The ultimate circumstances in which the conditions for law to maintain peace are suspended are known as the state of exception (see Giorgio Agamben’s book of that title).
The cross in Jesus’ day stood for those circumstances on an individual level. It was both the symbol and the consequence of the exception. Crucifixion was the condition and the price of peace through empire. By making the cross the daily motif for Christian lifestyle, as we have seen in the previous post, Jesus unequivocally positioned his followers in opposition to the Roman way of peace. Today, in our supposedly free society, it takes more than spoken opposition for the state of exception to be applied. Within Western nation states it generally requires actual or perceived threat to property, the law, the military and the institutions of state and its symbols before personal freedom is removed or individual life threatened by kettling, imprisonment, water hose, tear gas or bullets from a gun.
To take up our cross daily in non-violent counterpolitical living Jesus-style is to be ready for kettling, prison, violence and even death when it comes.
However, if we are to understand the more normative circumstances for the exception in our contemporary West we need to step outside the orbit of our mainly white dominated nation states of Europe, North America and Australasia. We need to look at those places where perceived or real threats to their ongoing exercise of sovereignty are met by our Western governments with bullets, drones, bombs, imprisonment without trial, water-boarding and the like.
So to grasp the full implications of the cross as a symbol of discipleship we need to include bullets, drones, bombs, imprisonment without trial, water-boarding and death as the fulness of the motif of discipleship that Jesus calls us to take up each day.
The plight of our enemies who receive these instruments of the exception is to be embraced as our own.
So how does this work to bring genuine peace? I suggest three ways in particular.
(1) To use the biblical imagery of John the Baptist and Daniel’s apocalyptic, every thought, word and act of selfless unconditional love is an axe cut to the root of the empire tree, and a crushing blow to the deep structural feet of the edifice of sovereign power through human history. After Jesus’ resurrection the oppressive local partnership of Israel and Rome came down for almost two millennia. The same kind of love will ultimately bring down the vastly more universal partnership of church and empire and its aftermath to the mutual good of Palestinian, Jew and the general multitude of the peoples of the earth.
(2) If the incarnation happened as set out in the testimony of Jesus, then there has been a transhistorical moment in time when God as a human being has demonstrated the life-laying-down power of love at a previous apex of empire and willingly encountered its state of exception. All the destructive consequences of the instruments of sovereign power were embraced by God there at the cross to the point of death and resurrection. Death was swallowed up in victory. So it follows that there is a place in God, a reservoir dug out, an inferno ignited, where all the results of sin and death on human life, spirit, soul and body, together with the creation of which he became a part, can be channeled. Such a doctrine of hell is not some ghastly idea of a retributive sovereign God’s exhausted indignation. It is the virus vault within God and now through the Spirit, within his people, where all the hatred, antagonism, rejection, resentment, violence and death can be contained and exhausted. Such is the calling of the peacemaking ecclesia. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mtt 5:9) and “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man (Lk 6:22).
(3) It is when we stand with pederasts, murderers, extremists of left and right, of any faith and none, emptying out unconditional love and forgiveness towards them and sucking up all the resistance, rejection and refusal into the heart of God via our own hearts, that there is real hope for peace. This is the kenarchic way for emptying out our Western or any other domination system and for winning the hearts and transforming the future of our enemies if they will receive it.