There is so much violence in the world…
Why do we, human beings, seem to want to punish each other? Husbands and wives, daughters and mothers, sons and fathers, coworkers and friends. We feel any slight from others and we give it back to them; we want them to experience pain and we rub their noses in it. No matter how big the hurt — or how petty and small — we want the offender to suffer some way, no matter how unintended the offense may have been or how beloved the offender.
In our self-centeredness, our false sense of pride, in our sinfulness, we speak this language of bloodthirst.
But, this is not the language of God.
When we interact with others in this way, we are not living up to the divine image in which we have been created. In the formation of the first human beings, while human consciousness was still innocent, we chose to turn away from the divine order that governs all Creation and became self-centered beings instead of God-centered. This was a fall from paradisiacal lives of grace that inherently changed human nature, darkening the intellect and weakening the will. It’s what we call original sin. And it made the first human beings painfully aware of their vulnerability to one another, desiring to hide themselves from each other with fear and a sense of shame.
Although we used our God-given freewill to turn away from God and lash out at each other through pride, anger, lust, and greed, God did not turn away from us. He wants us to return to Him, to lives of grace. Through our sins, we came to speak and understand the language of material wealth and luxury, of social status and power, of fear and punishment, of vengeance and violence. Therefore, God, wanting us to be restored to divinely loving relationship and to righteousness, to the holy goodness of Divine Order, communicated with us in our own language, the language that we could understand.
A man that we know as Abraham first listened to the divine voice that he heard and chose to center his life in God, obeying God’s will for him — no matter what the personal cost to himself. Human beings, at the time and place of Abraham, had fallen so far from the divine order that they were engaging in human sacrifice — killing children on altars that they fashioned to gods of their own invention. This was the language spoken by us, humans. When God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, it was not an unheard-of request. As reprehensible and painful as it may have been, this is what people believed needed to be done in order to achieve and receive the best that life had to offer. It made sense to their evilly dark intellects and their hearts shaped by sin. Abraham, wishing to please God, whom he had come to know as the One, True Living God, obeyed and was about to slay a child. He was about to sacrifice his own son.
But, this bloodshedding was not what God wanted.
Abraham was spared the death of his son.
From that time forward, God began trying to teach human beings the language of mercy in a direct and very personal way. At first, as in teaching an infant to avoid open flames by using physical duress, God used the language of material punishment and reward. As the Chosen People grew in numbers, God had to continually get their attention so that they could hear Him and, on hearing, obey. All the while, God was preparing them to receive His Word more lovingly and intimately. He began preparing humankind to seek what is good and loving, giving up their selfish ways to embrace His Will — the divine order of life as it is meant to be.
He told the people of Israel through the prophet Hosea, “I desire loyalty, not sacrifice.”[i] God wants His Chosen People to obey Him and His commands, not so that He may be acknowledged powerfully superior and dominate but, rather, so that His People may be restored to Him and be fulfilled as the persons that they were created to be. The prophet Micah proclaimed to the Israelites, “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”[ii]
All these centuries later, do we, human beings, listen to God? Or do we rather listen to hate and the fear of others? We choose to continually seek vengeance over justice, insults over forgiveness, and violence over self-control.
Is it any wonder, then, that God did what He did?
The Word of God was made flesh
God became one of us so that He could take the punishment that we want to dole out to others — the lashes, the torture, the ridicule, and the cruelty. God let us make Him low… let us kill Him as He suffered in writhing pain… all to take away our guilt and usher in peace by showing us how much He loves us. God satisfies our thirst for blood, for vengeance, for mockery, for violent payback, by letting Himself become our whipping boy. And all powerful God bends His human head to our mercilessness, feeling every moment, every tear, every blow of our pain.
We killed the only perfect human being that ever existed because that’s how far our desire to spread our misery will go.
And then… and then this Beautiful One, whom we have beaten and spurned and murdered, rises up. He lets us make Him low in our meanness, and then… the merciful “then”… He lets us rise up with Him in His glory.
Love Incarnate speaks the language of mercy. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”[iii] He speaks to us from the Cross in the language of Divine Love. Thus, Christ shows that true power and rightness is in self-giving love.
He was razed by our thirst for punishment. And we are raised by his thirst for forgiveness.
© 2018 Christina Chase
[i] Hosea 6:6
[ii] Micah 6:8
[iii] Luke 23:34
I don't call myself a poet — but the beating of my heart is poetry. I don't call myself a theologian — but the light of my mind seeks the Divine. Who I am is a Child of God, a Divine Creation, a person devoted to being fully human, fully alive.