (family, church, job) is something I only have to fight for if someone else starts the fight. It’s no wonder I want peace—I’m like the penguin on the inside of the huddle wishing all the other birds would stop shuffling around.

Back to Tosh

Which brings me back to Tosh. Growing up in the slums of Kingston, Tosh experienced a lot of opposition simply because he was black. (Arguably, he also invited a lot due to his own choices.) He didn’t want “peace,” and his track merely echoed Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I’s sentiment when, in a speech before a UN conference, he said:

That until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned: That until there are no longer first-class and second class citizens of any nation; That until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes; That until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race; That until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained; Until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will; Until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven; Until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.

Is this type of peace—what Selassie describes—is this peace “as the world giveth,” or is this the way Christ will establish peace? Can we establish peace, or is it something we have to wait for Christ to do?

42 Responses to “I Don’t Want No Peace (GD Lesson 23)”

  1. cherylem said

    Perhaps the peace the world gives is the peace that comes from victory, even violent victory.

    It is an interesting thing about fighting for justice. The victims, the innocent victims, fight for justice and for freedom. But give a few years or a few decades or a few hundred years, the original victims will often then dominate others, persecute others. And another group of victims will overthrow their persecutors . . .

    This is not to say that on a personal level, I would not stand with those who have been wronged and who are seeking redress. I think on one level one has to stand with the victims, both for their sake and for one’s own. But the pattern is there.

    We think, having overcome past wrongs, we will do better, be better, be righteous. But . . . probably not. We may not be Hitler, or Mussolini, or even George Custer. But still, our peace, the peace of the world, is a very temporary thing, as is our righteousness.

  2. Robert C. said

    Brian, great post. When I clicked on your “this beauty” link it brought up a guy on a bike with this really cool, bright pink bag. I have to admit you don’t strike me as a bright-pink-bag kind of guy, but then I guess it’s pretty hard to really get a sense of someone through the web….

    Here’s a quote from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament:

    Shalom means “absence of strife” in approximately fifity to sixty usages; e.g. 1 Kgs 4:25 reflects the safety of the nation in the peaceful days of solomon when the land and its neighbors had been subdued.

    “Peace,” in this case, means much more than mere absence of war. Rather, the root meaning of the verb sahlem better expresses the true concept of shalom. Completeness, wholeness, harmony, fulfillment, are closer to the meaning. Implicit in shalom is the idea of unimpaired relationships with others and fulfillment in one’s undertakings.

    Later, the TWOT has some interesting thoughts about how this is related to covenant relationship. That is, shalom implies God’s presence as a result of righteousness, not just the absence of war. In this sense, when Christ is declared the Prince of Peace, he is the one who makes fulfillment of God’s covenant with us possible, i.e. atonement, that which makes us whole, complete, perfect, free, etc.

  3. Robert C. said

    Also, I think Isa 32:17 is quite interesting in this light, “the work of righteousness/[justice] will be peace” (though notice how the meaning varies by translation…). I’m inclined to think that there may be at least some kind of violence that is unavoidable in bringing about peace (though perhaps that violence only needs to be the Savior’s suffering, or the kind of suffering we experience when we repent, as I imagine a Girardian would say, or something like that—Cheryl?).

    This has really got me thinking Brian, thanks….

  4. brianj said

    Cheryl: You captured my sentiments well.

    Robert: Curse Trek for their fancy-smancy, country-specific web site! This link should show you what “this beauty” meant. (And I edited the link in the original post, too. This may seem like a small detail to overlook, but I want to make sure you know what to get me for my birthday.)

    Thank you very much for the quote on shalom. I hadn’t made the connection to salem. It’s funny, though, that I wrote about shalom and about the “Prince of Peace,” but I didn’t make the connection. I’m starting to think that this is what my class will be about: What does it mean to say that Christ is the Prince of Shalom? the Prince of Completeness? the Prince of Fulfillment? and so on. That’s a powerful message.

    As for Isaiah 32:17—do you think this is in line with Selassie’s quote? I can see what you mean about the need for some amount of violence, but I wonder about the kind of violence. In other words, must there be war in order to establish peace, or can the violence be aimed at something else, like selfishness, for example? I’m thinking of Abinadi’s very violent message: “You are sinners and must dramatically change your lives!” He’s not advocating or using physical violence, but he is attacking King Noah’s system.

    A lot of the scriptures that use the word “peace” in the Book of Mormon do so in the context of “so and so established peace in the land….” The problem is, that that peace was always unstable—and it was usually disrupted when some group began to prosper while others lacked. In other words, the “peace” that was established so many times among the Nephites (through war, no?) was not “shalom peace,” it was “absence of conflict peace.” (This is causing me to think about Robf’s comment about violence.)

  5. Robert C. said

    (I noticed a typo in my #2, where I wrote sahlem instead of shalem. But Brian correctly understood that this is simply the Hebrew word for Salem….)

  6. Robert C. said

    Brian #4, great questions. I think scriptures teach us that unless righteousness is established, there will not be peace—that is, there will be war and other types of strife without righteousness. But, we are called to establish peace (and proclaim peace, as you discuss in your post, though this is not to be confused with an “all is well” attitude as Nephi and Abinadi seem to teach…). So, although perhaps there are certain times we are justified in defending our families, I think the overwhelming call we see in scripture is to establish peace—if physical violence will be required in establishing peace, it seems God will be the agent of this destruction (frequently using wicked people for such a purpose…).

  7. Jim F. said

    Is there a sense in which there is always strife between righteousness and unrighteousness? If so, then ultimate peace is unattainable as long as there is both good and evil. Or, is it possible for the just to be at peace with the unjust even if the unjust are not at peace with the just? In other words, does strife have to go both ways?

    It seems to me that the answer is that it need not go both ways, that it is possible for me to be at peace with God and my neighbor even if my neighbor is not at peace with me. As I understand it, that is what it means to forgive others their trespasses as I wish to be forgiven by God.

  8. Matthew said

    I’ve been thinking recently (again) about Rom 12:17-21. Here it answers several of my questions (which I think overlap with yours) about peace. And here’s my take on the answers those verses provide

    What is peace? Peace is about treating others well even if they don’t treat you well. (Probably this isn’t all Christ means in John 14, but it is a component.)

    What about justice? Let God establish justice.

    But what if we want vengeance? If you want vengeance then do the same thing you would if you want good, still treat others well. God will exact vengeance on your behalf if that is called for. (I think many would disagree though with how I’m reading these verses on this point.)

    As I see it we get the same message in D&C 98

  9. brianj said

    JimF and Matthew: like father, like son—you seem to be getting at a similar point: we can (and should) be at peace with our enemies, even though they mistreat us. I think it’s helpful, JimF, the way you tie that into forgiving others.

    As for vengeance, Matthew, I’m not convinced by either interpretation of Romans/Proverbs. There are two that you describe: 1) Treat your enemies well so that they will repent; the heaped coals are cleansing coals; 2) Treat your enemies well so that they will be all the more deserving of God’s wrath, but don’t exact vengeance yourself; the heaped coals are God’s wrath purchased by your good works.

    My problem is that reading #2 seems so totally out of place with the chapter—and indeed, many other chapters—that I can’t believe that is what is meant. “Love your enemies so that they will be destroyed.” That doesn’t sound right. What should I do then, when my enemy is destroyed? Should I rejoice? “Yes! God finally gave them what they deserved!” Or should I lament? “How tragic that this person—whom I loved dearly, despite their anger toward me—died before they could repent!” (see Alma 48:23)

    On the other hand, reading the coals as cleansing coals (reading #1) seems like wishful reading—when we don’t like the way something reads so we grasp for ways to read it the way we wish that it read. Nevertheless, I favor this reading, because reading #2 seems like an impossible contradiction, and it’s not too much of a stretch to read according to reading #1. (I would say the same about D&C 98)

    As a side note, I also favor reading #1 because it is easier to live with. I can’t imagine myself asking God to exact vengeance on someone—I can’t see myself being sure enough that they deserved whatever punishment I was asking God to inflict. And I also can’t see how punishment helps anyone—God, me, or ‘the sinner’—unless it brings them closer to God, in which case we are back (essentially) to reading #1.

  10. Matthew said

    BrianJ, I keep coming back to those verses because of the very dilemma you highlight. Now I feel like I’m changing the focus of your post, but I don’t feel so bad since you seem a willing participant.
    For what it is worth I come down on reading #2 (but I wouldn’t mind being talked out of it). Here’s why I prefer #2. I see verse 18-21 as talking to us “dearly beloved.” In his words, I almost hear Paul feeling sorry for us. He knows our weaknesses, and he’s trying to help us do what is right nonetheless. Paul knows this idea of being good to enemies is hard for us (how many of us really do it well?) and so he even hedges his statement to live peaceably, saying “If it is possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably…” Of course, I don’t think the hedge is an endorsement of not living peaceably. In the same sense, Paul isn’t endorsing our desire for retribution by telling us that if we really want it, the way to get it would be to be good to others.
    So, here Paul is address us who are weak, who want justice, who want retribution. So Paul tells us that vengeance is the Lord’s. So Paul tells us that God will repay.
    Paul tells us those things because he thinks we, in our weakness, need to hear (and of course they are true) in order to give up our own desire to exact vengeance and inflict retribution.
    So then he continues in the same vein in the next verse, saying, look if what you really want is to harm your enemy then you would have to actually be very good to them, treat them very well. I read this as saying, whatever your desire, the only option open to you is to do good. To overcome evil with good.

  11. Jim F. said

    The pericope I have in mind runs from verse 14 of Romans 12 to the end of the chapter, verse 21. Verses 17-21 have to be understood in that context because the earlier verses help show the tone of the pericope as a whole.

    I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but here is how I read Romans 12:17-21. For comparison, I’ll use the New American Bible (NAB) translation.

    Verse 17: Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.

    In the first clause Paul is repeating something already taught in Judaism, as we see in several proverbs (e.g., Proverbs 17:13, 20:22, 24:29). In the second, he gives a rule of thumb for deciding what to do: “Take into consideration what everyone thinks is noble [literally ‘beautiful’].” The Hermeneia commentary on Romans (pages 772-73) suggests that it may also depend on Proverbs; it may be an adaptation of Proverbs 3:4 (“So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man”).

    Verse 18: If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.

    The double qualification that begins this verse—”if possible”; “insofar as it depends on you”—suggests that Paul knows how difficult it can be to live at peace with all. I read this double qualification has having two directions, as it were. The first has to do with me: I may be weak, but I should do what I can to live in peace. The second has to do with others: peace with others doesn’t depend wholly on me, so I can live in peace with them only insofar as it does depend on me. So the verse says that I should try as hard as I can to live in peace with others, recognizing that peace doesn’t completely depend on me.

    As the Hermeneia commentary notes, Paul may be alluding to Psalms 34:14 (“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it”) and Mark 9:50 (“Have peace with one another”).

    Verse 19: Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

    As Matthew notes, it is significant that Paul begins this verse by addressing his audience directly as “beloved.” However, I don’t think it shows Paul feeling sorry for them. It is a phrase he uses several times in Romans, especially in chapter 16 (verses 5, 8, 9, and 12). He also used it in the beginning of his letter (1:7). He is speaking to them personally rather than preaching general doctrine, so he uses an appropriate term of address.

    The King James translation makes more clear than does the New American that “do not look for revenge” means “do not seek to avenge yourselves.” However, the real question comes in figuring out what Paul means when he says “leave room for the wrath.” If I can’t seek vengeance, then the wrath for which I am leaving room cannot be my wrath. It must be the wrath of God. If we take vengeance, then our wrath has taken the place of the wrath of God. We have substituted ourselves for God which is obviously impious. So, we must leave room for his wrath by not filling up that space with our own.

    Then, as proof of his doctrine, Paul quotes from a Greek version of Deuteronomy 32:35: “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ saith the Lord.”

    Verse 20: Rather, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.”

    Paul continues to cite scriptures to make his point, this time quoting Proverbs 25:21-22 (again quoting from the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint). The last half of verse 22 contains a promise of reward that Paul does not quote, “and the Lord shall reward thee.” Though the KJV begins this verse with “therefore,” the NAB translation, “rather” or “but,” is better. The contrast is with the first part of verse 19: “Don’t look for revenge. Instead, feed your enemies . . . .”

    One can, of course read the Proverb as saying that somehow doing good to one’s enemies becomes a kind of vengeance: you can shame him by doing good to him. However that doesn’t seem to me to fit well with the context, so I don’t think Paul is using it in the same way. Both the Word Biblical Commentary and the Hermeneia commentaries on Romans refer to an Egyptian ritual in which a person carried a dish of burning coals on his head to signify repentance and that Proverbs has that ritual in mind, and the Targum for the verse in Proverbs adds (“and God will make him your friend”). As a result, I understand the proverb to say that we can bring our enemies to repentance by doing good to them, and I understand Paul to be quoting the proverb with that meaning.

    Verse 21: Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.

    This is a good summary of the point of verses 14-20.

  12. brianj said

    JimF: No need to apologize for the length of your comment when it is so helpful! In #9 I was somewhat skeptical of reading 1 (i.e. that the coals signify cleansing—or more properly, repentance), but you’ve put an end to my skepticism. The notes in the NET are not nearly as well-written as yours.

    Aside: Your analysis of Paul’s use of scripture is an interesting way to consider how we use scripture. I’m picturing him giving this as a model sacrament meeting talk (though I know that is not how he gave it).

  13. Robert C. said

    Wow, great analysis, Jim.

    BrianJ, you’ll notice that I mention a couple apocryphal texts on the discussion page of the wiki which also discuss this theme in interesting ways (let me know you’re interested in the Stendahl article I mention from which I got these references, and I’ll see if I can find it on my hard drive…).

  14. djlott said

    #11-Jim F
    Verse 19: Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord
    If we take vengeance, then our wrath has taken the place of the wrath of God. We have substituted ourselves for God which is obviously impious. So, we must leave room for his wrath by not filling up that space with our own.
    ** I have tried to teach this to my kids: If your sister hits you and you hit her back, don’t come to me (as the parent) and expect me to punish her further. Interesting to take this to a whole different level!

  15. Matthew said

    This shows the difference between people who know what they are talking about (#11) and those who are just guessing (#10).

    I am interested in (aka troubled by) verse 19. Is this a verse which is meant to appeal to someone who wants something bad to happen to an enemy. Is this a verse for Tosh, someone who wants justice not mercy? Is Paul telling Tosh here to sacrifice his desire to inflict retribution and obtain justice now in order to give place for God’s wrath? Maybe that isn’t the point of this verse but I think we could find other verses in the scriptures that support this line of reasoning. Maybe a topic for another post later.

    djlott (#14), thanks for the comparison to your kids. I think it is helpful for putting in perspective what is going on here.

  16. BrianJ said

    Matthew: In fairness to Tosh, I think his use of the terms “peace” and “justice” is different than ours. But I think you get that, and your question is more playing off of what he said in the context of our discussion.

    I don’t think Romans 12:19 is meant to “appeal to someone who wants something bad to happen to an enemy.” That is not a righteous desire, so I think the scriptures would condemn such a person rather than try to appease him. I think that verse 19 is telling all of us to leave retribution in the Lord’s hands; thus, we have to let go of all desire, intent, or plans to avenge ourselves, which ultimately leaves us completely free of such thoughts altogether. That freedom leads us to verse 20, where we are consumed with our enemy’s welfare: feeding him, etc.

    I looked at the Greek word for “wrath”: orge. It can be translated as “any violent emotion, but esp. anger; wrath, indignation; anger exhibited in punishment; of punishments inflicted by magistrates.” I think that last one might be of interest here. What is the purpose behind God’s punishment? What does he hope to accomplish?

    To continue djlott’s theme: Sometimes one of my children who has been a victim of one of my other children will suggest a punishment for the wrongdoer. This really bothers me. The victim sees this as a way to get back at their enemy-sibling, but I don’t use punishment that way. I use punishment to teach and establish the proper way to behave, to create empathy toward the victim, and ultimately to repair injured relationships. I want to say to my victim-child, “Vengeance is mine, because it’s a tool that you would use only to hurt and not to heal.”

  17. Jim F. said

    BrianJ: “I think the scriptures would condemn such a person rather than try to appease him.”

    Might they not try to persuade him or her to be different? That seems to me to be the purpose of verse 19: knowing that it is “normal” to seek revenge, Paul tells us not to do it. Then he quotes scripture to back him up. In the end, of course, what you say about the verse is right. Paul is telling us to give up our desire for vengeance.

    Adam Miller has argued that verse 17 of Romans 1 teaches us that the revelation of God’s righteousness and the revelation of his wrath are the same thing seen from two perspectives, the perspective of someone who has acknowledge God as the source of righteousness, on one hand, and the perspective of someone who has not, on the other. I think that Adam is right. But if he is, then verses 19-20 have to be read in that light.

  18. brianj said

    JimF: What you say is better than “condemn.” I should have written “chastise” or something to that effect.

    I also think Adam Miller’s argument is a good answer to my question, “What is the purpose behind God’s punishment? What does he hope to accomplish?” Thanks!

  19. >But if he is, then verses 19-20 have to be read in that light.

    Are you hinting at a reading which you don’t provide? I think maybe you don’t provide it because you take it to be so obvious, but in that case I think I’m missing the obvious.

    I like what I think it hints at though–that wrath and love are two sides to the same coin seen through different eyes. Is it too much to hope that this reading would also provide a way to turn our own very earthly wrath into godly love?

    Would it provide a way to turn our god-given hatred of evil, a tool so often turned back on us and against us, into a tool for good?

    Would it (and surely this is hoping for too much) resurrect my original reading of verse 20 in a better form?

  20. Robert C. said

    Matthew, I really appreciate your persistence on this passage. Joe Spencer and I once mused that to understand just one passage of scripture “perfectly” would probably be sufficient to get you translated, since scriptural concepts are all so interrelated. In this spirit, I’m very much struck by D&C 103:3 and D&C 101:11 which link an idea of God’s vengeance (or “vindication” as one commentator argues is a better translation of the Hebrew connotations…) to the metaphor of a cup which I’ve been thinking about in relatoin to SS Lesson #25. Much to think about here in terms of relating the sacrament/Last Supper cup to bitter cup that he partook of and the many Old Testament “cup of wrath” passages (there’s a very good excursus in the Word Biblical Commentary volume on Jeremiah 26-52, pp. 278ff, which connects drinking of wine to covenantal curses, like in Num 5:19 for example…).

  21. BrianJ said

    Matthew: “Is it too much to hope that this reading would also provide a way to turn our own very earthly wrath into godly love? Would it provide a way to turn our god-given hatred of evil…into a tool for good?”

    I don’t know, but your reading may be clinging too tightly to a desire to maintain earthly wrath, which—as Jim has shown—is exactly what Paul wants you to give up. The whole “deny yourselves of all ungodliness” thing (even though I know those aren’t Paul’s words). I’m having a hard time expressing all of my thoughts, but maybe you could respond to one of my earlier questions (comment #9) and see how it fits with a “resurrected vengeful verse 20”:

    What should I do then, when my enemy is destroyed? Should I rejoice? “Yes! God finally gave them what they deserved!” Or should I lament? “How tragic that this person—whom I loved dearly, despite their anger toward me—died before they could repent!” (see Alma 48:23)

    I just have trouble seeing how we could ever hope for God’s wrath: if it’s upon me then I should tremble, but if it’s on my brother then I should cry for my brother. I know there are scriptures—such as the “Psalm of Nephi”—wherein someone prays for the Lord to “place a stumbling block in the ways of mine enemies,” so maybe there’s some tension here. Still, I think that that tension is resolved by reading the scripture message as: love your enemies and give up (deny yourself of) all wrath, hope for vengeance, etc.

    As for our god-given hatred of evil, I’ve wondered whether that only applies to a hatred of the evil within ourselves, but not the evil that others apparently commit. In other words, I don’t think that the scriptures support the “hate the sin, love the sinner” mantra.

  22. Matthew said

    re: god-given hatred
    I’m more sympathetic to the couplet. It would be easier though to discuss this concept if we could do so in relation to some scripture. Without that, maybe it isn’t worth trying to have a discussion on this point.

    re: Q in #9. “What should I do then, when my enemy is destroyed? Should I rejoice?”
    Sorry I meant my #10 to address this but I don’t think it was very clear. I said there “Paul isn’t endorsing our desire for retribution.” What I mean is that for sure we shouldn’t want retribution. But what do we do with the person who does? There is a 2 step process. First the Lord helps us gain self-control. Then he helps us change our heart.

    Following djlott (#14) let me put this in the context of a parent. Suppose my son is unfair to my daughter. She doesn’t want a brother who acts like this. She loves him and wants a brother who loves her and acts appropriately. So she comes to me and tells me what he did. I punish him, he reforms, and roses bloom beneath our feet.

    But suppose that I have not only a son who treats my daughter unfairly but a daughter who wants retribution. 2 problems at once and the worst part is that each problem feeds off the other. But I have told her not to lash back at her brother. And suppose she exercises self-control and looks to me to settle the score. What do I do? Should I, as I punish him (in this example he deserves it), tell her how she must root out this desire for vengeance from her heart? Maybe one day she will be ready for that. But today I rejoice that for the first time this week (and its Friday in my example), she didn’t lash back. She let me be the parent. I thank her for her self control. She has forgotten or maybe just didn’t understand that my justice (on a good day anyway) comes from love. There will be another day for her to learn to better love her brother. For now, I’m just happy to have her learn self-control.

    Maybe my reading of Paul here is all messed up, but how do we explain what the Lord says in D&C 101:11 (thanks Robert) or D&C 98:45? Why does the Lord tell his saints about his vengeance? Was it maybe because he knew that they (or many of them anyway) needed to hear this in order to exercise self-control? just as, my daughter–in my fictitious ;) example–needed to hear that I would punish if she brought a complaint to me and a punishment was deserved? I think so. As i see it you have to start somewhere and teaching restraint is a good place to start.

  23. Matthew said

    Robert (#20). Interesting. I’m interested in hearing more on this if you end up developing it. I have a hard time understanding the scriptures around God’s wrath. My comments above are in a small way an attempt to understand them. But there is still a lot that isn’t explained.

  24. Robert C. said

    Matthew, I really like your personal family example, a nice way to apply the scriptures (or apply yourself to the scriptures…). Here’s a passage I’ve been thinking about in relation to all of this (largely b/c I’m reading this thread largely as a continuation of our earlier discussions about justice and atonement):

    Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again. For that which ye do send out shall return unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all. (Alma 41:14-15)

    I’m inclined to think of God’s wrath as a way of instilling both fear and hope in us. Fear that we will have evil restored to us if we are evil, and hope that good will be restored to us if we are good. The paradox, however, is that if we do good only so that we will be rewarded, then I think we fail to live up the Celestial level (that robf is talking about on the next thread). So obviously I don’t have all this figured out, but I think this idea (Adam Miller’s idea in particular on Rom 1:17) of viewing wrath and love as two different perspectives on justice/righteousness is a promising way to understand God’s wrath, esp. as described in the Old Testament, a wrath that I also find a bit strange/unfamiliar.

  25. Robert C. said

    Let me add, this “law of the harvest” view of justice is a view that Blake Ostler and Jacob Morgan have done a fantastic job of describing. I think the Hebrew, Old Testament notion of justice cannot be reduced to a law-of-the-harvest notion, but I do think it is related in important ways and Ostler and Morgan have very much influenced my thinking on this.

    For reference, here are links to a couple of our earlier discussions on justice:

    http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2007/04/17/nt-ss-lesson-14-can-justice-rob-mercy-matt-1827/
    http://feastuponthewordblog.org/2007/04/22/nt-lesson-15-judge-righteous-judgment-john-724/

  26. BrianJ said

    Robert, 25: I hope it’s okay to add my post to your list of “judgment threads”

  27. brianj said

    Matthew: Thanks for including the fictitious {wink} personal example. It helped me see that you and I are possibly in complete agreement.

    You bring up D&C 98:45 a few times here, and I don’t think we ever really addressed it. I think the wiki has a very good discussion of it here, so I don’t want to go into detail except to say that I think verse 45 has to be read in the context of verses 29-31:

    29 And then, if he shall come upon you…I have delivered thine enemy into thine hands;
    30 And then if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy righteousness….
    31 Nevertheless, thine enemy is in thine hands; and if thou rewardest him according to his works thou art justified; if he has sought thy life, and thy life is endangered by him, thine enemy is in thine hands and thou art justified.

    45 And if he do this, thou shalt forgive him with all thine heart; and if he do not this, I, the Lord, will avenge thee of thine enemy an hundred-fold;

    I think the overall message of Section 98 is: “You are justifies in seeking justice, but you miss out on being blessed. Take your pick.” I think that supports your point about speaking to the weakness within us—our desire to retaliate.

    As to your question, “Why does the Lord tell his saints about his vengeance?” I think the answer may lie in which word you stress, “vengeance” or “his.” Does the Lord want to calm us down by telling us that vengeance exists, so we need not worry; or is he stressing his ownership of vengeance, meaning that it is off-limits to us? Section 98 seems to suggest that the Lord may let us use vengeance (borrow it for a while, if you will), but it’s not considered righteous, but rather “justified.” The higher road (righteousness) is to have no desire for vengeance at all.

    And that’s the one little place where we might still be in disagreement. Is Paul recommending self-restraint? Sure, I agree with you there. But what is his method for achieving it? You seem to suggest that this is accomplished by knowing that God/dad will punish our enemies/siblings: “You don’t have to fight back because God/dad will fight for you.” I suggest that this is accomplished by stressing that vengeance—and even the thought of vengeance—is God’s/dad’s business: “You don’t have to fight back because you are too busy being good to your enemy/sibling and ‘vengeance’ shouldn’t even be in your vocabulary; that’s a word for gods/grown-ups.” (Ha! Let my kids read that and see me nearly exalt myself to godly status with a mere forward-slash.)

    None of this is to say that God isn’t perhaps partially pleased (as you suggest in your analogy) when we exercise restraint without full love and understanding. I’m just doubtful that that was Paul’s point.

    If my readings are right, then I think Section 98 offers something interesting that Romans does not: a choice. Paul seems to say, “The only ‘right’ option is to be kind,” whereas D&C seems to say, “There are two ‘right’ options, one is better than the other, and you get to choose.”

  28. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, yeah thanks for the link (#26), it’s easier for me to remember the posts I wrote (and “monitored” a bit more closely…) but I always get more out of rereading posts I didn’t write (though you’re welcome to second-guess my claim here, perhaps I really just like to promote myself and am just trying to appear gracious whereas in reality I’m annoyed/threatened by your competing act of self-promotion!). And thanks esp. for the contextual elaboration of D&C 98 (#27), which I didn’t remember (or maybe I simply forgot—I’ve confused myself with today’s post!).

  29. Matthew said

    So first, just for the record, while the example with my daughter and son isn’t totally fictitous, it is a bit exagerrated. Sometimes the truth is closer to the first example I gave which ends with roses blooming. And of course there are plenty of wonderful examples where they are getting along and there’s no cause for escalation.

    Now to work: BrianJ #27, I think stressing the Lord’s ownership of vengeance is an important point. For sure. And really we do agree 95% on everything. But it is the nature of conversation to talk about that part where we don’t agree. So here goes.

    I feel like if all the Lord wanted to say was about his ownership of vengeance then he would have only said that. He wouldn’t need to tell us that he will avenge 100 fold. Why does he emphasize the great magnitude of the vengeance that he is going to take? Isn’t this, in some sense, an extra incentive for the weak who want vengeance?

    But…I think this is the very line of reasoning you have already rejected several times. I’m not saying anything new. But why do you resist it? Isn’t this a straighforward way of reading D&C 98? Why is it bad to think that the Lord would use even our weaknesses to help us be better? Does it bother you to read the Lord telling us of the reward in heaven as appealing to our desire for reward? I would guess that neither you nor I think anyone will make it to the Celestial kingdom based on good behavior motivated by a desire for the rewards of the celestial kingdom. But there are times in peoples lives where what they need to do is focus on earning that Celestial reward. Other times when they need to focus on learning to love to serve.

    Another example. Why does the Lord tell us that he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Matt 23:11)? He could have just said to be humble and left it at that. I think he’s trying to take our proud selves that do want to be exalted and using that promise of being exalted to help us be humble.

    The desire to be better than others, to be master, is pretty common. Even the 12 wanted to know which one of them would be top-dog in the next world: Luke 22:24. Of course it isn’t good to want to lord it over others. Jesus’s reply is partly about how the 12 have to change from thinking about being the master in the worldly sense and become like Christ himself. But he also tells them that they will get to sit on thrones and judge the 12 tribes (Luke 22:30. I think Jesus was appealing to the same desires that made them want to argue about who would be greatest and using the promise of judging others from thrones as an incentive to becoming the type of person in this life that wouldn’t want to Lord it over others when they were exalted.

    I hope you respond, but I don’t think I’ll re-respond as I’m now straying too far from your post. If I want to take it up again, I’ll start a new post specifically dedicated how intentionality figures into the scriptures.

    Thanks for the great topic and the enjoyable discussion.

    PS I also want to discuss this option you point out in D&C 98. that is very interesting. But this comment is already too long. Maybe later.

  30. Robert C. said

    Matthew, great comment. What strikes me in particular as I read this is what you say about God “trying to take our proud selves that do want to be exalted and using that promise of being exalted to help us be humble.” I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be faithful, and what it means to be “one” like the Father and Son are one. I think that an important aspect of being faithful is to keep our word. But to keep our word requires a certain ability to understand the world we live in, so that we will have the “power” to keep our word. Not having this understanding is to be a divided self, or a someone who is not at one with the world around him. God, it seems, wants us to overcome this kind of division, and one way to do so is to show how our desires and our actions are not compatible. In this sense, perhaps God’s “speaking our language” by appealing to our baser desires is part and parcel to intervening in this world. It seems that all language in this world is, in a certain sense, tainted. To expect God to speak only to our noblest desires would seem to hold God to a standard that would ultimately not allow him to speak intelligbly to anyone except those who already have noble desires….

    Oops, speaking of intelligibility, I know this comment isn’t really intelligible. But I wanted to jot a few ideas down in response to your comment before I forgot. And perhaps by trying to voice this muddled train of thought, someone else can help me make sense of all of this better.

  31. brianj said

    Matthew: Okay, so your comment (which really was not too long, by the way) brought us to within 97.5% agreement. I realized I was being too universal in how I interpreted scripture—meaning, I was arguing that D&C and Romans (et al) were saying the same thing. I think I have to agree with you that there may be some aspect of scripture that appeals to our “lesser selves.”

    I do want to specifically address one comment you made which I think is slightly off:

    I feel like if all the Lord wanted to say was about his ownership of vengeance then he would have only said that. He wouldn’t need to tell us that he will avenge 100 fold. Why does he emphasize the great magnitude of the vengeance that he is going to take? Isn’t this, in some sense, an extra incentive for the weak who want vengeance?

    But…I think this is the very line of reasoning you have already rejected several times.

    Actually, I said that:

    I think the overall message of Section 98 is: “You are justified in seeking justice, but you miss out on being blessed. Take your pick.” I think that supports your point about speaking to the weakness within us—our desire to retaliate.

    …Section 98 seems to suggest that the Lord may let us use vengeance (borrow it for a while, if you will), but it’s not considered righteous, but rather “justified.” The higher road (righteousness) is to have no desire for vengeance at all. (emphasis added)

    Summary: I still don’t see Paul in Romans advocating any desire for vengeance, but you have opened my eyes to the possibility that other scriptures do.

  32. brianj said

    One more thing:

    I really appreciated this discussion Matthew (and others who participated—I don’t mean to exclude). You expressed a couple of times a concern that it was too far off topic—and yeah, it was a bit off the topic of my original questions, but I was very happy to have the discussion so I don’t see it as a thread-jack. And it wasn’t all that off-topic anyway.

    But I am still interested in my original questions….

  33. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, regarding your original question about the way in which peace is achieved (by the world vs. by God), I’m not sure if you read read comments 6-11 (or so) on this post (Jim’s lesson notes for JST Matthew 24), but I think Jim, Cheryl, and Joe are trying to get at the same question you are. I didn’t get the sense there were a lot of answers being offered, but I thought these (rather lengthy) comments were very helpful in thinking about this question. Also, since it seems we are talking about the question of violence again, I think the Book of Mormon is a great place to take up these questions. That is, I think we see there the closest thing in scripture to “just war” described (if there is such a thing…). It seems we might think about the Nephites fighting for a kind of justice there, or at least it seems that’s how they viewed things, and likely event that Mormon viewed things that way (I treading quite cautiously here, largely hoping/waiting that Cheryl or robf or Joe will jump in with a protest!…).

  34. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, I was thinking about this more partly in relation to some recent discussion here of Romans 1:17, where Jim F. cited Adam Miller as claiming the wrath and righteousness of God being revealed are one and the same thing viewed from different perspectives. In that sense, I wonder if the godly way to think about peace is similar in the sense that it is the same thing as declaring repentance. I have Jonah in mind particularly, how his cry of repentance actually saved Nineveh, bringing peace (to his chagrin)….

  35. brianj said

    Robert: Sorry I’ve taken so long–please don’t take my delay as a sign of disinterest!

    I remember reading the comments you linked to. I don’t fully understand what Jim and Cheryl are talking about there, but you’re right, they are asking a similar question.

    “That is, I think we see [in the Book of Mormon] the closest thing in scripture to “just war” described (if there is such a thing…). It seems we might think about the Nephites fighting for a kind of justice there, or at least it seems that’s how they viewed things, and likely event that Mormon viewed things that way (I treading quite cautiously here, largely hoping/waiting that Cheryl or robf or Joe will jump in with a protest!…).

    I’m not sure what to make of the Book of Mormon in this regard. We have this book edited mostly by two warriors; I hardly expect them to have pacifist views. On several occasions they make a case for ‘just war,’ either implicitly or explicitly. But what are we to make of it? Is their argument an example of Captain Moroni’s epistle to Pahoran; i.e. a good example of how a good person can make a bad choice? (giving in to anger instead of peace)

    I’m even thinking of this in terms of what I wrote above about D&C 98: do the Book of Mormon wars show us that retaliation can be justified but not lead to blessings?

    “I wonder if the godly way to think about peace is similar in the sense that it is the same thing as declaring repentance. I have Jonah in mind particularly, how his cry of repentance actually saved Nineveh, bringing peace (to his chagrin)….”

    I’m wondering if the way Christ establishes peace is to teach us to deal peaceably with others. Some would say, “God, give me peace by getting my enemies to repent/change,” but I wonder if the better way is, “God, give me [peace] by helping me win over my enemies by showing them love, and hence a better way to live.” So I’m thinking along the same lines as you are, but thinking that repentance doesn’t necessarily have to be declared (as in, “repent and be baptized”), but could be demonstrated through righteous actions. Ammon might be an example of what I’m thinking: he goes to live among the Lamanites, and his good example of love despite some mistreatment eventually wins them over (not just Lamoni, but also Lamoni’s father).

  36. Robert C. said

    Great points and questoins, BrianJ. I think the ending of the BoM is very interesting in this regard because it seems to show the futility of war quite starkly. I’m not sure what to make of Captain Moroni, his methods at times seem rather unsettling to me. Though I guess I’m inclined more to think that this is how it should be, that we should be unsettled anytime there is violence, rather than chalking these unsettling episodes to a character flaw in Captain Moroni (esp. since Mormon seems so complementary of him…).

    I’ve been thinking a fair bit about Jim’s comment #8 on that other thread. Combining that BoM idea with my thinking about Jonah, I’m inclined to say, as you are saying, that the revelation of Christ (apocalypse) will necessarily entail the destruction of the wicked so we should be praying for the wicked to repent. If there are no wicked when Christ comes then, like with Jonah and as Paul says in 1 Cor 13, the prophecy of destruction will fail and only charity will remain—I’m not counting on this naively optimistic scenario, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work toward it (after all, aren’t we Mormons rather conditioned/accustomed to set goals which are always beyond our reach?..!).

  37. brianj said

    “…more to think that this is how it should be…rather than chalking these unsettling episodes to a character flaw in Captain Moroni (esp. since Mormon seems so complementary of him…).”

    Yeah, I was unsure how to talk about Captain Moroni—unsure of what I think about him and unsure of what to make of what Mormon thinks about him. (I also am thinking about Jim F’s comment.) I don’t mean to rip on Moroni, or say that he was bad, so if I’m critical of him it’s more in the sense of “We are all sinners and imperfect, so let’s learn from each others’ mistakes.” Did Captain Moroni have a “character flaw”? Probably (just like everyone else). Do I know what it was? I don’t know.

    “the revelation of Christ (apocalypse) will necessarily entail the destruction of the wicked so we should be praying for the wicked to repent.”

    Ahhh, thanks for saying what my mind has been trying to figure out. I just couldn’t quite flesh out what I was thinking (not only to explain it to you, but to understand it myself). I’m reminded of President Hinckley’s talk in Oct 2001, when he said (paraphrasing), “I don’t think this is the beginning of a great calamity that marks the end of the world. I pray that it is not; there is still much work to be done.”

    Hinckley seems to be hoping for more time to save more people from that awful destruction. And I think that your example of Jonah is so perfect here because there we see the Lord going back on his prophecy, so to speak. “I will destroy Ninevah!—oh, wait, nevermind.” Is it possible to have a Second Coming that is much, much, much, less catastrophic than anticipated? I sure hope so, Robert, and you’ve given me reason to at least hope that I can have such hope.

  38. robf said

    I’m not sure I can add much to the discussion at this point, but am glad it continues. The Book of Alma repeatedly characterizes Captain Moroni as becoming very angry and acting violently out of that anger–something I don’t see as countenanced in the gospels. While we are told that Satan would be bound if everyone were like him, I’m not sure I see how that could be, as Christ specifically told the Nephites that anger was how Satan gets us to contend with one another. But in a, perhaps, more charitable view, Captain Moroni and the Nephites may have felt or actually have been “justified” in the sense that they won’t be held eternally responsible for the deaths caused by their defensive wars–but the wars hardly solved their problems with the Lamanites, as just a few years after the “peace” is established the wars start back up again and the Land of Zarahemla is completely overrun by Lamanites. This may be a case of the Nephites missing out on a true lasting peace, as their defensive war only continued the standard endless cycles of warfare and violence that are only finally broken by obedience to the gospel and by following the example of the Prince of Peace. Or maybe I’m still missing something here.

  39. brianj said

    robf: this is so frustrating because I’m trying (while I’m at work, so just in the back of my mind) to think of an example other than the Savior of someone or a group in the scriptures who gives up the sword and wins a lasting peace. But I’m struggling to think of anyone! The people of Ammon are sort of an example, except that their children go off to war—so just when they seem like an example as a people they are no longer an example.

    Maybe Alma’s people are an example? Remember that they flee into the wilderness from King Noah and find a beautiful land to live in. Their happiness, however, is quickly interrupted by the Lamanite scouting party who is lost. Alma tries to help them but is double-crossed; his people suffer under they’re hands but endure it with patience—no retaliation—and eventually they are freed by the Lord.

  40. robf said

    Maybe the Lord’s peace is peace while enduring trials rather than peace from trials. The issue with war may be are we going, even defensively, to join in the violence and kill. Or will we be willing to submit to all things and be still to see the salvation of the Lord. When push comes to shove, most of us are like Peter with his sword and have a harder time submitting than killing.

  41. Matthew said

    BrianJ, #31, First, you’re right. my bad on characterizing your disagreemnt. Second, I think there is an interesting discussion we could have on these two options the Lord gives in D&C 98 and what to make of it. But, I think it is a separate question from the point I was making. Note that it is what you are calling the “better option” where I am saying the Lord is appealing to our desire for vengeance by promising that he will take vengeance under some circumstances.

    But, that point is more about reading the text closely and how to interpret it correctly. Related to the main question of how to think about vengeance in the scriptures I’m willing to call it 100% agreement.

    I’m still hoping to write something up about intentionality in the scriptures which I think is much broader than this discussion. Hopefully you’ll join me on that post. Lately, I’ve been re-reading The Cost of Discipleship in preparation.

  42. brianj said

    Matthew: I’m looking forward to that post. I learned a lot from our discussion here.

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