How to understand Suffering and Violence

Daniel M. Bell Jr. in his article, The Cross and Divine Charity – God Does not Demand Blood, rejects the argument, that God is somewhat unable to forgive sins,

but must enforce a strict rendering of what is due.

According to Bell Jr., the understanding that,

only through violence is law and order maintained,

is underlying our most common understanding of the antonement, that God somehow demands to see blood.

If we are uncomfortable with the image of the blood thirsty God, we can either, reject the centrality of Jesus’s death on the cross or as Bell Jr. says:

I believe any effort to make the case that God does not demand blood cannot simply skip over the cross but instead must pass right trough it.

Bell Jr. refers to The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzaki, pointing out that the Devil does not like the cross. The cross is not ultimately about suffering, violence, and death (which is the Devil’s business model). It is about doing whatever is needed.

[I]t is a story about the depths and lengths to which God goes so that we might share in the triune life of God (John 3:16).

Bell Jr. mentions both Anselm and Paul, in arguing for this focus, using Phil. 2:5-8, stating that

Paul points out, it is not a blood sacrifice that saves us, but Jesus’ obedience and fidelity.

Bell Jr. argues that the Cross is not about death, debt-payment, or revenge. It is about God’s faithfulness. Jesus’s obedience to his divine mission. As we are part of Christ’s body we are invited to take part in this divine mission.

This way of life may entail enduring suffering – not because suffering is in some way good or redemptive, not because this is what God wants or because it is punishment for our sins. Rather, it is because suffering is the cost that humans in their sinful rebellion impose on other humans. … [J]ustice and discipline shaped by the charity and mercy of God are significantly different from the so-called justice and discipline that belong to the law and order of blood sacrifice.

I personally like this article and I think it is important to constantly address and re-think how we can and should understand the cross, and its meaning. Having said that, we must understand that Jesus’s death and resurrection cannot be reduced to a one theory, a correct way of understanding. The New Testament writers had various ways of understanding the cross. Jesus himself is quoted in Mark, using the „ransom“ imagery (see Mark 10:45).

It is important to understand that various imagery and interpretations of the cross are in best case attempts to explain how and why God incarnate was executed. In worst case, they are used as tools to oppress and hurt in God’s name.

For different cultures, different times, we find help in different imagery and in different interpretations. The Bishops in charge of canonizing various texts in the 4th century seem to have understood this. The ransom imagery in Mark and the obedience focus in Paul’s Letter to the Phillipians are both in the New Testament canon.

I repeat, I like this article. Its understanding of the cross speaks to me, but we must remember it is not the only valid understanding out there.

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