Welcome to the Girardian Virtual Bible Study! Each week we explore the lectionary passage with the help of René Girard’s insights into human relationships. You can join the GVBS at 10:30 am Central on the Raven Foundation Facebook page. This episode explores John 17: 20 – 26.
Before we begin, check out Adam’s amazing tatoo!
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” — Jesus
The final words of the Easter season are a prayer for unity in a world of division. The world has its own way of creating unity through division, where identity is formed over and against and at the expense of others. “We know we are us because we are not them.” This “unity” has been forged at the expense of the marginalized, the outcast, the designated “enemy.” It is the violent unity of racism, homophobia, and religious bigotry, the formation of communities and cultures and nations with borders that not only shape those inside, but keep others outside. But the shape of the cruciform unity that Jesus gives reaches to the depths and across the breadth of the earth, drawing everyone in.
Violence: Human Division
Why does the world – the world of broken, messy humanity – form unity at the expense of others? Paradoxically, René Girard teaches, it is because we are so interconnected that we learn how to act, who to be, and what to desire from one another. We are formed not in isolation from but in relationship with one-another. This means we need each other.
Unfortunately, it also means that we compete, not only for the things we refuse to share, but to be the people we wish to claim exclusively to be. From the beginning of time, competition for mutual desire has set brother against brother, sister against sister. Proto-humanity would have dissolved in the conflagration of its own escalating violence had it not found a means of coming together. And from the beginning of time, that means has been the scapegoat – the victim whom people – blinded by and to their own violence – blamed as the source for their problems and misery. Girard theorizes that people formed unity out of chaos and violence by spontaneously coming together against a scapegoat and killing the scapegoat together. In the act of cooperation and the relief of purging their violence out of themselves and onto a victim, people felt such a transcendent catharsis that they ascribed divine power to violence.
The false god of violence is a broken relationship – a creation of people seeking to assert and sustain themselves over and against others and finding community by expelling a victim. Humans unite by cutting off a part of themselves. This is brokenness.
Trinity: Divine Unity
Jesus, in his prayer, expresses that the True God is whole, unbroken Relationship. God is Love. This is what the Trinity means.
The Trinity is difficult to understand if we try to parse abstract, metaphysical language. It need not be that complicated! It is a mystery, because God’s love is greater than our limited minds can fathom, but it is also a firm truth and a solid foundation on which we may stand and build our lives.
The “I-You” language that Jesus uses draws distinction, but not separation. Jesus’s Oneness with God the Father, the Source of Love, is reiterated over and over. What this means is that those outside of ourselves are not “other.” I, in my unique body, am not you in your unique body, and yet I am not me without you, and you are not you without me. We are formed in relationship. There is no “them.” There is only “us.”
God the Father has loved Jesus from “before the foundation of the world” – before human culture was born in the violence. Humanity was formed in God’s own image – humanity was formed in Love – to come to know one another.
Because we are formed in relationship, we have mutual desires and needs that lead to competition for possessions and exclusive claims of “firstness” and superiority. But Love is still forming us, transforming our competition into cooperation and our enmity into empathy.
The Glory of God
In a world built on victims, God steps in to become the victim and build a new world on Love.
And how does God build this world? On the cross.
Once again, the world is coming together and asserting itself over and against an enemy. Enemies – Herod and Pontius Pilate – are becoming friends in the mutual condemnation and execution of a victim. People are drawn together in their fear and hatred, destroying a man in whom they see their own destruction. An empire built on violence is killing again.
And God is building a whole new world by taking that hatred into himself and swallowing it in mercy.
“Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory…”
When we think of glory, we might envision a ruler on a throne. Someone we look up to, who is above us. Majesty. Power. But the glory of God draws our eyes upward not to a fearsome deity, but to a condemned man on a cross.
This is not a glorification of suffering itself.
Rather, God shows us God’s glory by becoming One with those whom humanity has excluded and executed.
Every time we have marginalized, exploited, and killed others, we have marginalized, exploited, and killed God. “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”
All the violence done in God’s name has been the perpetuation of deception. A lie. God is never the author but ever the victim of violence.
But God transforms our violence by suffering it. Exposing our violence, unveiling the truth, ending the cycle of hate with forgiveness, transforming death into life. This is the glory of God.
Living In Love
We know the old way of finding unity in division.
We see it when people come together by casting others out. We still participate in this false unity.
It’s in the cheering of our team while jeering at the other.
It’s in the drumbeats of war.
It’s in the dehumanization of bigotry; the literal casting others out of the fold of humanity because of their difference.
This is the way of death.
And God calls us to a new Way.
The Truth God shows the world is not contained in any one religion. When Christians weaponize the cross to draw divisions, we are living by the old ways of death.
But people of other faiths and no faith at all know and show God’s loves. Jewish brothers and sisters who still bear the brunt of anti-Semitism teach and practice the liberating love that leads the world from slavery to freedom. Muslim sisters and brothers know the love of God that says “I have created humankind from a single pair and divided you into nations that you may know one another.” They show this love as they enter into solidarity with the hungry and give generously especially during Ramadan. People of other religions, people who have walked away from religion, people who reject the idea of God because God has so long been associated with violence – all who love live in God’s truth. God is Love.
And as we head into Pride Month, we recognize God in the LGBTQ community so long shunned and brutalized by violence committed in God’s name. Around the world, nations and religious communities have built false unity over and against our LGBTQ siblings. But the God whose name is invoked in condemnation against them stands not against but with and for them. God’s universal love can only be found in particular love, especially in love for those whom the world claims God hates.
Once again this year, Adam will represent his church in the Gay Pride parade as an ally. In the video, Adam expresses how in the parade, there is no sense of over-and-againstness, so sense of excluding others. People march not over and against those who hate them, but for a world where all may love freely.
The God who suffers with the suffering rejoices in their joy, and revels in their love. We only know the fullness of God’s love when we see it shining through all people, especially through those against whom the world has falsely claimed God’s hate. After all, the world crucified God thinking it was serving God! And God resurrects and transforms the world though love that is deeper and broader than we can ever imagine.
The difference between the world humanity has built and the world God is building is that a world built by violence excludes, where a world built by the Forgiving Victim includes all. The violent world, where we know ourselves by our divisions from others, eventually expels us all. We who live by the sword die by the sword. God’s world, built on mercy, is where we find our true selves in connection to each other. No exclusion, no hate, no death. This is eternal Life in Love into which we are all called, in which we fully live by loving all.