Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man." Considered the father of nonviolence, Gandhi taught and modeled a provocative concept: we were created to practice nonviolence as a way of life in the world.
The Hindi word that Ghandi uses, Ahimsa, is translated as nonviolence in English, but it implies more than avoidance of physical violence. Ahimsa implies total nonviolence in a person’s head, heart, words, and body. It means controlling our words and not speaking violence toward someone as much as not committing bodily harm. Gandhi also translates ahimsa as love. If you have love toward somebody and you respect that person, then you are not going to do any harm to them.
There were certainly critics of nonviolence during Gandhi’s days. Many felt that nonviolence would not fix the problems of the world. Indian elites and politicians alike didn’t think ahimsa would help liberate India from British rule. If they peacefully responded force now, wouldn’t they be more susceptible to force in the future? Wouldn’t a posture of nonviolence mean they were cowards? Was a commitment to nonviolence akin to being a doormat, or worse, a justification for continuing the oppression of vulnerable peoples? Gandhi didn’t think so.
Instead, for Gandhi, nonviolence is a living force of power. No one has or will ever be able to measure its limits. The one who possesses nonviolence is blessed. It is a rare gift to see and believe in ahimsa (nonviolence) in the midst of a world raging with hate (himsa). Violence creates more problems than it solves. When we believe we were created to practice nonviolence as a way of life in the world, we create possibilities for true reconciliation, healing, and liberation instead of leaving a trail of bitterness and hatred.
Though Gandhi was not a Christian, his understanding of nonviolence is inherently biblical. Jesus, our prince of Peace, came to disrupt our cycles of violence with compassion, solidarity, and perseverance. He calls us to do the same. I hope that this StoryArc on nonviolence will inspire and equip you to follow Jesus’ way of nonviolence in our present age. In the midst of racial injustice, sexism and misogyny, gun violence and more, we followers of Jesus need to recover a biblical theology of nonviolence and pursue restoration in ways that cultivate holistic and redemptive transformation.