Djesus And The Nature of the Cross

SNL has caused quite a ruckus with its making of Djesus Uncrossed, a satirical twist of Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Django Unchained. 

The video gets its comedic punch from the irony in seeing the non-violent and cross-dead Messiah toting a machine gun and taking out his enemies Rambo style. Many Christians were upset at SNL’s portrayal of Jesus but I couldn’t help but think: Haven’t we brought this on ourselves? Isn’t SNL just forcing us to confront an image of Jesus that is present in much of the way we talk about Jesus as he is going to appear at the Second Coming?

It seems to me that the Jesus of Djesus Unchained is the very one that is revealed in a great deal of conservative Evangelical theology. This is the Jesus who, upon his return, will strike down his enemies in the same way that Caesar strikes down his enemies, namely, with violence and force.

This leads to some important questions concerning how we understand the cross:

  • Was Jesus’ non-violent forgiveness on the cross an actual revelation of who God is or was it a momentary act of grace coming from an otherwise relentless and vengeful God?
  • Is God really as nice as Jesus or was the cross his way of putting off his violent retaliation for another time?

For me the cross indicates that God would rather die than coerce people. In the same way, God would rather forgive than seek revenge. The cross teaches us that God’s power is the power of weakness and frailty. God’s is the power of powerlessness. Rather than being a momentary blip on the radar between the genocidal God of the Israelite conquest and the war-waging God of Revelation, I think that the cross is where our understanding of God comes into sharpest focus which means that the former two images of God must be re-imagined and reinterpreted in light of the latter.

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Here are a few other blogs that I found interesting on the same subject:

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The Power of Myth

A really long time ago a group of human beings realized they had a problem. They realized that given enough time, their tiny community fell prey, without fail, to endless conflict and violence. Hatred and jealousy would result in murder which only begat more murder. This cycle of violence and retaliation was unstoppable and it threatened the very existence of their fragile community. Thus, this problem needed to be remedied in order to save the community from self-destruction.

Over time the members of this community realized that if they singled someone out and blamed them for all the problems threatening their community (i.e., natural disasters, disease, their own sins, etc.) then they could unite, if only for a time, in hatred against this chosen other. The amount of hatred and disgust that was directed towards this chosen other would result in their being killed at the hands of their community.

The miracle of it all was that after the community united in hatred towards this one person there would be a time of peace. This peace wouldn’t last forever, however, so after a while another victim would be chosen to kill in order to bring about stability and peace among the people.

Over time this act of singling out a person to kill began to take on a sacred flavor. The community recognized the amazing power behind this act–that is, the power that it had to bring peace to their community–and so they began to make it into a habit. Myths and cultic ritual were constructed in order to capture the sacred power of this violence.

The following is an example of this type of mythology: Oedipus is a stranger, ignorant of his own parentage, who comes to Thebes, marries its widowed queen and becomes its king. Plague and crisis descend on the city. Oedipus embarks on an unrelenting quest to discover the great criminal in the community whose offenses have brought this punishment from the gods, only to realize that he is the offender. All unknowing,  he has killed his father and married his mother. For these violations  of the most fundamental order, he mandates and accepts his own violent expulsion (summary from Mark Heim, Saved From Sacrifice, pg. 53).

A few things are worth noting here. First, the cultural taboos of the the Greeks are clearly evident. The killing of kin and incestuous relationships were crimes apparently worthy of death and were probably the crimes charged to those who were victimized as a result of this myth. Second, Oedipus’ guilt is arbitrary and impossible to prove. In other words, there is no connection between Oedipus’ apparent crimes and the plague that has descended on Thebes. His expulsion from his community is unfounded. Third, it’s assumed that the killing/expulsion of Oedipus will solve the community’s problem with the plague.

It’s likely that this myth would have been conjured up in order to validate the ritual act of sacrificing an innocent victim in order to resolve the tension in the greater community. When crisis arose (i.e. a plague) and the community was threatened with dissolution, someone needed to be sacrificed to restore peace and stability to the community. The collective hatred towards the chosen victim created an aura of peace that kept the community from falling into disarray as a result of the plague.

There is a cycle that emerges:

Perceived threat to the community –> Innocent victim is chosen and accused of crimes related to the taboos of the community –> Victim is sacrificed –> Myth is told in order to validate the sacred violence –> Peace is restored to the community for a time –> Repeat

The recurrence of this cycle and the myths surrounding it keep those involved from realizing the depravity of their own actions. In other words, behind this myth are countless victims who have been falsely accused, blamed for things that they had nothing to do with on their own, and ultimately excluded from the community or killed. Those taking part in this violence are unaware of this reality. Sacrificing an other is simply how peace is made–it’s “business as usual.”  No questions asked.

This is what myth does: it shrouds violence in sacred language in order to validate the killing of innocent victims. Those participating in the violence are ignorant of their blatant murder because their founding myths have fully captured their imaginations.

In what ways have we been blinded by our myths?

It’s my proposal that Penal Substitutionary Atonement (PSA) serves this function in modern Evangelicalism. The myth of PSA says that a perfect and holy God cannot be in the presence of sinful humanity. Our infinite debt owed to God because of our sinfulness must be paid in full (by the shedding of blood) if we are to have any hope of communion with the divine. Thus, God sends his perfect Son to die a bloody death in our stead so that communion with God (something that only Jesus was worthy of) could be had by all of God’s people. The wrath of God (what we are all worthy of) was poured out onto Jesus so that we didn’t have to endure it. Ultimately, this myth communicates the idea that the violence of God was redemptive.

This myth has glorified the violence of the cross to the point that we have forgotten what lies behind it: our participation in the senseless killing of an innocent man.

Mark Heim puts it this way:

Is this God’s plan, to become a human being and die, so that God won’t have to destroy us instead? Is it God’s prescription to have Jesus suffer for sins he did not commit so God can forgive the sins we do commit? That’s the wrong side of the razor. Jesus was already preaching the forgiveness of sins and forgiving sins before he died. He did not have to wait until after the resurrection to do that. Blood is not acceptable to God as a means of uniting human community or a price for God’s favor. Christ  sheds his own blood to end that way of trying to mend our divisions. Jesus’ death isn’t necessary because God has to have innocent blood to solve the guilt equation. Redemptive violence is our equation. Jesus didn’t volunteer to get into God’s justice machine. God volunteered to get into ours. God used our own sin to save us (Saved From Sacrifice, pg. xi).

Sacrificing an innocent other has been humanity’s way of trying to remedy our violent tendencies. PSA affirms this sick tendency instead of subverting it. Far from ending the cycle of violence, the god of PSA is very much a part of it: He is so angry that he requires a sacrifice in order to make peace with his former enemies. As a myth, PSA projects our violence onto God and thus validates violence as a legitimate means to bring peace. This is not what the cross is about. God didn’t kill Jesus…we did. PSA is an attempt to cover this difficult reality up.

A New Look at Prayer

Does It Make Any Difference by Philip Yancey

Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey

I’m being challenged by Philip Yancey’s Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? I’ve found much of the book to be very insightful and quite profound which leads me to extend it to all as a recommendation. In it Yancey attempts to answer many of the questions that are commonly asked concerning prayer: Does prayer change God? Why do bad things happen to good people? What difference does prayer really make? Pretty heavy stuff.

I want to share a thought with you that I found to be especially profound. Here’s an excerpt:

“In prayer we stand before God to plead our condition as well as the conditions around us. In the process, the act of prayer emboldens me to join the work of transforming the world into a place where the Father’s will is indeed done as it is in heaven. We are Christ’s body on earth, after all; he has no hands but ours. And yet to act as Christ’s body we need an unbroken connection to the head. We pray in order to see the world with God’s eyes, and then to join the stream of power as it breaks loose.”

I have come to realize that we are the answer to many of the prayers that we pray. How often do I pray, hypothetically, “God, please provide for my friend who is struggling financially,” when I have just been given a pay raise? The truth is, we are God’s hands on earth and from the beginning He has chosen to accomplish His will through us as His chosen people. The election of the nation of Israel is a great example of what I am getting at. In the Old Testament there are countless stories of God using the nation of Israel (in its early stages), a group of sinful, fallen people, to carry out what many would call ethnic cleansing. Ultimately, the nation was established and Jesus, the Savior of the world, is born through her. God, being all-powerful and altogether sovereign, could have chosen to accomplish all of this without force or even further, the nation of Israel but the fact of the matter is that God has willed it that we be His instrument of grace. God chose to use a group of sinful people (hence the war, violence, and bloodshed) as a vessel of His grace back then and it is the same today. I understand that this example may require a discussion in and of itself but I believe that it illustrates what I am trying to say at least somewhat clearly.

I’m reminded of an interesting thought that is shared in Shane Claiborn’s Irresistible Revolution: We are so quick to turn to God and ask Him why people are starving in the world or why there is war and violence and oppression. Maybe God looks down on us and says in response, “You tell me. You are my hands. You are my feet. I have equipped you with my Holy Spirit so that you may take on such tasks with worlds of strength.”

God is transforming the way I view prayer. Perhaps instead of asking God to miraculously intervene (which I believe is a good thing to pray for in some circumstances), I should be asking Him how I could come along side Him in His Kingdom work and change the situation I am praying for myself by the power of His Spirit within me. Maybe I am the answer to some of my prayers and I just haven’t realized it yet.