Thursday, February 06, 2014
The scapegoat theory’s basic idea is that God the Father doesn’t demand Jesus’ blood as the price for humanity’s sin, but that we humans needed Jesus to be our scapegoat so that we could be liberated from our sin ... Yes, Jesus’ death is a payment for my sin, but God doesn’t need to see the blood to be okay with me; I need to see the blood to be okay with God.This sounds very much like the kind of thing I myself said in my essay Penal Substituion vs. Christus Victor that I wrote many years ago. There I write,
My concern with both of these statements (both mine and his) is that they could be interpreted as meaning that God allowed Jesus to die to appease our need for satisfaction, to appease our need for payback justice. If we have a problem with the idea that God would need to be appeased with the blood of an innocent before he could love us (as both Morgan and I both do), it is equally wrong for us to demand the same. It would be profoundly immoral for God to indulge this desire of ours.God does not need the cross to forgive us or love us. Jesus forgave and loved people before the cross. But some of us needed the cross to be able to really accept that forgiveness. God does not need the cross to love us: God has always loved us. But many of us needed the cross to really grasp that.
That's what I see as a fundamental problem with Abelardian moral influence theory: It is a nice idea that we are moved by the love of God, but if Jesus died a brutal and violent death just so that we could be moved, then frankly that would be really sick.
So then, that brings us to the question: If we should not think of the death of Jesus as appeasing us, how does Girardian theory work exactly? What does it mean to say that "we humans needed Jesus to be our scapegoat so that we could be liberated from our sin"? How would that liberate us exactly? I think Morgan gets it right when he says,
It was humanity who needed to crucify Jesus so that we could be convicted by seeing our wickedness made plain and naked before us.Let's unpack that dynamic a bit more: The idea of scapegoating is that the people believe that the person being blamed and condemned and punished is in fact bad and guilty. They deserve it. Roman crucifixion, just like our own practice of capital punishment today, was intended to be the fulfillment of justice. What the cross shows is that the one who has been condemned by the authorities is in fact innocent and good and holy and that those authorities (both religious and political) are in fact not just and not good. It reveals the injustice of our justice system based on retribution. Thus Paul writes, that Christ "having disarmed the powers and authorities, made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Col 2:15). Seeing Jesus in the place of the victim, in the place of the accused, of the criminal, unmasks the injustice of the system, and to the extent that we have embraced that system of retribution as good, it unmasks our hurtfulness, too.
When Jesus says "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Mt 7:13) The common Christian interpretation is to associate this with being a Christian vs. a non-Christian. The "broad road" is thus the one of drinking and sex and sin, and the narrow road is for those who have "accepted Jesus." But I don't think this is at all what Jesus had in mind when he said it.
The context of this statement (the Sermon on the Mount) is one of Jesus presenting his way of enemy love in contrast to the way of an eye for an eye. It is in the context of Jesus' radical message of undeserved forgiveness. The audience for that message is not primarily those who are outsider "sinners" but insider religious folks who believe in and long for hell and wrath, who believe in punishment and payback as being good and want to see the "bad guys" punished.
The reason that road is wide is because most people believe in payback justice. So the people on that "broad road" are not only the criminals, those who hurt others with their cruelty, those who victimize, but also those who want to see those people suffer for what they have done, those who want to make them pay, those who long for hell. They are on that same broad road because they are swept up in that cycle of violence of hurting and being hurt, that endless spiral of retribution. Our blind-spot is that we think that it's good and we call it "justice." The broad road is thus filled with religious people, with "good" people.
Jesus instead is calling us to the narrow road of compassion and forgiveness and enemy love. He is pleading with us to recognize that blame and payback are killing us. Literally. I saw a documentary recently about how the Russians, when they invaded Berlin in the final days of WWII, had a widespread practice of plundering and raping civilians. Why were they so brutal? One word: Retribution. They had suffered brutality under the Nazis in a way that we Americans had not, and now they wanted retribution. That's a pattern that we see tragically repeated in history over and over again.
So again, when I say it is "killing us" I really do mean literally. People right now kill other people in the name of justice, whether it's a personal vendetta or a state action. We send drones overseas and those drones rip people into ribbons-- often times killing little kids or other innocent bystanders. That's sin. All sorts of people are abused or raped. That's sin. So we don't need to make up a pretend sin problem. There are very real ones right in our neighborhood, and for many of us in our own past. Perhaps we are perpetrators or perhaps we are victims (to some extent we have all hurt others, and been hurt ourselves), but either way we need to get off that treadmill of hurt, and learn to walk in love. That's a very hard road to walk. That's what those two roads are about. That's what Jesus meant.
When Paul speaks of our declaring that "Jesus is Lord" he means that the crucified one is Lord and the one who crucifies (Caesar) is not Lord. It means that the one who appears as a criminal, a failure, as forsaken, damned, blamed, rejected, as the terrorist, the criminal... that one hanging on the cross is the holy and righteous Son of God. In contrast, the one who stands for justice, who is strong and rich and glorious and right... that one is a sham. The whole system is a sham. That's what Paul was doing in proclaiming the crucified one. That's why he said it was "foolishness" and a scandal. It still is.
Jesus calls us to identify with the "least" and with our enemies. By the "least" he does not mean someone we sympathize with, like Dicken's Tiny Tim or poor Cosette from Les Mis. No, the "least" are those who we regard as the least and the lowest. Those we are revolted by and find unworthy. To identify with the crucified is to identify with them. The beauty is that when we can make room in our hearts to love the unlovable that also includes an unconditional embrace of ourselves.