Redemptive Violence

I have to paint the scene. Actor Jim Caviezel is starring in a TV program called Person of Interest. It’s the first thing I’ve seen him in, which means I did not see The Passion of the Christ.

Author and blogger Karen Hancock posted about him today and included a link to an article about how playing Christ in Passion affected Caviezel’s career. Karen mentioned at the end of her post that the comments were eye-opening.

Dutifully I took myself over to the Huffington Post, read the article, and started in on the comments. About ten in I came to the one that sparked the thoughts for this post. An individual identifying as a liberal Christian veered away from the subject of the article to discuss The Passion of the Christ and said in part:

My second objection to this film is I take issue with the doctrine of substitutionary atonement (Jesus dying and shedding blood for our sins). I find it hard to believe that a loving God who me and many others call Father would ever will for the death of an innocent Jesus to serve as a sacrifice for people’s sins. It turns God from the loving Father and savior of all into a bloodthirsty monster who is incapable of forgiving people’s sins or reconciling the creation peacefully. This doctrine teaches that violence is redemptive, and violence inspires faith. This type of thinking was developed in the middle ages to justify hatred against Jews and inspire violence in God and Christ’s names. Finally, I object to this film because it focused on Jesus’s death to the exclusion of his teachings or the events that led to the cross. I vomited during this film and I think it was a snuff film. (emphasis mine)

Well, how about that? Is violence redemptive?

I have to work through this concept from the inception of violence. What brought it about in the first place? The first act of violence recorded in the Bible, by implication, was God killing some animal in order to make skins with which to clothe Adam and Eve.

But before that came God’s clear warning to Adam,

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17 — emphasis mine)

In fact, the man did not die in the day he ate and yet he did die. Was the blood God shed on his behalf the reason Adam did not die at once?

We know because of what happened with Cain and Abel that sacrifice became a part of life and that apparently blood had to be shed.

But as with Abraham and his son Isaac, as with the people of Israel and the angel of death that passed over their homes, this killing of an animal was a means of saving human life.

God institutionalized animal sacrifices in the Mosaic Law, something the Christians of the first century understood.

And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (Heb. 9:22)

With all this background, the commenter seems to be right — redemption is violent.

But that’s only the back end of the issue. Violence came into existence through Adam’s disobedience. Sacrifice is the means by which God stays His hand from meting out the deserved punishment.

In other words, from the beginning, sacrifice was an indication of God’s kindness and His desire for reconciliation despite Man’s waywardness.

In some respects one could say that God redeemed violence. Man brought on death by his disobedience, but like He does so often, God used the very thing that was so horrific, that looked like Defeat, and made it the instrument of Life.

Of course His ultimate act of redemption was taking on death Himself.

The commenter seems unaware that Jesus is God. His idea that our loving Father was doling out punishment to innocent Jesus as if He were a separate entity, a perfect man, an example of what we all can become, perhaps, shows the real problem in his understanding.

Here’s the truth about Jesus from Scripture:

For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. (Col. 2:9)

God didn’t deliver the punishment to someone else. He took it on Himself. God punished God.

Hard to grasp, I know. Right up there with God praying to God and God seated at the right hand of God. Let’s face it. We cannot understand how our transcendent triune Creator “works.” We can’t take Him apart and see how He fits back together. He is beyond our scrutiny.

Which isn’t to say we can’t know Him and what He did for us — that act of stepping in and accepting the violence we deserve, taking it on Himself that we might be free of guilt and sin and death.

Christ’s act was the preeminent act of redemption because by His death He defeated death so that those who believe in Him now have Life. What was intended to be a crushing blow became a means to victory.

There’s so much more I could say about that one comment. How sad that such a person considers himself a Christian, and yet he doesn’t know or understand the One whose Name he’s chosen to identify with.

He’s missed the point that yes, the crucifixion was horrific — undoubtedly more so than the movie showed — but because of the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the pain and the shame.

The joy? Each of us who accepts His substitutionary work and is redeemed, we are His joy. What an amazing God we have!

Published in: on October 13, 2011 at 5:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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