The Way of Enemy Love: Dismissing Jesus, A Critical Assessment, Pt. 7

In the past installments of this series of reviews, I have made an effort to tread the thin and delicate line of constructive criticism: on the one hand, I genuinely valued many of the things the book was trying to do, and wanted to affirm and advance them; on the other hand, I was genuinely concerned about points of confusion, unclarity, or just plain error, and wanted to draw attention to them when they were significant enough to have negative consequences.  In considering the ways of Weakness and Renunciation (chs. 2 and 3) I coordinated these two objectives by couching my reviews as calls for further clarification, and pointing out how the unclarity could in fact conspire to deprive Jones’s readers of exactly what they most needed—principles for practical action.  In considering the ways of Deliverance and of Sharing, on the other hand, my approach consisted more of attempting to ground a similar practical agenda (at least, so far as Jones’s practical agenda was discernible) in different, firmer theological soil, pointing out how failure to do so could render very good practices—works of mercy and of sharing—spiritually destructive.

In this chapter, I am afraid I shall have to take a blunter approach, although I hope that none will be offended.  In this chapter, the lack of clarity and equivocation is combined with so sweeping an attack on traditional Christian teaching that it is difficult to salvage anything constructive.  Taken alone, either of these might be frustrating, but might still leave us with a good deal to learn or at least converse with.  The real problem arises, as I sought to outline in Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 of this review, when these two tendencies are combined.  If you want to raise the stakes and condemn the mainstream of Christian practice and teaching for abandoning the way of Christ, this might be unfair or inappropriate, but if your terms are clear and your arguments incisive, you can at least prompt a fruitful debate and discussion.  On the other hand, if you write an ordinary work about theology or Christian living, and don’t define your terms all that well and lapse into occasional contradictions, readers might not gain that much from the book, but at least others may be encouraged to try and refine your arguments to more fruitful ends.  But if you raise the stakes—God vs. Mammon, the way of salvation vs. the way of destruction—and at the same time, indulge in constant equivocation, then the result can hardly be edifying.

PrintTo be sure, as a destructive takedown of contemporary American bloodlust and militarism, some of Jones’s polemics obliquely hit home; though for a somewhat clearer and more useful rendition of this, readers might simply skip to chapter 17, “American Mars.”  But aside from the general sense that many of us American Christians might be compromised by too permissive an embrace of the ways of war and violence, and that we might do well to take more seriously Christ’s blessing of “the peacemakers, it is,” readers are given very little which they can use, and quite a bit that they could readily abuse.

Don’t get me wrong.  None of this is to “dismiss Jesus” or the idea that we need to take a good, long, hard look at our attitudes toward violence.  Few Christians, perhaps, have given serious thought to what it means to love enemies (whether on the battlefield or in their personal lives), or wrestled earnestly with the ethics of war.  While I have, after much wrestling and questioning, settled fairly securely into just war camp, I have great respect for sincere and thoughtful pacifists, and have read with profit and appreciation the writings of Yoder and Hauerwas on this subject, as well as the just-war theories of Paul Ramsey and Oliver O’Donovan. Read More

A Thoughtful Critique of Pacifism

Next week, I will be ending my break from my review of Doug Jones’s Dismissing Jesus , by turning my attention to his sixth chapter, “The Way of Enemy Love.”  Although Jones himself explicitly stops short of full-blown pacifism, many of his arguments in this chapter closely follow typical pacifist lines.  Indeed, he goes somewhat further than the classic Anabaptist, which disclaims violence on the part of Christians while accepting its legitimate and God-ordained place in the non-Christian state.  For Jones, the rejection of violence basically involves a rejection of the office of civil authority and its coercive tools.  Although obviously I think that Jones goes too far, it is hard not to be drawn to the rhetoric of peace.  No one wants to position themselves as a defender of violence, particularly in a society for whom the just war tradition has long been prostituted to a militaristic agenda.

A full response to Jones’s arguments in this chapter would require some very extensive wrestlings with the relevant biblical teachings and natural law principles on violence, peace, justice, and punishment.  Thankfully, my task in the next installment of my review  has been eased by the fact that my friend Andrew Fulford has already undertaken this task over the summer, with a seven-part series at The Calvinist International entitled “Was Jesus a Pacifist?”  I would highly commend it to you as a patient and thorough consideration of the principles and presuppositions at stake, including careful exegesis of the relevant New Testament texts.  I will have occasion to refer back to several of Fulford’s points in the course of my consideration of “The Way of Enemy Love” next week.  Part 1 of Fulford’s essay seeks to establish the multiple layers of context that must inform our reading of the Gospels.  Part 2 seeks to disentangle what we mean by “pacifism,” and the various distinct sorts of arguments and rationales that are often used to generate pacifistic conclusions.  Part 3 establishes the assumptions that the first Christians would have brought to Jesus’s teaching, as seen in the Old Testament and other New Testament writings.  Parts 4 and 5 work through specific elements of Christ’s teaching and practice that are often appealed to as demonstrating pacifism or condemning all uses of violence force.  Part 6 explores why, if Jesus did not teach pacifism, so many early church fathers did.  Finally, Part 7 sums up how the magisterial Protestant doctrine enables a coherent interpretation of the biblical teaching on peace, enemy love, and violence.


License to Kill? The Morality and Legality of Self-Defence

In a recent exchange on Facebook, I tried to explore the legal and ethical questions raised by a recent shooting in Oklahoma, and, having failed to get a debate going there, thought I would explore them further here.  A young teen mother, recently widowed, and home alone with her infant son, was besieged in her home by two men, one armed with a 12-inch hunting knife, demanding entry.  The woman grabbed her pistol and 12-gauge shotgun (what do you expect? it’s Oklahoma!), retreated to her bedroom with her baby, called 911, and aimed both guns at the front door.  She asked the 911 operator if it was fine for her to shoot the intruders if they entered.  The operator replied more or less, “I won’t tell you should, but I won’t tell you shouldn’t.”  As soon as the man with the knife broke down the door, she fired the shotgun and killed him instantly; the other man, on the other side of the house, fled as soon as he heard the shots fired.  The woman was not prosecuted.   

In the media, this was reported with a clear tone of approbation, hailing the gritty heroism of the young mom, and the woman, without any hesitation or apparent remorse, declared that she would do the same thing again if need be.  My friend on Facebook (whose response was fairly typical of most readers) linked to the story as a case of why gun laws and self-defence laws in the US were so great; in France or England, he said, the woman would be prosecuted (for the record, this is not quite true: both French and English law permit the use of reasonable and proportionate force in self-defence and defence of one’s home; while gun laws in those countries would certainly limit the range of acceptable weapons that the young woman could have had in her home, she would not have been left without viable options.  And, for the record, there is no indication that these strict gun laws make society more dangerous, as my friend implied; on the contrary, murder rates in the UK and France are 1/4 of the US murder rate).  Others joined into the discussion more or less to vaunt about how this was a fine example of the American way—”if you set foot in my house, I’ll shoot ya!”

But is this a cut-and-dried case of legitimate self-defence?  Not quite.  Of course, before going any further, I should say that my point here is not to impugn the actions of the young mother.  One could hardly have asked her to have been less trigger-happy in such a terrifying situation, and no equitable legal authority, it seems to me, should prosecute her.  Nonetheless, there is a difference between the right thing to do and what is understandable and forgivable, and the gloating response of most readers of the story suggests a disturbing lack of ethical sensibility. So I would like to use this as an opportunity to reflect on what law and ethics ought to say about such cases in general, not to cast any blame in the woman in this particular case (especially as I know far too little about the details of the case to be certain if the conditions discussed below were met or not).


There are, it seems to me, potentially four different levels at which to consider this question—the ethical ideal, the ethical permissibility, the legal permissibility, and the legal enforcement (though these will not always be different).  The first concerns the question: what is the morally best response, from a Christian perspective at any rate?  I confess that I am still not clear on the answer to this question.  Most of the Christian ethical tradition has always considered killing in self-defense to be perfectly appropriate, but I have never been entirely comfortable with this conclusion, or with the arguments usually used to reach it; certainly, the New Testament and the earliest Christian tradition do not seem to share this perspective.  Of course, it might be argued that the young woman was killing in defence of another—her infant son—which all but pacifists would endorse as the right thing to do, but this is perhaps not a strictly accurate description, given the apparent intentions of the intruders (However, if it turns out it was a matter of defending her son, not herself, that would not change any of the principles below, I don’t think).  On the whole, my (unsettled) view is that to kill in self-defence is not morally ideal, but it may well be morally permissible, which is to say it can be done without sin.  

However, for it to be an un-sinful action, certain conditions would have to be met, among which the following four appear to me particularly salient: (1) there is strong indication that the assailant intends to do potentially mortal harm to you; (2) there is no escape route; (3) the assailant is warned of his peril, and given every opportunity to reconsider and retreat; (4) the intention is to simply to stop the assailant, not to kill him unless that is absolutely necessary (e.g., if you are pinned down with no escape route and he is armed with a gun, in which case merely disabling him might not neutralize the threat).  I do not know all the details of this situation, but it appears that only the first two conditions were met—there was good reason to believe the assailants intended to attack her, not merely her property, and because there were two of them, one on each side of the small house, there was no escape route.  However, it does not appear that the third condition was met, since (a) the assailants were armed only with one knife between them, and would have been rash indeed to continue the attack if they knew they were up against a pistol and 12-gauge shotgun, (b) the second assailant fled as soon as he heard the sound of gunfire, suggesting that this was not something they were prepared to face, and (c) the first assailant was shot as soon as he broke down the front door.  Nor does it appear that the fourth condition was met, given that (a) he seems to have been killed immediately, and (b) the woman implied in subsequent interviews that she had fully intended to kill him.

Now, what should the law say?  Well, my first instinct is to say that the law ought to approximate the moral permissibility as much as is possible.  This will not always be the case (there are certainly a number of things that we would say are morally impermissible, which the law ought not to attempt to regulate), but when we are talking about matters of life and death, the law should be concerned to draw the line right at the point of moral impermissibility.  Now, I say “as much as is possible,” because many of the factors that might make a given action morally unacceptable may be beyond the reach of the law to accurately determine.  In this case, however, I think we would want to say that a good law would for the use of reasonable and proportionate force in self-defence—which is to say that, to the extent that one’s person genuinely was (or genuinely appeared to be) threatened, and to the extent that force was one’s only (or only reliable) recourse, to that extent, force is justified.  So, if an intruder is unarmed (and otherwise unlikely to be capable of inflicting mortal harm), deadly force would not be justified; and if an assailant can be disabled or otherwise eluded without deadly force, deadly force would not be justified.  Now, as a principle, the standard of reasonable or proportionate force may be difficult to apply in particular circumstances, but it seems a good legal principle, more ethical at any rate than the so-called “Castle Doctrine,” operative in Oklahoma and most US states, which allows a homeowner to employ deadly force against any intruder believed to have unlawful intent, with no duty to take advantage of an opportunity for retreat. 

As it turns out, the biblical guidance we have on the subject appears to bear out my first instinct here (always nice when that happens, eh?).  In the Old Testament law, which, while not always functioning as a good guide to ethical ideals, often serves as a good indicator of what should be considered morally permissible, or at any rate, worth socially tolerating, we have a case law that bears directly on this in Exodus 22:1-3.  This case law stipulates that if a thief is killed breaking into a house at night, the killer will not be held guilty before the law; however, if he is killed in the day, it will be homicide.  The Jubilee Foundation has an excellent discussion of the intention and application of this law, and how it might apply to contemporary issues of self-defence.  The gist, however, appears to be that at night (before artificial lighting), a homeowner will probably not know the intention or the threat posed by an intruder, and will probably not be in a position to seek assistance if he or his family is mortally threatened.  Therefore, he is permitted to kill first, ask questions later.  However, if it is daylight, then he is in a better position to assess the threat, to escape, or to seek assistance, and may only kill in direct self-defence, not merely  because an intruder has broken into his home.  Now, of course the application of this law will be somewhat different in a modern setting, when we have firearms, 911, and electric lights.  The general principle, however, seems to be that (1) deadly force is only justified in defence of life, or when there is good reason to believe that life is being threatened, and no time to determine clearly if it is or isn’t; (2) deadly force is not justified when mere property is being threatened, or when one may ensure one’s safety without deadly force; (3) when in doubt, the law should give the benefit of the doubt to the person attacked. 

This last point leads to the last question, that of legal enforcement.  In the Old Testament law just mentioned, law-as-written and law-as-enforced are elided, since what we have here is a case law, and a system in which justice simply does not exist outside of its concrete administration by local judges.  For us today, the concrete administration of justice is separated from the creation of legislation, and it is in the administration of justice that the important principle of “equity” comes in—the idea that it is not always necessary or helpful to impose the full rigour of the law, given the circumstances.  This is important in the Oklahoma case before us.  To my mind, the Oklahoma law (which follows the Castle Doctrine) is unjust.  The young woman’s actions (killing as first resort, not last resort) were also unjust.  However, no equitable judge should punish her for them.  She was 18, had been widowed the previous week, had a infant child, and was alone and terrified at night.  Did she fail to warn the intruders that she had a gun and was prepared to shoot simply because she was scared, or because she wanted to kill them?  Perhaps we will never know.  But she should be given the benefit of the doubt, and considered to have acted in what seemed to her at the time the only way to defend herself.


Nonetheless, excusing her action is not the same as praising it, glorying in it, or using it as proof that every citizen should be armed and empowered with sweeping rights to kill in defence of self and property. 

A Constantinian Showdown

 Yes, believe it or not, I am still alive.  But I am on vacation, and my brain has completely shut down and refused to produce blog-worthy ideas.  

However, I can point you to where some real blogging action is–or was–I’m a week or two behind. 

Ben Witherington recently produced a lengthy series of posts reviewing Peter Leithart’s groundbreaking recent book, Defending Constantine–while broadly appreciative and complementary, he was sharply critical on several points, as one might expect, given that he is a pacifist.  Leithart’s responses to his objections are particularly fascinating, and very relevant to the recent discussion about retributive justice here.  Leithart’s final post, “Loving Enemies” offers a frank confession of the difficulties of a Christian just war position, which he nonetheless feels compelled to cling to.  My own thoughts on this subject are very similar to what Leithart voices in this fantastic post.

Here are the links:

Witherington Intro
Witherington 1
Witherington 2
Witherington 3
Witherington 4
Witherington 5
Witherington 6
Witherington 7
Witherington 8 

Leithart 1: “Guarding the Garden”
Leithart 2: “Crushing Heads”
Leithart 3: “Protoeuangelium”
Leithart 4: “Warrior Messiah”
Leithart 5: “Marcion”
Leithart 6: “Loving Enemies” 

If you’re eager for more action, this just in–the AAR conference this fall in San Francisco will host a dialogue/debate between Leithart and Stanley Hauerwas over Defending Constantine.  If I weren’t already going, I might buy a plane ticket just to see that!

Giving Our Enemies Blood to Drink

How are we to think about violence in the New Covenant?  What does it mean to love our enemies?  In a recent exchange with some friends on Facebook, they argued (Biblically) in defense of the idea that we can take pleasure in the killing of our enemies, at least, assuming those enemies are actually wicked, and thus deserve to be killed.  I sought to emphasize that, whether or not this was appropriate in the Old Covenant, Christ’s command to love our enemies, and his example of sacrificing himself for them, demonstrates that we are to grow up out of such attitudes.  Even if killing enemies is something that must sometimes be done, for the protection of the helpless, it must be done in a spirit of regret and grief, always desiring the best, not the worst, for the one who is slain.  This was part of the response I received:

“First, Jesus makes himself out to be pretty ruthless in his own parables. In the Luke’s version of the parable of the talents, he calls himself a hard master and ends by commanding the execution of his political enemies before his face. No shyness there.

Second, Revelation makes him out to be the same way and tells us how his martyrs see their martyrdom. In chapter 6 the martyred saints cry out impatiently to God for justice. “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” They are told to wait just a little while longer. Their blood is then soon avenged and God’s praises are sung for it. There is no remorse or pity or hesitation when it comes. See 11:17-18, 15:3-4, 16:5-7, and 19:1-4. I will quote from chapter 16: “Just are you, O Holy One, who is and who was, for you brought these judgments. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!”

That’s new covenant stuff. What Jesus does, when he comes back in all his glory, is akin, mechanically speaking, to what the Marine Corps does. He sheds blood. Lots of it. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Jesus isn’t that nice. We don’t need to be, either.”

This problem is not quite as simple as we would like it to be.  In involves reconciling two clear and seemingly contradictory pictures we have in the New Testament.  On the one hand, we have a clear picture of Jesus as coming to die on behalf of those who are his enemies, to receive all the evil they can throw at him and to overcome in love, and teaching his followers to do the same.  On the other hand, another picture, more familiar from the Old Testament, clearly remains: that of a righteous God who must judge His enemies, and whose righteous judgment we are to hail and rejoice in.  The saints in Revelation have done both: they have followed Christ and received martyrdom for witnessing to their foes, and yet now they call for Christ to come and judge these foes, and rejoice in that judgment.  How can we love our enemies and desire their salvation, while also desiring or at any rate rejoicing in their destruction?

Ultimately, this comes down to very fundamental theological questions about we reconcile God’s justice with his mercy.  When we look at only one side of the matter, they can appear to work well together–God’s justice consists in his merciful intervention on behalf of the oppressed.  But then we find that this means being very unmerciful to the oppressors, which bothers us…and even if that’s necessary, it doesn’t seem like something we should be happy about. 

I won’t try to answer the fundamental theological questions about how justice and mercy relate in God himself, but I’ll try to make sense of the question about how we’re to respond to and imitate both.  First of all, we could argue this way: there is a difference between on the one hand, accepting the righteous judgments of God as in fact righteous and praising Him for them, and other the other hand desiring and rejoicing in them before they happen.  Indeed, on one level, we are to learn to praise God for all that happens, even, for instance, the death of a loved one, trusting that His will is right; on the other hand, we do not thereby take joy in the prospect, and we pray that God’s will might be otherwise.  To praise God’s justice once it has manifested itself in the destruction of the wicked is to accept that God’s will is always right; but to desire to see the wicked destroyed and to rejoice in the prospect of that destruction seems contrary to Christ’s commands that we are to love our enemies, and seek their good and their conversion.  Could we distinguish this way–we don’t desire the deaths of the wicked, but if they are slain, we rejoice that God’s will is done?

It would be nice if we could solve the problem this simply, but I don’t know that it is that simple.  Certainly in the Old Testament, there is plenty of praying for the destruction of the wicked, and as my friend pointed out, this does not disappear entirely in the New Testament–the martyrs in Revelation do not merely praise the judgment that has already happened, but actively call upon God to enact His vengeance in Rev. 6:9-11.  Does the Sermon on the Mount then merely mean that we are not to take vengeance ourselves, but we are still to secretly desire vengeance against our enemies, and call upon God to enact it?  This interpretation, however, runs counter to the standard interpretation which tries to rescue the legitimacy of self-defense from the Sermon on the Mount–”Jesus doesn’t really mean not to resist evil, or to accept the violence of the wicked against us, only that we should be willing in our hearts to do so, free from all malice and vindictiveness.”  Is Jesus talking about heart, outward actions, or both?  To me, it seems it must be both.

The tension we are wrestling with also appears in Romans 12:19-21: “Beloved, do not avenge yourselvesm but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.  Therefore, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him: If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’  Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Interpreters have been deeply divided on this passage for centuries, and the hinge is what we understand by “coals of fire.”  The majority of interpreters have understood this as a metaphor for “burning shame” or something along those lines (and there are good reasons for such a reading); others, however, have insisted that it must be divine judgment, as the most natural reading of the image would suggest.   The latter then read the passage as saying, more or less, “Do not take vengeance on your own account, rather, do good to your enemies so that you may heap up more judgment against them, so that God can let loose on them in his wrath.”  The former, however, insist that such an attitude turns the doing good into a wicked hypocrisy, and doesn’t sound like overcoming evil with good at all; the reminder to leave vengeance to God is not then to be understood as desiring that vengeance upon the foe, but rather, of leaving the matter to God’s vengeance in confidence that He will be more merciful than we would be inclined to be.  

Perhaps we could settle things with a distinction like this: we must seek the good of our own enemies, not seeking vengeance upon them and instead desiring their good, but we may and should desire the destruction of God’s enemies.  It is not for their own sake that the martyrs in Revelation desire vengeance, but for the vindication of God himself.  I think we certainly want to affirm something like this, however, this still leaves us unsatisfied.  Shouldn’t we desire the conversion of even God’s enemies before we desire their destruction, and aren’t we to lament if destruction is left as the only alternative?

Such appears to be the attitude of Jesus.  My friend pointed me to the example of Jesus harshly commanding the destruction of his enemies in several parables, and while clearly this is present, we must not forget the grief with which Jesus anticipates this destruction.  We musn’t forget powerful passages such as these: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34) or “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).  Jesus brings judgment upon those that will not repent, but hopes for another outcome, prays for another outcome, and grieves that they will be slain, even though He himself will be the agent of that slaying. 

Our attitude, it seems, cannot be any different from this.  We desire the death of the wicked only as a we desire the amputation of a diseased limb; we would much rather that the limb be healed, and we grieve at the prospect of amputation.  But if it will not be healed, we accept the amputation, and in a sense, rejoice in it.  Living this out in practice seems difficult, but it seems that we must seek a mindset something like this.


There is a related question on this whole subject that deserves some investigation, and through which we can perhaps draw closer to an answer to this first question: to what extent can we see ourselves as agents of God’s wrath?  (The original question on Facebook, I should clarify, was whether we could rejoice not merely in the death of enemies, but in our own slaying of them.)   In the past, I have drawn something like the following distinction: there are pacifists who say that we shouldn’t kill because God is a God of peace, and there are pacifists who say that we shouldn’t kill because God reserves that right to Himself.  I don’t really see how to reconcile the former with the Bible.  I have tended to lean toward something like the latter, although never absolutely.  I have argued something like this: the reason we can accept things like the purge of the Canaanites in the Old Covenant but can insist that we can no longer kill in this way is because we no longer are delegated with the task of exercising God’s judgment.  The wicked deserve God’s wrath (although he often shows mercy), and in the Old Covenant, God calls upon the people of Israel to be instruments of that wrath.  However, when Christ came, God as man, the Judge judged in our place, he took upon himself the task of judgment, and inaugurated the final judgment.  Henceforth, God no longer delegates to us men the task of executing His wrath, but calls on us to leave that to him.  

But I’ve always been somewhat uncomfortable with this paradigm, because it suggests that we have been demoted, rather than promoted, in the New Covenant.  Rather than maturing and being given more responsibility, we hand back to God responsibility which He has entrusted to us.  Peter Leithart suggests the opposite paradigm in the final chapter of his forthcoming book, Defending Constantine:

“The first covenant, the covenant with angels, was a childhood covenant.  Swords are sharp, and fire burns, and so long as human beings were in their minority, the Lord restricted access to dangerous implements….With the coming of the conquering Seed of the Woman, the sword and fire of angels are given back to a man, to Jesus.  In union with her husband and head, the church is a warrior bride, called to carry out his wars in and with him….In fact, we receive weapons even more powerful than the weapons of a Samson or a David.  We have the Spirit of the risen and exalted Jesus, the Last Adam who has eaten from the tree of knowledge, and our weapons are not fleshly but Spiritual, powerful for demolishing fortresses and destroying speculations raised up against the knowledge of God.  Our armor is righteousness, truth, faith, salvation, the Word of God and the gospel of peace.”

Perhaps this points us towards a solution.  We still fight Yahweh’s wars for him against his enemies, but love is stronger than death, and now that Yahweh fights against his enemies by sending his Son to die for them, so we fight them by dying for them.  We overcome them by loving them, and their overcoming is their conversion, not their death.  These lines get blurred even in Revelation, where the sword that proceeds out of the mouth of the Son (19:15) tantalizingly suggests the Word that is sharper than any two-edged sword, and where the blood from the chalice given to the wicked to drink seems to recall the shed blood of the Eucharist.  Of course, there is still vengeance; I don’t think we can get around that.  But this vengeance still falls first of all on the Son who bears it for his enemies, and who laments when it rebounds back upon them.

 If we ever do find ourselves having to slay the enemies of our God, first of all, we’d best make sure that they really are his enemies, and not just our enemies.  And second, we must recognize this as a failure in some sense, a failure to have brought them to reconciliation before the final wrath of God’s judgment comes.  When that day of judgment comes, we welcome it as a display of God’s righteousness, but in the meantime, we try to make sure that as few opponents of God as possible remain to fall under it.

This is not a complete answer, of course, but it seems to me to help us get in the right direction.  I welcome any input or challenges anyone has on these questions.