Week 11 in the year of our Lord 2022

Godly aggression, violence & hostility

11 minutes to read

There is no hint in the Bible that your aggressive instincts are a result of the fall. You are not, in other words, a defective woman. Your desire to conquer and to subdue, to hew down and to build up, to form and to shape, has nothing to do with the curse. It is man’s natural, pre-fall, created purpose. You yearn to bend the world to your will because Adam was created to bend the world to his will. Where things go wrong is not with our natural yearnings, but with our wills themselves. —Its Good To Be A Man

Nothing we say stirs up more outrage and offense than when we talk about men’s natural instincts.

The idea that men who cannot be dangerous cannot be good men. The idea that aggression, hostility, and violence did not enter into the heart of man when he fell.

Such is the effeminate hatred of God’s design in our present day.

But it’s true. In fact, if righteous aggression, hostility, and violence had entered into Adam’s heart as the serpent was talking to Eve, mankind would not have fallen into a state where those things could ever be conceived of as wicked or toxic!

God made Adam in his image, and that image includes aggression, hostility, and violence. To believe otherwise is to reveal ignorance of God’s own character.

Consider how Scripture itself describes Yahweh, who became flesh as Jesus Christ:

I will sing to the LORD, for He is highly exalted;
The horse and its rider He has hurled into the sea.
The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
This is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will extol Him.
The LORD is a warrior;
The LORD is His name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea;
And the choicest of his officers are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deeps cover them;
They went down into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power,
Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy.
And in the greatness of Your excellence You overthrow those who rise up against You;
You send forth Your burning anger, and it consumes them as chaff… (Exodus 15:1–7, but read the whole chapter)

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11–16)

Aggression, hostility, and violence are part of the creational design of man that God called “very good” (Gen 1:31). They are very good because they are part of how we reflect God’s own character, as his earthly images.

Aggression, hostility, and violence preceded the fall. Much like man’s powerful sex drive, these things were also very good. It is only the greatest and most powerful goods that can cause so much harm when corrupted by sin and bent toward evil.

But what purpose would aggression and hostility and violence serve in an unfallen world?

Firstly, aggression and even violence would be required to subdue the wild creation that God made. Adam’s task was to bend the world to his will, ordering it according to the pattern God provided in the garden. Contrary to a certain very modern conception of the world being created as a peaceful paradise, all the indications in Genesis are that it was exclusively the garden that was such a sanctuary. The rest of the world was untamed, to say the least. For instance, Adam was given dominion over the sea, which means that at some point he would have had to tussle with “great sea monsters” (Ps 8:8; Gen 1:21).

Closer to home, anyone who has spent time in contest with the natural world knows the amount of force that can be required to subdue it—even without consideration for thorns and thistles. Anyone who has spent time breaking rocks, pulling stumps, raising pillars, or sinking posts, knows the necessity of “a forceful action or procedure…especially when intended to dominate or master” (Merriam-Webster, “aggression”). Of course, the common connotation, included in MW’s full definition, of “unprovoked attack” is not what we have in mind. Similarly, when we speak of violence, we mean “the use of physical force,” but not to “abuse,” nor to “injure,” “damage” or “destroy” those things which should not be injured, damaged, or destroyed. This ought to go without saying given our appeal to God’s own nature above—but such are the times in which we live. Sin taints everything; even our definitions.

Secondly, hostility was most certainly required in order to adequately defend Adam’s territory from the forces of darkness. Adam should have been violently hostile toward the serpent who sought his life, and the life of his wife. This is not to say he should have been physically violent; violence is a spiritual pattern of which physical action is one expression. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal,” (2 Cor 10:4) and the archangel Michael did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment on Satan (Jude 9). But Adam was certainly required to contend against Satan; to hate him with a perfect hatred (Ps 139:22), to stand against him (Eph 6:11; Jas 4:7). Spiritual hostility and aggression was his duty and obligation. Had he discharged it faithfully, he would have crushed the serpent.

In other words, mankind literally fell into sin because the original man failed to model sufficient aggressiveness, hostility, and violence.

In our own lives, similar aggression, hostility, and violence should be directed toward those things which require bending or breaking. They should be directed toward the world, to subdue it as God commanded, and toward the flesh and the devil, to destroy their works, as God established in the first gospel proclamation:

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall strike your head,
And you shall strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

Aggression, hostility, and violence are not the problem. They are not sinful in themselves—not in the slightest. Redeemed men are not saved from them. They are saved from sin corrupting them. They are saved from the power of sin commandeering them and twisting them to attack what we should love, or defend what we should hate. Grace restores nature, and redeemed men by grace wage war against sin, tear down strongholds, take captives, and punish disobedience (2 Cor 10:2–6; cf. 1 Cor 9:26; 1 Pet 2:11; Heb 12:4).

Aggression, hostility, and violence are what the Church, the earthly army of Christ, uses in its assault against the underworld—attacking with such force that the gates of Hades cannot stand against us (Mt 16:18).

Aggression, hostility, and violence are how we fight to win the prize.

But keep it between the ditches. Aggression, hostility, and violence are powerful forces that will quickly destroy and consume if not mastered and reigned in. Mankind was plunged deeper into depravity because Cain failed to be sufficiently gentle, meek, and self-controlled (Gen 4).

Redeemed men, by grace, pair their aggression, hostility, and violence with meekness, gentleness and self-control as they grow in the imitation of Christ, being transformed into his image from one degree of glory to another.

Follow the example of Jesus, who saved mankind from sin and depravity by faithfully avoiding either the failure of Adam, or of Cain.

Many Christians have been deprived of basic discipleship in theology. Knowing where to start can be overwhelming. Here is a theological starter kit you can use. These are six books that are on the shorter side, and simply written. Most readers will be able to get through them in one year.

The goal of this starter kit is to provide the everyday Christian with a working knowledge and overview of theology. These books lean more doctrinal than practical by design; we often want a “what” or “how,” but skip the step of answering the “why.” You cannot do this if you want a well-rounded and solid understanding of theology. The why is the foundation for the what and the how.

Buy physical books if you can. Read them slowly, in order, underlining and taking notes, so you can properly digest them.

  1. The Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson
    Covenant theology is the heart of Reformed theology. Robertson’s rundown is concise but robust. It will get you going in the right direction.
  2. The Westminster Confession of Faith: For Study Classes by G.I. Williamson
    This a great introduction to systematic and confessional theology. We consider the WCF to be the best summary of biblical doctrine ever written. It is not dry or academic, but a rich and warm document that will stir you up in your pursuit of God. Williamson does a masterful job of walking the reader through it.
  3. Worship: Reformed according to Scripture by Hughes Oliphant Old
    Old does a good job at explaining the elements of Lord’s Day worship, and the scriptural logic behind them.
  4. Christian Baptism by John Murray
    Murray’s little book on baptism leans heavily on some hermeneutical assumptions. So, by itself, it isn’t the strongest argument for paedobaptism. But it is very convincing in light of the previous books on this list.
  5. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts
    There are superior books on biblical theology, but they are quite long. A few imperfections aside, Roberts’ book is the best quick read on the topic. He’ll open your eyes to the connections and unity of the Scriptures. Bnonn has also written some thoughts on how to expand your understanding further after reading it: How to improve God’s Big Picture.
  6. The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson
    Watson’s prose is clean and clear. He does an excellent job of explaining justification and sanctification from the perspective of the individual.

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Did He bleed for us? Did He suffer for us? And was this for me?? That I might appear with Him in glory?? And shall I not sing? Shall I not join with the angels and saints in their songs to Him who was slain? What a question! There is no need to deliberate, no need to consult with kings and kingdoms. No, we know what our King deserves. And we love Him. —Pastor Steve Richardson, Faith Presbyterian Church, Tillsonburg, Ontario (excommunicated from the ARP for opening his church during lockdown)

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Talk again next week,

Bnonn & Michael

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