In his article on Jesus death and sacrifice Giles Fraser agreed with Dr. Jeffery John citing that Jesus atoning death on the cross was an immoral act of “child abuse.” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/apr/04/christrecrucified) Is Jesus death child abuse? Did God inflict upon Christ an abusive destructive vitriol that was undeserved and immoral? It is, of course, such the rage in our times to proclaim one’s loyalty to the secular, egalitarian vision of the future by condemning those who propose anything perceived to be barbaric. Thus one can be simultaneously sophisticated with their “advanced” tolerance and yet smear others with characterizations.
Whether or not Anselm of Canterbury’s 11 century theory of atonement is consistent with the early Christian teaching about Christ’s death and atonement for sin one can certainly have a long protracted discussion. But what is difficult to deny is that Jesus suffered a terrible, horrible execution upon the cross. Certainly, as the women stood around the cross of Christ observing his suffering and death they were hardly concerned with “God’s child abuse.” What was painfully and powerfully obviously was that Roman soldiers had tortured and executed Jesus of Nazareth at the behest of the Jewish Sanhedrin. The question was never: Why are the Roman soldiers beating, mocking and crucifying Jesus? Clearly they were doing it because they were ordered to. They were ordered to because Pontius Pilate didn’t want a rebellion, and Jews didn’t know how to handle Jesus and his teaching without him being executed.
The Roman soldiers were likely young men from Italy stuck at an outpost no one really wanted to occupy and likely bored out of their minds with the dull activities of occupation. Jesus’ death and execution was likely an extremely common occurrence for them and they simply took advantage of it for a little sport to alleviate their boredom.
The real question was: Why in the world wasn’t God going to do something? Why didn’t He stop the Jewish Sanhedrin? Why didn’t He control Pilate’s mind? Why didn’t He put a compassionate centurion in charge of Christ? Why didn’t He send ten thousand angels to pull Jesus off the cross?
This is what had to occupy the minds of the women and presumably the apostle John as they stood at the foot of the cross watching Christ suffer and die. Likely it was the same question that occupied the apostles as they watched from a distance perhaps hoping that God might intervene. No one, absolutely no one thought of it as God’s child abuse.
What they thought was: this is how Rome treats her enemies. Moreover, this is how humanity treats one another. Suffering was not invented by Jesus on the cross. To be sure it was a particular nasty form of death and execution, but Jesus didn’t invent it. Nor did God.
Indeed, it is humanity, entirely upon her own, who is capable of inflicting immense destructive and degrading suffering upon our fellow human beings. Instead of thinking of the Cross of Christ as a suffering inflicted upon Jesus by God as a form of child abuse, why not place the blame exactly where it belongs, exactly where the original followers of Jesus would have placed the blame? Humans. This is what humans do to one another. We degrade, defile, dehumanize and deform one another. We abuse, neglect, terrorize and manipulate one another.
None of this is how God wishes us to treat one another.
If Jesus’ teaching is any indication, God wants us to forgive and love one another. He wants us to recognize Him as Sovereign Lord and King. But this is too difficult for humanity to do. God gave the Law to Moses and the Jews were blinded by it and missed the Law giver. God gave Rome an empire, and they would rather keep the peace than heed the true King of Kings. This is exactly what humanity does with whatever gift God provides. In the hands of the Jews and Romans the Law turned into legalism, and power descended into terror.
Rather than divine child abuse, which is a childish and impish characterization of Anselm’s theory, one could look upon Christ’s suffering and death as God taking exactly what humanity dished out. It is easy to forget that if we believe in free will Caiaphas was able to let Jesus go. It is easy to forget that Pilate could have heeded the advice of his wife and had “nothing to do” with Jesus. Instead, God did with Himself, His own Son, what He had been doing all along: letting humanity ravage and destroy. The difference is that instead of staying away, staying out of it, staying detached and removed from the pain and sorrow, he descended into it.
To me it is extremely unlikely that God had to “manipulate” Pontius Pilate or the Sanhedrin into killing and murdering Jesus. If one simply reads the New Testament, and a little bit about the Pax Romana, it is not amazing that they killed him. What is amazing is that Jesus lasted so long. The Jews idolized the Law just as the Romans idolized money. Jesus was a threat to both of them. So God didn’t have to manipulate the situation, he didn’t have to somehow “trick” Pilate or the Sanhedrin into unwittingly executing Christ. All God had to do was stick a person like Jesus into the world and that is exactly what humanity does to a person like Christ.
The difference is that God didn’t let humanity have the final word. The final word was not Jesus’ ignominious suffering and death at the hands of Roman soldiers.
As you answer the question for this section, keep in mind Jesus’ suffering and death. Remember that Jesus’ suffering was not detached from the world, but decidedly in the world and of the world.
Upon successful completion of this discussion, you will be able to:
Articulate a theological understanding of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.
Textbook: What Christians Ought to Believe
Review the rubric to make sure you understand the criteria for earning your grade.
Read Chapters 8,9, & 10 in What Christians Ought to Believe.
Navigate to the threaded discussion below and respond to the following:
- How does Michael Bird discuss Cruciformity?
How do you understand identifying with Christ?