Saturday, October 14, 2006

Forgiveness and the Amish Debated

For a very interesting blog debate on whether it was wise for the Amish to be so quick to forgive the murderer of the innocent schoolgirls, click here. The blog that raises the question is run by a seminary instructor, trained in psychology and Christianity. I'd be interested in any comments on his question of whether the Amish were too quick in their forgiveness.

Apparently, at least one Amish spokesperson made a public statement denying anger at the killings, and he linked the absence of Amish anger with Amish forgiveness. If this is true, it might set up a false tension between anger and forgiveness. Further, it might do a real disservice to Amish families, who probably should be making private use of such OT Scriptures as the Psalms to express their hurt and anger, and to call on God for intervention and justice.


Blogger Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


It is no secret that I do not share the Amish's understanding of non-violence. I have discussed this with other bloggers at length. I have other questions but related ones to this post.

Q1. How do you forgive someone who has already killed themselves?

Q2. Is it easier to live with a murder (of your loved one) or take the necessary steps to arm oneself to prevent such a thing from happening. (I was in Israel this summer and every school and school outing has armed teachers. I spoke at length with two such teachers - they were easy to pick out - they had both pistols and M1 Carbines).

Q3. Why does not the church community at large not teach from the imprecatory Psalms anymore? It seems to me - as you noted - that there is pleanty of material in the Psalter that deals with this type of issue.

Mon Oct 16, 08:28:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi Joe, I notice that we both visited Tyler's blog this morning. We should point out here that he has an excellent post on The Costly Loss of Lament for the Church: ---S.

Mon Oct 16, 09:47:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

By the way, I did my senior thesis way back in college on the imprecatory psalms, and have been keen on them ever since. Among Episcopalians, at least, I find that the church is generally clueless about their positive value. A costly loss indeed! ---S.

Mon Oct 16, 09:50:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

"Q2. Is it easier to live with a murder (of your loved one) or take the necessary steps to arm oneself to prevent such a thing from happening."

The question for the Amish and other Christian peacemakers is not one of "ease" but of discipleship. Of course, it is easier to fight fear and violence by embracing violence one's self. But this is not what we were taught to do, say the Peacemakers. We were taught to overcome evil with good.

By embracing the tools of violence (guns for defense) we are rejecting relying upon God for our security and embracing the notion that deadly violence is a legitimate tool - the very notion that leads to such killings as these.

I've no problem with the notion of the imprecatory psalms for their value in letting us know it is okay and human to feel anguish, bitterness and even hatred towards our "enemies." But they are not a teaching to be followed through upon. That is, peacemakers would say, the imprecatory passages let us know that feelings of rage are human and natural, but what we're called to is something Else.

God doesn't strike dead the psalmist for wishing ill of their oppressors, but neither does God encourage them to go seek vengeance. No, as God is further revealed to us, we learn that the best way to deal with oppression is to stand up to it non-violently. To overcome evil with good. NOT to submit to evil NOR to embrace evil to stop evil but overcome it with good.

So, what the Amish have demonstrated, I'd suggest, is that it is possible and desirable to rely upon God and get past the more human desire for vengeance and move on to the more divine ideal of forgiveness. Shame on anyone for giving the Amish grief over this most godly display of their faith.

Mon Oct 16, 02:13:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Dan, Thanks. I hope Joe will respond to the thrust of your comment. As for me, one of the things that shakes me up personally the most is what looks from the outside to be a rather unquestioning faith that God is in charge, it was the girls' "time" anyway, and all is somehow well and will be well. For me, that just will not do. What about the crying need here for faithful rage at God? Tyler's blog (see comment above) talks about engaging God with theodicy; holding God accountable; insisting that this horror just is not right---all is not well, not well at all. ---Steve

Mon Oct 16, 03:52:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Well, the Direct Action subset of Peacemakers (which I'd argue is a majority) would agree that raging against the machine is a good thing. Raging against Systems of oppression and using the energy of that holy anger to develop plans to stop the oppression in non-violent ways.

I'm leery of those "imprecatists" who sound as if feelings of rage and anger directed towards the enemy implies justification for acting in vengeance rather than in submission to God's command to overcome evil with good.

Mon Oct 16, 04:14:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


It seems to me (and I will admit that I am on the outside here) that Peacemakers are embracing a very Calvinistic type of mindset. If you do nothing to prevent evil (i.e. letting yourself be killed) then surely you are somehow emboldening evil men. Let's look at a different analogy - one that is not so emotionally charged.

The way I see it is that we (you and I) are in a car. I have put on my seatbelt and you have not. Why did I put on my seatbelt? I did so in order that I might protect myself. You however, have in essence said I will leave my fate in the hand of God. If I die in an auto crash then it must be God's will for me to die. I find this line of thinking very questionable to say the least. What of other OT saints that were blessed because they took up arms? How can we reconcile their bearing arms for the defense of God's (Yahweh's kingdom) and at the same time say "No. . . that is not for a Christian to do." Are we not at some level being a bit Marconite in our theology? Will we curse Abraham for going to war to save Lot? (Really he did not go to war so much as he simply got up what we in Texas would call a posse). Shall we castigate Joshua for his actions at the behest of Yahweh? What of the bloodiest king of ancient Israel - King David? Surely we shall cast his lot with all the others. Yet, I would remind you that the Scriptures say that David was a man after Yahweh's own heart. Likewise, I could keep this list up of OT saints that bore the sword in defense of God's people and indeed their life. In short I see a philosophical and practical disconnect with pacifism. I find it entirely impractical and downright backwards. You cannot convince me that Christ commanded us to become pacifists and that is fine. I still have a good number of friends that hold to this type of outlook.

I think we are all on the same page concerning imprecatory Psalms and the issue of theodicy. Steve, I would love to get a look at the thesis you did in college. I will say that the imprecatory Psalms have helped me in my life very much.

Tue Oct 17, 08:13:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

No, I can't convince you to become a pacifist and don't intend to try. I do consider it part of my mission to remind the church (and others) that these are our roots. This is part of what it means to be a christian. God convicts and convinces, I just repeat the message.

As to this comment:

"If you do nothing to prevent evil (i.e. letting yourself be killed) then surely you are somehow emboldening evil men."

If I understand you correctly, you are not understanding peacemakers. I feel I've said this 1000 times (and that's probably not an exaggeration) but no one is advocating "doing nothing." Most Just Peacemakers are advocates of Direct Action - the non-violent methods of standing up to evil with good. That is not "nothing."

As to your OT examples, no, I won't castigate those leaders in those stories. In fact, I'd be as pleased as punch if the christians in the US stood behind even their principles (ie, rely upon God for defense, not a massive military and weaponry, call together a militia in times of need instead of having a standing army, etc). But our lessons don't end with the OT.

Christians have the further revelation of Jesus to improve our understanding of what God wants. Where God in the OT disallows eating certain meats, God in the NT reveals that everything is good for eating. Where God in the OT limited our violence to "an eye for an eye" (as opposed to "a village for an eye"), God in the NT limits our violence further, telling us to overcome evil with good.

But I reckon we've covered that, already...

Tue Oct 17, 10:17:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi Joe and Dan, clearly there's a lot of energy here. I just wanted to interrupt for a second to say that the "overcoming evil with good" idea did not just come in with the New Testament. You can see it plain as day, e.g., in Isaiah 53, to cite the most obvious example. Peace, ---S.

Tue Oct 17, 10:59:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

I agree that we see Jesus' teachings preshadowed in the OT. And I often include OT support in my arguments.

But since most people can understand the notion of (I'm sure there's a correct term for it, but I'll call it) the Continuing Revelation of God's Self in the difference between OT dietary laws and NT changes to those laws, I find it a useful contrast.

No offense to any OT scholars in the audience...

Tue Oct 17, 01:07:00 PM GMT-5  

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