Violence and the Cross

‘The violent may take, but it is the meek that inherit and the just that keep. The spirit which possesses the earth and keeps possession is inspired at the folly of the cross … “The weakness of the cross” is the greatest pitfall on earth, and it mocks the empire makers as it establishes its power upon their wreck, and thrusts its fine spells through the crevices of their untempered walls. This is all very ridiculous, of course, but they laugh best who laugh last. One sits in the heavens and laughs.’ – PT Forsyth.

5 comments

  1. hey, Jason, have you read Girard? What would Forsyth say to Girard if they were introduced? (I have to say I am wearying of Girard’s name being used as a trump card in discussions of the atonement…)

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  2. Michael, please allow me a brief (:-)) response to this one. It’s a good question. My only reading of Girard has been vicariously through Volf, and Hans Boersma book Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross. Boersma writes:

    “One of the main reasons that [Girard’s] theory continues to increase in popularity is that he helps Christians avoid the embarrassment of having to acknowledge that God is involved in violence, even as he expresses his most hospitable self on the cross. This gain carries the cost, however, of the denial of a good creation. Desire, as something underlying all cultural endeavor, is inherently mimetic and thus must lead to violence, Girard insists. But is it true that mimetic contagion explains all desire and that it accounts for all violence? Girard fails to acknowledge that we often desire certain objects because of their inherent value rather than simply because other models desire them. A theology of creation that affirms its inherent goodness will insist that desire can function in wholesome ways and stems not first of all from imitation but from the positive value of the created order. Girard’s atonement theology is built on an ontology of violence that leads to a negative view of culture and is thus unable to function as a solid foundation for a positive politics of hospitality. Not only does Girard regard violence as the basis of human culture, but he also finds much of the Old Testament unworthy of the nonviolent God that we have come to know in Jesus Christ. The continuity between the two Testaments gets stretched to the breaking point.”

    My sense, re. Forsyth’s response is two fold.

    Firstly, he would have never attacked Girard by name. He felt that when we we ought to expose error, we should expose the error and not attack the person. That’s the easy bit.

    That said, Forsyth would see in Girard’s thinking here a failure to understand not only the nature, scope and purpose of God’s atoning activity in Christ, but the nature and depth of sin and evil and the threat that sin poses not just to the world, but to God’s own being.

    Whilst violence is the fruit of humanity’s angry rejection of the future intended for it by God, it also serves as part of the ‘tools’ that God uses to bring about his good purposes. So for example, Forsyth’s significant support of Britain’s role in WWI.

    Forsyth insists that sin is so violent that it took the almost boisterous expression of violence (a clash of violence) to overcome it. Whenever grace and guilt collide, war it out, there will be violence – even in prayer. But it was not the violence of it that saved. It was the obedience in the midst of violence that did that. That said, Forsyth asserts that ‘it would have mattered a whole world if Jesus had met His death naturally, by accident or disease. Everything turns, not on His life having been taken from Him, but on its having been laid down. Everything, for His purpose, turns on the will to die. But, none the less, for that purpose, it had to be a death of moral violence (inflicted, that is, by human wickedness and the wresting of the law), to give its full force to both man’s sin and Christ’s blood. “Men of blood,” in the Old Testament, were not mere killers but murderers. So that we say it would have mattered a whole world if the death had not been violent and wicked, if Jesus had died of disease in His bed, or by accidental poison.’

    He asserts that we feel the pain and disappointment of death as impugning the moral goodness of God. To us pain and death seem a moral outrage, a violent injustice done to the good. And it was moral outrage on God’s holiness that gave the sting and the mean misery of death for Christ. Only a great difference remains: The taste of death makes us think that it is a moral outrage on us – a tyranny; whereas Christ tasted it as the fruit of a moral outrage by us – a treason. ‘How prompt we are to accept Christ as a sympathizer with our oppressions’, he said, ‘and how slow to take Him as the accuser of our sins!’

    Whether or not Girard sees more divine irony and inconsistency here than he can cope with, well I guess that that’s God’s problem.

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  3. Jason Goroncy: better read Girard before critiquing him through eyes of Boersma who disagrees with him. There’s lots about Boersman to critizue, too. Read him directly, e.g. “I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightening”

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