Writing just a few weeks after Easter, I hope to revisit the Easter tradition in this article, and ask, what does the redemption of violence at the Cross have to say to us as we grapple with the many instances of violence, injustice and oppression around the world? What does the cross say to us who, in the course of our lives and ministries, are often forced to confront the reality of power-dynamics, ‘games’, and violence that do not characterize Christ and Christ-likeness in our fallen world and its institutions.
Recent international incidents of violence include the killings at Chicago, the shooting near my former home in Virginia Beach, the penalty imposed on Pyongyang’s diplomat and Hanoi peace talks negotiators, the series of attacks against religious minorities in Pakistan, the Christchurch tragedy, the upsurge of violence in Southeast Nigeria, bombings in Sri Lankan churches, and the stabbings in London. The rising incivility occurs at such an alarming rate that the few successes in organized peace talks seem to have made not even a dent in a world whose citizens long for good news and conciliation, only to be bombarded with yet more disappointments.
In Christian tradition, Easter conveys God’s self-emptying love and sacrifice. By Abba’s appointment and through the Spirit’s sending, Jesus Christ dies on the cross to atone for the sins of the world. Do we include also the sin of less than ecologically responsible living, and the modern-day global oppression of those in the majority world caused by the controversial structures of capitalism, which was a part of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si * plea to the rest of the world some years ago? Scripture and tradition remind us that Jesus was resurrected on the third day. The resurrection of Jesus attests to the power of God to override nature, disarm principalities and powers, pardon sin, and grant eternal life (Col. 2:9-15). For believers, Easter gives hope for the present and the afterlife.
However, the Easter account also showcases violence. Judas’ betrayal of his master and Pontius Pilate’s succumbing to the unrighteous will of the masses both led to the crucifixion of the innocent Jesus. Philosopher René Girard explains that when the crowd becomes a mob, violence could only be appeased after Jesus becomes the scapegoat. I would add to Girard’s reading of violence in Jesus’ crucifixion. When Abba sends Jesus to the cross, God seems to have committed violence against God’s self. Not only did Jesus become a victim of Judas, Pilate, and the mob, but Jesus has also become a victim of God. Yet, Jesus went to the Cross willingly (and obediently) as was recorded in the Gethsemane narratives in the New Testament.
How may the “violence” in the Easter narrative be re-read? Girard opines, God gave Christ as the scapegoat “to satisfy the mimetic convergence of violence of all against the one” so as to abate more violence among humans and, here I add, to also satisfy divine wrath against sinful humanity. The resurrection confirms the reception of Christ’s atonement and the satisfaction of divine justice. God turns violence on its head and reverberates love and hope by allowing Jesus to be the scapegoat that does violence to God’s self. God becomes now the wounded-redeemer, whose concern extends to more than, but not less than, the eternal salvation of souls.
A month post-Easter this year, and two months after the recent Christchurch tragedy, are you still despairing because of the violence you have witnessed and/or have experienced? Or have you been beaten by life’s harsh realities of hurtful people, even dishonest Christian leaders who are supposed to shine radiantly the love and light of God’s character and truth? May you take comfort that Abba, the wounded-redeemer, will renew our hopelessly, violent world with love, mercy, and justice, having demonstrated the first fruits of God’s unfailing faithfulness and love to humanity with the incarnate ministry of Christ!
The notion of “Abba as wounded-healer” along with “Jesus as the satisfaction of divine wrath against sinful humanity” does not imply a patripassianism. The Father, and the Son are not the one-same-person-on-the-cross and the Father did not die on the cross. A trinitarian view of Easter is non-modal, and non-patripassianistic. Abba as wounded-healer has to be understood within the context that Christ died on the cross, and that when Christ became the wounded-healer, the trinity also joins Christ to become then the divine wounded-healer. Also, though Saint Anselm’s notion of atonement as satisfaction of divine wrath may not find much excitement in many post-modern Christologies, the satisfaction theory does not come close to a charge of patripassianism.
More importantly, we would have to weigh our faith in the post-Easter tradition. While Christ’s work had been completed on the Cross, our work as Christ’s ambassadors and witnesses of God’s truth and justice has yet to reach the climatic end. To be sure, Christians have been labouring in each place, culture, geographic region, and the many classifications we may add to the list since Christ’s Ascension. Still, much like the first break of dawn, the light of Christ’s truth and justice will rise and radiate more and more as earthly history closes in with the eternal, eschatological history of the Great and Perfect Day, when God shall bring every word and act into judgement.
Until then, Christ’s disciples are to continue in the tradition of Easter as Post-Easter bearers of truth, grace, justice and judgment. We have been called to the ministry of reconciliation, justice, peace and care for creation in all spheres of organized human life. We are called to be instruments of Christ’s healing on earth, and the ministry of healing is often worked out through the multi-layered complexities and platforms of earthly powers, even as we recognize that amid the imperfect power struggles and tensions in earthly institutions God “is before all things and in God all things hold together.” As “the first-born from the dead” – the first, only fully resurrected person who will never die again in recorded human history, unlike Lazarus and Tabitha – God gave Christ the preeminence over all life and bestowed the fullness of God’s good pleasure upon Him, so that through Christ’s blood on the Cross, He may reconcile all to Himself (Colossians 1:15-20). Until then, as gospel singer Bob Fitts’ song “Take My Healing to the Nations” reminds us, we are called to “stretch God’s hand throughout creation with the message of Christ’s love”, “to bring light in their darkness”, to “bring joy where there once was pain”, and “to bind their broken hearts with love.”
The question is, have we responded to our Master’s summon for service as Christ’s ambassadors? Or have we been living our comfortable Christian life in ways that ignore or silent our LORD’s Summon for each of us to enter into service? No, I am less interested to convince you to join me in a full-time religious vocation than I am much, more interested to persuade you to seek God’s face, and God-willing, to know Abba’s divine assignment(s) and timing for you at each season in your life. God knows where and in what spheres and sectors you will be best poised and positioned for service. God alone knows what you will become and where you will end up serving decades into the future, if Jesus tarries still at that time. Along with my colleagues at Carey, I would be more than delighted to encourage you on your journey, and I will consider it a privilege to come alongside you as you seek to obey God’s call, be equipped, and be shaped for a lifetime of service. Towards that end, let us begin the journey of becoming spiritual friends and companions, to pray, support, encourage, and as necessary, admonish each other, that we may remain vigilant and faithful in the course of discipleship and service in our fallen and broken world.
In the closet of your struggles with God, otherness and self amid the many violence, injustice and pains in this world, will you seek God’s face, as to what living as God’s conduits in the post-Easter tradition will look like for you, and thereafter, with gumption (courage and perseverance) live out God’s divine calling?
Let us seek confessional fidelity, and more importantly, heartful obedience to God, to the faith, to love, to truth, and to renew our hopelessly violent world with mercy and justice as divine providence will so order our paths until we meet our Master face to face one day.
Timothy T. N. Lim, Ph.D.
* A segment of this article was originally published in the London School of Theology’s Easter global newsletter circulation for April 2017. Those paragraphs were written shortly after the bombings in London and Europe. The current piece, now written for Carey Baptist College’s newsletter, is a substantially expanded version.
For Tim’s weightier article on violence, see chapter entitled “On Overcoming Mimetic and Contagion Violence,” in Faith in an Age of Terror, edited by Tze-Ming Quek and Philip E. Satterthwaite (Singapore: Biblical Graduate School of Theology and Genesis, 2018), 73-89, among his other publications.
For Tim’s evangelical review of Pope Francis’ ecological apostolic letter, Laudato Si, see his article in Evangelical Quarterly Review of Theology 41:4 (October 2017): 321-338.