La Résistance

French Résistance

During World War II, the city of Lyon was part of Vichy France (1940-1944) and a center of resistance against French collaboration and NAZI occupation.  On a recent trip to that beautiful and historic city I heard a talk by one of the few living members of the French resistance movement. As a young man, this gentleman was tasked with smuggling weapons past the German soldiers guarding the transportation systems. I was amazed at his stories of defiance, death, and heroism. He has received many honors from his grateful nation for his service. But if you described the actions of the French Résistance, which included theft, assassination, and sabotage, but changed its name and names of its opponents you would think you were learning about a terrorist organization. We so readily admire defiance and resistance when they directed against what we think is an unjust power. Hence it seems that our attitude toward “the resistance” depends on whom it is resisting and to what end.

American Resistance

In contemporary American society we hear much in the media about “The Resistance” movement; or perhaps it’s better described as a “mood.” It’s a mood of defiance and resistance to the current administration, which it pictures as an unjust power in analogy to the opponent fought by the French Résistance. And no doubt its name was chosen for its resonance with that heroic French movement. Resistance and defiance appear honorable and heroic—even when they involve violence, destruction, and hatred—as long as they are directed at the supposed evil and injustice of a greater power. To repeat the principle stated above, our attitude toward “the resistance” depends on the power toward which its opposition is directed and to what end. If you think your cause is just and your opponent’s is evil, you can justify whatever means necessary to succeed at resistance.

Ancient philosophy taught that only “like knows like.” And common sense tells us that only physical forces resist physical forces. Resistance, then, must be of like nature to the thing resisted. The French resistance movement resisted the occupying military and police power with physical force of like nature. The American “resistance” movement resists political power with political power, namely with protest, mobilization, and sometimes violence. To define it crudely but accurately, political power is the legal right to use military and police force to enforce the will of its possessor. It is understandable that people would become distressed when military and police power falls into the hands of their enemies. But we must understand that la résistance whether it has justice on its side or not always meets its enemy with the weapons of its enemy.

Kingdom Resistance

The City of Lyon was founded in 43 B.C. as a military outpost of the Roman Empire. Two centuries later, in 177 A.D, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius instigated a vigorous persecution against the Christian community in Lyon in which its bishop Pothinus was martyred. In 178, Ireneaus (130-200 A.D.) became bishop of the church in Lyon and, in executing the duties of his office, became one of the most influential writers the church has produced. The cause for which Pothinus gave his life and Ireneaus labored exists throughout world today while Marcus Aurelius’ Empire has long since collapsed. Ever since the arrival of Christianity Lyon has been a center of another kind of résistance.

In the New Testament, Christianity is often described in terms that resemble an ideology for resistance, and the church is pictured as a subversive community. However the power we are urged to resist, the means we must use, the type of community we form, and the ends we aim to achieve differ radically from those of the resistance movements discussed above. James, John, Peter, and Paul agree on this:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:11-12).

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (1 John 3:8).

According to the New Testament, our real enemy is not the empire, the current administration, evil corporations, your boss, the opposing political party, the guy who cut you off in traffic, or your abusive neighbor. Our real enemies are sin, death, and the devil. And sin is the central player, because death is but the final outcome of sin and the devil needs sinners to do his work. Jesus is the leader of the real Résistance; for he came to “destroy the devil’s work.” And what is the “devil’s work”? The devil’s work is the hatred, selfishness, envy, jealously, rage, cursing, greed, falsehood, idolatry, lust, and fear that dwell in human hearts not yet touched by Jesus and the Spirit he promised. And how does Jesus destroy it? Jesus and his community resist the devil by returning good for evil and love for hate. His resistance strategy takes the form of resisting the urge to resist power with power, violence with violence, lies with lies, and greed with greed; that is, Jesus breaks the cycle of “like knows like” and shows us how to overcome evil with good.

The church is the Résistance that maintains no army, the kingdom that needs no guns, and the community whose cohesion needs no enemies. It desires no police power and collects no taxes. It invites everyone but forces no one. Its soldiers use only the weapons of truth, faith, love, the Spirit, and the Word of God. It gives life and never takes it. Jesus’ people are willing to suffer but not willing to inflict suffering on others.

In an age of resistance perhaps we should be even more wary of taking the putative justness of our cause as justification for using the means of the enemy against the enemy. Thoughtless resistance to an enemy of “flesh and blood” on earth always involves collaboration with the spiritual adversary “in the heavenly realms.”

Note: The picture above is of the Church of Saint Ireneaus in Lyon, France.

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3 thoughts on “La Résistance

  1. nokareon

    As a Christian community, what criteria can we use to discern whether our place in culture ought to be one of the Benedict Option or resisting and boldly speaking truth to power (as in Martin Luther King Jr.)?

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  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    I doubt that one can answer this question with any precision. In Acts of Apostles the red line was crossed when the authorities demanded believers positively deny the faith or do evil. They seemed not to invoke the right to disobey the authorities simply because their ordinary rights were violated by unjust laws. MLK’s resistance was for the sake of positive rights not because of conscience. I’d say one should be careful in crossing that line. There is more to say…but this decision is based on a spiritual discernment of the nature of the spirit at work in such resistance: is it selfish? Does it honor God? Does it advance the Gospel? Or is it merely worldly?

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  3. Dr Jonne Smalhouse

    This patriarchal theme has been debated for millennia, and may be debated yet, but the underlying thoughts here are important and the author Ifaq, as usual, wishes to bring something completely new to the table. Christians will be well aware of the teachings of Jesus, and the laying down of life before even threatening to kill (a difficult concept allied to “loving your enemy”), one which sits in opposition to any police officer’s oath “to serve and protect with equal force”. There is a big difference between action and intention however, one act might be cruel and vindictive, while another act might be fatal but done with a preserving heartfelt anguish. Until you have been there it is perhaps best not to judge. Patriarchy itself is a myth, and there are many ways of avoiding conflict if we stop lying to ourselves, and then others.
    Jesus always, and without exception teaches us to follow our heart, and to place our heart with Him. Otherwise we risk the judgement ” I never knew you. Out of my sight, your deeds are evil.” And it is this phrase which leads me anew, to put the case for a slight correction to the bible usage in the Ifaq essay.
    Some modern translations of the Ephesians 6 :12 verse use the words “evil in high places”. I intend to explain how this corroborates the argument, but first the translation. The King James, the Aramaic, the Murdock, the NIV, and many more versions use “in high places”. The fascinating reason for this would be the reason that Paul uses this term in the first place, and it is exactly the same as implied in La Resistance, and also in what Jesus says. It is the difference between evil and hatred in the action, and evil and hatred in the governing principle.
    St Paul is quoting the use of the term (used several times) in Ezekiel 6. The prophet refers to the governors of the old City States that existed through Hellenism, the Hittites, and the Canaanite times, it was the religious councils, their wealthy friends and their behaviour that was being described as “evil in high places”. And arguably according to a new theory, the reason behind the Exodus and the name change to Israel. The practices of the ancestors of the Hebrews and just like every living persons’ ancestors – they were brutal, ritual, sacrificial, and abominatious. Although Ezekiel mentions babies and bones, let us not forget how easily lead simple folk are, even to this day. In St Paul’s day, there is evidence of the citadel named Accrocorinth, at Corinth as having 1200 prostitutes living in it! Jesus mentions such behaviour when he talks about giving, tithes and phylacteries. So that what we say is often in opposition to what we think or feel in our heart.
    The question then becomes, is it the evil in people’s hearts or minds, or the evil that people are lead to do that we must fight against? Identifying evil in an invisible heavenly realm may or may not be significant to anyone whose deeds are pure evil (Adolf Hitler). It is the lengths that people go to, in order to lose ‘sight’ of God that we must be aware of. Back in Ephesians Paul bids we put on our Full Armour of God. The importance and practical usefulness of Paul’s analogy cannot be overstated.
    In closing, might we look at the great need for truth in our spiritual defenses or spiritual armour. The ability to see and understand the real truth enables us to expose the spurious reasons behind the instructions that come from government or society. And in this 100th centennary year of the end of the Great War (the war to end all wars), was it with hatred in the hearts of the millions of apalling casualties in the trenches that they killed each other, or was it shear, unadulterated, evil brought about by that first elemental sin of ‘lying’ in the minds of those in high places? Generals and commanders who kidded themselves that their instructions were for a greater good, or an imaginary patriarchal society that had and has no better options?
    When questioned about the nature of lies, in the spirit of Jesus we should answer that “All lies are evil “. All lying is wrong.

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