Cross and violence

I have just finished reading Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf. A review/reflection is coming in the next while.

However, I want, at this point, having just finished the book to outline a section that I thought was utterly fantastic and incredibly important! In the chapter, Violence and Peace, Volf outlines that the cross does a number of things, I will quote him at length,

1. The cross breaks the cycle of violence

Hanging on the cross, Jesus provided the ultimate example of his command to replace the principle of retaliation with the principle of nonresistance… He broke the cycle of violence by absorbing it, taking it upon himself. He refused to be drawn into the automatism of revenge, but sought to overcome evil by doing good – even at the cost of his life… The crucified Messiah is not a concealed legitimation of the system of terror, but its radical critique. (291-292)

Rowan Williams develops this reflection in his book Resurrection,

The transmission of destructive force, can only be halted when its destructiveness is absorbed and not transmitted. (9)

The importance of this cannot be emphasised enough. It is intrinsic that those who follow the crucified Messiah and find their humanity in him, carry their own crosses, and join in the breaking Christ in the breaking of cycles of violence through the absorption of violence and oppression – even at the cost of our lives.

2. The cross lays bear the mechanism of scapegoating

All the accounts of Jesus’ death agree that he suffered unjust violence. His persecutors believed in the excellence of their cause, but in reality hated without a cause. Jesus was a scapegoat… In a world of deception and oppression, his innocence-his truthfulness and his justice-was reason enough for hatred. Jesus was a threat, and precisely because of his threatening innocence, he was made a scapegoat. (292)

Here we see the ploys of the powerful unmasked as those which would have us view the victim or innocent as guilty and fully culpable of crimes not (or not fully) their own – the status quo is sought to be preserved through the unjust appropriation of guilt. The cross exposes these powers, unveiling their own guilt, as the sole representative of truth, in a world of shady and hateful religio-political motivations, is executed by those in the world who insist on determining and defining their own “truth”.

3. The cross is a struggle for God’s justice and truth

The proclamation and enactment of the kingdom of truth and justice is never an act of pur positing, but always already a transgression into spaces occupied by others. Active opposition to the kingdom of Satan, the kingdom of deception and oppression, is therefore inseparable from the proclamation of the kingdom of God. It is this opposition that brought Jesus to the cross; and it is this opposition that gives meaning to nonviolence. It takes the struggle against deception and oppression to transform nonviolence from barren negativity into a creative possibility, from a quicksand into a foundation of a new world. (293)

Jurgen Moltmann picks up this idea, paraphrasing Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as he says

The vita Christiana, the Christian life… is engaged in an attack upon the world and a calling in the world. (Theology of Hope, 315)

This does, of course, sound somewhat forceful yet it is an “attack” of truth on deception, peace on violence, justice on injustice, freedom on oppression – all motivated and energised by the life and character of the God of love and grace, in nonviolent protest. This is how the Christian is to struggle with Christ in bringing the hope of the kingdom to bear on the world.

4. The cross is a divine embrace of the deceitful and unjust

    When God was made sin in Christ, the world of deceit and injustice was set aright. SIns were atoned for. The cry of the innocent blood was attended to. Since the new world has become a reality in the crucified and resurrected Christ it is possible to live in the new world in the midst of the old in an act of gratuitous forgiveness without giving up the struggle for truth and justice. One can embrace perpetrators in forgiveness because God has embraced them through atonement. (294-95)

    God’s kingdom is seen here to be for the perpetrator as well as the victim. God aims to reconcile the two – this reveals the thoroughgoing radicality of forgiveness and we must sit long in the realisation that this truly is the intention of the God of Jesus.


    What do you think of these ideas? Have you seen, do you see, what do you think is the value of seeing the cross this way?

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