The Cross as Revelatory Moment

Religion

I’ve been teaching my way through St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians this Lent. My close reading of Paul’s argument reminds me of the centrality of the Cross to Paul’s theology. For Paul, the crucifixion of the Messiah is the singular, universal, apocalyptic revelation of God’s Kingdom.

Here’s a bit from Gil Bailie, a person deeply influenced by Rene Girard’s work, that makes much the same point but does so in the larger context of what the Cross teaches from a Giradian viewpoint:

If, as Paul insisted, the Cross is at the center of the Christian message, both Christianity’s emancipatory claims and its claim of universal relevance would seem to depend on whether or not collective violence of the kind structurally indistinguishable from that involved in the crucifixion is the linchpin of human delusion. Moreover, seen through the eyes of open-minded nonbelievers, it’s difficult to think of how else such claims could be sustained. Of course, one of the main reasons we have missed the gospel’s universality and tarnished its universal claims in the eyes of others is that we have tended to appropriate it in such parochial ways. The surest way to miss the link between the cure (the crucifixion and its aftereffects) and the disease (the structures of scapegoating violence upon which all human social arrangements have depended) is to read the passion story with an eye to locating and denouncing those most responsible for it. There is a deep irony in this. The fact that we automatically search the text — or the world outside the text — for culprits on whom to blame the crucifixion is proof that we are one of the culprits, for the crucifixion was demanded by those determined to find a culprit to blame or punish or expel. Responsibility for the crucifixion and the system of sacred or scapegoating violence it epitomizes — is to be borne either by all of us or by only some of us. If the responsibility belongs only to some of us, those who bear responsibility deserve the contempt of those who do not, and we are back in a world of religious categories and sacred violence. The crucifixion’s anthropological significance is lost if responsibility for its violence is shifted from all to some. To lay the blame on the Pharisees or the Jews is to undermine the universal meaning of the crucifixion in favor of the familiar finger-pointing theory of human wickedness.

You can read the rest here.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...

1 Comment

  1. Throughout Lent, I have been struggling with the whole concept of atonement. The problem, as I see it is this–why would the loving God that I know from the Gospels have require any sacrifice at all as a condition for the forgiveness and salvation me and the rest of humankind? I think that this is a stumbling block for many unbeleivers in accepting the Christian story. While a First Century Christian would have no difficulty with the concept of atonement–since the concept of sacrifice for sin was commonplace in both the Jewish and Pagan worlds, in the 21st Century, the whole notion that someone else can suffer for our sins seems quite alien.
    I am beginning to come to the conclusion that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was not because GOD required this death as an atonement for our sins, but because WE required it. We could only imagine atonement through violent sacrifice. The only way to break us out of this cycle of scapegoating and sacrifice was for God to make the ultimate sacrifice of his Son. In other words, the loving God could by his grace alone have reconciled us with no atonement and no sacrifice, but we could only have hope of accepting this grace if God took the additional and astounding step of putting his Son on the cross. God did not demand such a sacrifice. We did. And I can think of no more loving act.
    It sounds like Gil Bailie (and Rene Girard) are making a similar claim. They seem to understand the crucifixion as God’s apocalyptic revelation that the sacrificial model was no longer necessary for salvation.

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