Djesus Uncrossed vs. Christ Crucified #progGOD

I was gearing up to write a post about the slaughter of the Canaanites, a topic that came up in my class today. And then I finally got around to watching this Saturday Night Live video, “Djesus Uncrossed,” which several blogs I read had already shared:

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I could not help but connect the two, since the same themes – the use of violence, morality, Old Testament vs. New Testament, all come up in connection with this as well. And this connects up with Tony Jones’ question about progressive Christian answers to the question “Why the crucifixion?” And so what follows is my contribution to that discussion as well.

The video above should be related to the quotation from Brian McLaren I shared yesterday, since the “revenge of Jesus” scenario in the video is in fact the very one McLaren was talking about, just pushed different distances into the future. And so, while some may find the video offensive, it actually gets at a very serious question – and in fact, those who find it offensive may feel that way precisely because it is exposing some problematic assumptions about Jesus and violence.

Is Jesus the crucified someone who was committed to nonviolence in the face of death in principle? Or do you think of Jesus as someone who underwent death just to be able to justify more effectively a violent retaliation against his enemies at some later point? That is certainly how Bryan Fischer sees things:

The role of humans allegedly carrying out God’s judgment through violent means is a key component in the account of the conquest in the Book of Joshua as well. One of my students mentioned in class today that Joshua essentially has the role of a divinely-appointed “hit man.” That observation ought to lead to a question about the concept of God that is presupposed. God seems not to be depicted as an all-powerful entity who can be left to take care of his own battles, annihilating the Canaanites himself so as to leave the land open for the Israelites to enter without having to wage war themselves. Some group of human beings is apparently felt to be required to bring about the punishment of the Canaanites. Or, if their involvement is not in fact essential, then that is perhaps even more disturbing, since it suggests that this is a sort of training exercise in the art of killing the disobedient, something that they are apparently to make a custom.

From any sort of Christian perspective, this ought to be felt to be disturbing. And it is not enough to find fast apologetics-style “answers” along the lines of “it is God’s land anyway” and “God can do whatever God wishes with sinful, disobedient humans who deserve what they get.” None of that gets at the heart of the matter, which is that most of us would find it deeply disturbing were anyone today to make the sorts of claims the Book of Joshua does, and then to wage a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the way the Israelites are there depicted as acting there. There are some books (and even some longer online resources) that really wrestle with these texts from a conservative Christian perspective, and anyone wanting to tackle the issue needs to treat the texts with that level of seriousness. Anyone who thinks that stories about mass slaughter can be justified with single-sentence or even web page length answers is, in my opinion, not treating the matter with the seriousness it is due.

From my own progressive Christian perspective, the meaning of the crucifixion is that justice is not always done in the way that we as human beings hope, and that the appropriate response is not to keep hoping that such retributive justice will be done, but to embrace the path that finally accepts this outcome fully and stops longing for vengeance.

In the story told in the New Testament Gospels, Jesus is not welcomed, his message is not embraced, and the kingdom he predicts does not dawn. His followers respond in various ways, including pushing his vindication into a spiritual realm, and pushing it into the not-too-distant or the undefined future, or some combination of the above. None of those attempts to make sense of what happened are inherently binding on Christians. The diversity of explanations and attempts to make sense of what happened to Jesus, and what didn’t happen in the decades that followed, leave room for us to offer our own perspectives and interpretations into the conversation.

But what does actually happen in the years and centuries following the crucifixion is also to be noted. Jesus’ message of human transformation through non-violence eventually “conquers” even Rome, whose representatives generations earlier had put him to death. That happens through a much larger number of people being willing to be true to their principles without retaliating. And so part of the message of the cross is that it is better to “fail” true to your principles than to sacrifice the principles in order to “win.” This recent cartoon from ASBO Jesus puts it well:

The message of the cross is that failure while being faithful to our moral convictions is greater than a so-called success that sacrifices them. From a Christian perspective, this sort of “failure” ought to be the only thing we consider success. And our hope should not be that eventually we’ll get to see our opponents suffer, but that eventually we’ll get to see them transformed, through love and non-violence, into friends. That is the sort of victory Christians should hope for.

What do readers think? Would you agree that “success” is faithfulness even unto death, and “victory” is seeing enemies become friends through persistence in love?

Of related interest around the blogosphere, see also David Hayward’s cartoon about holding Jesus hostage, Tony Jones’ post responding to Frank Schaeffer about progressive Christianity, Roger Olson on why he is not a conservative or fundamentalist, and Bo Sanders on liberals and progressives.

 

  • David Stump

    If one takes seriously the idea that sacred stories aren’t meant to be simplistically didactic, that they don’t have single straightforward interpretations which then fit together with the meanings of their companion stories into a single coherent narrative, then interpretation become much harder. It is not uncommon to suspect that is a big reason for the push for simplistic meta-narratives. If such sacred stories are meant to be wrestled with, to both inspire and offend, to wear down our superficial responses and expose deeper hang-ups, concerns, and feelings that we hide even from ourselves, then it isn’t just harder but more painful to reflect and keep them in our hearts as well as our minds.

    If we add in all of the historical and cultural context, we can get a better intellectual idea about what was revolutionary or different than the social landscape from which images of God, Heaven, divinity, etc emerged. But what about the emotional content? The visceral reaction stemming from suspension of disbelief when we enter into a story so deeply that it becomes real to us? In what way can we or will we allow ourselves to experience that? The idea of getting rid of dangerous undesirables, of wanting retribution for offenses against us and our group, and so on may be seem repellant but the same impulse to become defensive and divisive is still with us. Maybe it isn’t that we are so different but that we see too much similarity between ourselves and the group of merry marauders Joshua leads throughout the promised land. Maybe those of us in the US and Canada could ask the indigenous populations about that. What’s left of them anyway.

    Looking back to the related post about the McLaren quote, honestly, having Jesus and the saints return to Earth to punish the unrepentant follows a story arc that is common in the Hebrew scripture:

    1. God sacrifices something of herself in act an act of creation/renewal, to
    bring something new and beautiful into existence. This can range from
    the universe itself to nation, such as Israel. A relationship is formed
    between God and humans.

    2. Humans take this relationship for granted, exploit it, or neglect it.

    3. God allows people tries to warn the people involved of the
    consequences of their actions, typically through angels or prophets,
    promising blessings if they repent and wrathful judgment if they do not.
    They are called to do love God and their neighbors as themselves, to be
    generous and peaceful, to forgo revenge and jealousy, etc., as
    vengeance and justice belong to God alone.

    4. Humans continue to violate and abuse their relationship with God and
    ignoring his pleas more a caring and peaceful way of life, so God
    becomes angry and pours out his judgment on those who have offended him.
    The people suffer greatly. This is typically symbolized by expulsion
    from some sacred place (the Garden, Jerusalem, etc.) and at times
    captivity (Egypt, Babylon, etc.).

    5. The people are humbled and consciously or unconsciously cry out to God for deliverance.

    6. God hears their pleas for mercy, takes away his wrath from them and
    turns it against their enemies, thus liberating the people. God adds to
    their blessings (akin to step #1) and also gives a warning that they
    must not forget what has happened and harm their relationship with God
    again.

    If we view Jesus as a prophet in that same tradition, his (first) appearance would be akin to step #3. Steps #4-6 are the basis for some fairly common Christian eschatology, with the exception that this is to be the “final” time through this cycle. It’s easy to see why some early Christian communities, being so heavily rooted in or influenced by messianic Judaism, would adopt such a view and why sacrificial theology involving substitionary atonement would make sense to taking this view in a very serious way. Not that there aren’t/weren’t other options even within this framework.

    Given that the Gospel writers poured the hopes and dreams of Hebrew scripture and tradition into the portrayal of Jesus, and given the diversity of ways this new lens was used in early Christian communities as portrayed by the letters of the New Testament and other sources, one could ask whether or not the issue of being faithful in (proximate) failure and being loving and peaceful is really the beginning and middle as well as the end-game of Jesus/Christianity. Or is that view just one thread in a tapestry of interpretation that suits a particular set of people in a the contemporary social landscape?

    • Bob Demyanovich

      Lens viewing is a distortion. Perhaps the inverse is true. Consideration of behaviors without bias is an
      altruistic fallacy. The purported pure
      investigator will finally espouse opinions of their findings. Behaviors, outcomes prove validity or
      failure. Human being is subject to the
      fatal outcome of death. Truth imparted
      by an eternal entity can be identified by that quality. Human being is an exercise of choice. Those who do not believe may obtain pleasure
      through their lifespan of consumption in a world of the same. Literacy is the intention to preserve and propagate
      beyond the spatial life existence.
      Belief is the enabler for evaluation and measurement to prove truth. There is truth that outlives unbelief and
      fallacy.

  • Lightseeker

    James, you asked, “Would you agree that “success” is faithfulness even unto death, and “victory” is seeing enemies become friends through persistence in love?”
    I completely agree with you on this. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and not to resist evil (i.e., not to react with violence or evil in return, which just begets more of the same). Even Shakespeare got it; the best way to tame a shrew was to “kill her with kindness.”
    When we read the stories of the Old Testament, or any “holy scriptures” that we are told are divinely inspired, I think it’s absolutely fine to wrestle with the text and ask questions. After all, divinely inspired scriptures are designed to stir the pot, get us thinking and perceiving on multiple levels, far more than the literal word. We need to read and discern them through the lens of love. If the words come from a place of love and not fear or hate, then I’d say the words are truly divinely inspired. If the words seem to come from a place of fear or hate, I’d seriously question exactly what “inspired” those words. The desire for vengeance or retaliation, or to destroy that which one judges as evil and threatening to one’s way of life are very HUMAN desires and reactions. I’d surmise such words are not diveinly inspired, but are really projections from the human ego onto that particular author’s idea of how they want God to act and be like. This tendency to project human desires or perceptions onto God or others is why we’re taught that vengeance belongs to God (the ancient belief that God caused bad things to happen as punishment for disobedience to Him) and why we are not to judge others (only God knows the entire big picture regarding a human soul or those of a tribe or nation),
    Therefore, as Jesus led by example, it’s fine to be indignant and attempt to educate those you feel might be wrong or straying from God’s will for us (to live harmoniously in peace and love) — especially regarding the unjust treatment of fellow human beings. But do it from a place of love, with the greater good in mind, to bring about a transformation within them — which only happens by God’s grace in the proper time and way for each person. It is by this internal transformation, brought about by love, that allows one to become a vessel to bring the love, peace, and light (or wisdom) of God into the world. The Kingdom arrives on Earth through each of us, one human heart at a time.


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