Over the past several months there has been a challenge put out by Patheos and curated by Dr. Tony Jones called #progGOD. The point of the challenge is to invite progressive Christians to say something constructive about a particular topic rather than just deconstructing. This post is my response to the third question, "Why a crucifixion?" (The first two questions were "Who/What is God?" and "Why and incarnation?")
In college I asked the question, "If Jesus died for our sins, then why did he have to be crucified? Why wouldn't he just commit suicide?"
I was unable to find someone who was willing to entertain such a morbid question, and when I did I was told one of two responses. The first: "It was God's will." The second: "Rome crucified anyone who was a threat to the state and and the ministry of Jesus was a threat to the state, so he was crucified."
The first response seemed to reflect a morbid God, but it at least had a sense of God in the response. The second response upheld the political threat of the message of Jesus but it also seemed to removed God from the entire process. This is my attempt to find a response that upholds the political understanding of the death of Jesus while also finding space for God,
My understanding of Rene Girard is that Jesus was the one who exposed to the world just how destructive it is for a society to resolve tension and disagreements by finding scapegoats to kill. Humanity has been duped by this way of seeing the world. We all are looking for scapegoats to blame in order to feel better about the problem, which allows us to never really deal with the problem and only buys us time before we find our next scapegoat. Even today we have our scapegoats from Michael Brown to Steve Bartman.
When you and I, at times, identify when someone/something is being scapegoated, is a result of the crucifixion.
Jesus exposed the tension between all the different factions, Zealots, Pharisees, Sadducees, Rome, Herodians, etc. And when this tension is exposed and elevated, then, humans being duped into "knowing how to resolve the tension", seek out their scapegoat. Jesus was the perfect scapegoat for many factions and thus these factions sought out ways to kill him.
Jesus, knowing his life was the way of the scapegoat, understood that he could not be run out of town and thrown off a cliff like any scapegoat. Jesus knew that if he died like any other scapegoat that humanity would still be caught up in a cycle of violence and that we would forever be entrapped in the web of deceit of the Satanic cycle of violence.
This is why Jesus eventually understood that his death was to be the way of crucifixion. If he was going to be the scapegoat for the factions of his day, then he was going to the the scapegoat that also liberated humanity and exposed the cycle of violence.
Today the world is saved from this cycle of violence because God in the life of Jesus, was not a victim of suicide or of a mob killing like countless others. Jesus' crucifixion was the way that Rome chose to kill Jesus and in that death God chose to reveal the nature of cycles of violence. The fact that Jesus saw the system of scapegoats as a lie of violence is evidence that Jesus was able break the cycle. To put it another way, Jesus was not like any other human, Jesus was indeed God.
Have you ever wondered why Pilate, the ruler of the land, would listen to Joseph of Arimathea and approve that Jesus off the cross? Why did Pilate not also remove the two thieves off their cross? Could it be that the longer that Jesus hung on his cross the more his death exposed the fact that he was an innocent scapegoat - And if we scapegoat the innocent then anyone could be the next victim in an endless cycle of violence.
Even someone like you or me.
Jesus was crucified in order to reveal that God does not desire sacrifices. That the tension in the world cannot be resolved by violence (even violence with a 'divine sanction'). In the crucifixion we see once and for all that God has not ever demanded or required violence/sacrifice/scapegoats, but that God used that system against itself to reveal something deeply profound about the way humans think about violence...
We all are duped.