A hope for the end of gender-based violence

Nicholas Koning1

The evil of gender-based violence (GBV) is a pervasive social monster. A satisfactory solution to the problem would therefore need to be all-pervasive, and to possess a beauty that outshines the darkness of GBV. I know of no reality that matches up to these requirements as well as the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God is the reality that occupied Jesus’ teaching and ministry—I like to think of the kingdom as Jesus’ big idea. The Gospel of Mark (1:14-15) introduces and summarizes Jesus’ ministry in the following way, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel.’ ” This quote serves to demonstrate both that the gospel according to Jesus centres on the coming of the kingdom, and that, according to the report of Mark, Jesus’ entire ministry was kingdom oriented.

Unfortunately, we do not understand the phrase kingdom of God the way Jesus’ Galilean Jewish hearers would have understood it. This is because we live in a different religious and political climate, with very different discussions taking place. So we must ask, “What is this kingdom of God?”2

The kingdom of God is the dynamic reign of God as king. It would be legitimate to speak of the kingdom of God as the kingship of God. The kingdom of God comes when God takes up his sovereignty and power so that righteousness, justice, and peace come about in the world. The kingdom of God is God having his way in the world so that everything is made to be the way he intends for it to be.

Jesus doesn’t merely tell us about this kingdom, as though it were some distant, abstract idea. On the contrary, he initiates the kingdom, so that in his life we see the kingdom actualized in our midst (see Luke 17:21). For this reason, in the life of Jesus we see the reality of the kingdom of God. What we see is the demon-possessed liberated from their bondage (Mark 1:21f); the sick healed of many diseases (Mark 1:29f); lepers cleansed (Mark 1:40f); a paralytic forgiven of his sin and healed (Mark 2:1f; the dead raised (Mark 5:21f); the hungry fed (Mark 6:30f); and the blind given sight (Mark 7:31f). That is what the world looks like when the kingship of God breaks into our midst (see Matt. 11:1–6). In the depths of the valley of our evil and chaos, it is only in the heights of the kingdom of God that we dare to set our hope for a definitive, world-changing solution.

With specific reference to the dark valley of GBV, we see through the ministry of Jesus that those who are vulnerable in the way of the world are valued in the kingdom. This is a special emphasis of the Gospel of Luke, but since I have started on Mark, let me demonstrate this point from that Gospel. In Mark 5, Jesus delays a very urgent request from an influential man to heal a desperate, poor woman; in Mark 14, a women is praised as an example of devotion—the narrative juxtaposes her devotion with the treachery of Judas; in Mark 15, the only disciples who stay with Jesus in the weakness of his death are the women; in Mark 16, the first people to proclaim the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection are women. These accounts affirm the value and the dignity of women in the kingdom of God. They show that the justice, righteousness, and peace which have come with the kingdom include justice, righteousness, and peace for women. The contrast of these accounts with the plight of women in South Africa is stark. Their hope for women shines bright.

Perhaps at this point your question is, “If Jesus has actualized this kingdom of God in our midst, then why do the evils of GBV still exist? Should not the kingdom have eradicated this evil?” The answer is that, while Jesus initiated the kingdom, he didn’t bring the kingdom in its full and final power. In Mark 4, Jesus tells his famous parables of the kingdom. In the parable of the mustard seed, the timing of the kingdom is well illustrated. In this parable the kingdom begins like a tiny mustard seed—that’s what we experience now—but the mustard seed grows into a great big tree with huge branches for the birds—that is what we will experience at his return. The time for the kingdom to overwhelm and outrun evil in a full and final sense is not yet upon us.

And so, in this time of the mustard seed kingdom, evil continues. Even in the church there is sometimes grave evil. Everyone knows of stories of the abuse of women and children in the church that send shivers of horror down your spine. This evil is a painful reminder that we live in the in-between time, the time when the age of salvation overlaps and mixes with the present evil age.

The initiated-but-not-completed nature of the kingdom, what theologians have sometimes called the age of already-but-not-yet, means that our response to the evil of GBV must include both protest and patience. It is this combination of protest and patience that characterizes the Christian’s stance towards society regarding GBV.

The kingdom has been brought into our midst by Jesus, and those who follow Jesus must advance the cause of the kingdom. This involves protest, but not just any protest. We must call out the evil of GBV for what it is, and we must hold out the hope of healing, transformation, justice and peace in the kingdom. We cannot simply call people to correct their evil ways; we must call them to correct their evil ways in submission to the kingship of God. Our protest must point people to the good news that the solution to the problem of GBV is that God reigns, and that he will complete his reign.

Desmond Tutu wrote, “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” The kingdom calls us to act for justice, righteousness and peace. Living as disciples of the kingdom necessarily involves seeking to advance its cause of justice, righteousness and peace by calling people to hope in it. And in a world where the elephant of male power has its foot on the tail of female vulnerability, the voice of the kingdom must be heard.

But as we protest, there must be patience. We are weak to fix the world, but Christ is strong. For this reason we patiently wait for him to bring the kingdom of God finally and fully, at which time all evil, including that of GBV, will be judged, and those who have given their allegiance to the kingdom of God will live in a new society of justice. This patience isn’t a hopeless resignation; it is a hopeful action, because we know that when Jesus returns GBV certainly will come to an end. We pray with Christians throughout the ages, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

However, the kingdom does not exist only at the level of societies, where we respond with protest and patience; it also exists at the level of individual persons, where we respond personally with faith and repentance.

This is so because of the root cause of GBV. The problem of GBV has many complex causes, but the root cause is the defilement of the human heart: sin. In Mark 7:20–23 Jesus says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Evil is not only a problem “out there”; it is also a problem “in here”. Each of us individually needs the power of the kingdom of God to do its work in our hearts. The big thing that God is doing out there in the world through his kingdom must disrupt the evil in here and transform us individually. Jesus calls us to respond to this. He says, “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). In other words, live with your trust and your hope in the kingdom of God in a life of turning away from evil and seeking righteousness. Our acceptance into the kingdom is made possible by the crucifixion of Jesus. His death establishes the kingdom of God and secures our forgiveness so that we can become not only citizens of God’s kingdom, but also members of his family.3

The lives of those who have their hope and their trust set upon the kingdom will be transformed by the kingdom. One significant change will come as they turn away from the use of power and influence to benefit themselves at great cost to others and instead become human beings who use power and influence to benefit others at great cost to themselves. Like Jesus, who died to save the citizens of his kingdom, we will be transformed to live and lead in service (Mark 9:33-37; 10:32-45). The way of the kingdom is contrary to the way of the world. The way of the kingdom is for male power to be used for the loving service of women.

Surrounded and inhabited by the pervasive darkness of sin as it expresses itself in GBV, we must dare to hope in the kingdom of God, which Jesus has initiated. It must transform us individually so that we live by its ways, and it must be our cause as we protest GBV. Above all, it must give us hope, for its citizens will live in a renewed society of justice, peace, and righteousness.

1This series of articles is adapted from a series of talks hosted by FOCUS at the University of Johannesburg.

2This is a long-debated question that occupies the pages of many books. My description is minimalist in the sense that it describes only the aspect of the kingdom of God that is universally agreed upon by Gospel scholars. It is possible, even likely, that the phrase also includes the idea of a realm, or of a coming time in history.

3The death of Jesus for sinners speaks to our value to God. Men (like women) are created in the image of God and have been redeemed by God. This means that #MenAreTrash is not true if by saying that we are denying the value of men. However, as Madhush previously pointed out, #MenAreTrash well highlights our sinfulness and allows the voices of the marginalised to be heard.