Formations 07.10.2022: Vengeance

Genesis 34:1-5, 8, 13-17, 25-27, 30-31

Violence begets violence. Hopefully we all understand that. But we can say at least a little bit more. According to Brazilian Catholic archbishop, Hélder Câmara, we can draw a distinction between three phases of violence.

The First Violence is the oppressive violence of the state; the violence of those in positions of privilege to take what they want without concern for the needs or well-being of others.

The Second Violence is the reactionary violence of the oppressed as they revolt against the First Violence and strive to reclaim some of the dignity and justice that has been taken from them.

And finally, Câmara said, there is the Third Violence, the panicked intervention of an authority that is losing control over the masses as they rise up.

When Shechem, a nobleman’s son, saw Dinah visiting with her neighbors, “he seized her and lay with her by force” (v. 1). When his act is discovered, the two fathers work out an agreement to stem the tide of violence and permit their two peoples to live in peace. The agreement didn’t sit well with Simeon and Levi. In fact, they assault the city—or perhaps lead an assault with others involved—and kill all the men of the city.

In Câmara’s scheme, Simeon and Levi committed the Second Violence. Jacob rebukes them, but for purely pragmatic reasons: he fears they have brought trouble—a potential Third Violence—upon their whole family (v. 30).

Apparently, the brothers aren’t concerned about the consequences; seeing their sister “treated like a whore” (v. 31) was too much for them to stomach. They were merely reacting to the previous crime of Shechem, the privileged heir. His was the First Violence, and he was about to get off scot free.

There’s a part of me that deeply sympathizes with the urge to exact vengeance in a situation like this, especially when the powers that be seem not to care. But Simeon and Levi’s plan was doomed. As Martin Luther King Jr. observed, violence never brings permanent peace. “It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones…. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.”

God, give us eyes to see that this is as true for the First Violence as it is for the Second. And give us the courage to condemn them both.

•Martin Luther King Jr., “Nobel Lecture,” 11 Dec 1964 <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1964/king/lecture/>.
•Sarah Lynn Kleeb, “The Violence of Tolerance: At the Intersection of Liberation Theology and Critical Theory,” Radical Philosophy Review 16/2 (2013): 549–58 <https://www.academia.edu/4306594/The_Violence_of_Tolerance_At_the_Intersection_of_Liberation_Theology_and_Critical_Theory>

Discussion

• What instances of First Violence provoke you to anger?
• How can believers keep their cool even when they have been sorely offended?
• If violence is rejected, how should believers respond to insults and mistreatment?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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