In Greek mythology Andromeda was chained naked to a rock to be sacrificed to Cetus for angering the gods. The gods had sent the sea monster to attack the city and after consulting the oracles the King discovered that it was the arrogance of the Queen in thinking her daughter was more beautiful than the nymph-daughters of the god Poseidon that had brought this terror upon them. Only the sacrifice of their daughter could quench the anger of the gods. Only sacrifice will do.
Gustave Doré – Andromeda
Within certain streams of ‘Christian theology’ we see the same story being played out through Christ; innocent victim sacrificed in order to appease the wrath of God. The people, through their arrogance and disobedience, have incited the anger and wrath of God upon themselves, and it burns against them ready to devour and consume them. Only sacrifice will bring peace and satisfy the wrath of God.
‘Till on the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’ In Christ Alone, Stuart Townend
Here we discover, as Michael Hardin so helpfully points out, a Janus-faced God; a god of light and dark, love and hate, wrath and mercy.
The work of René Girard has revealed how throughout human history we have been a people of violence and scapegoating, placing our wrath upon innocent victims in order to restore peace to a fragile community consumed by their mimetic rivalry and non-differentiation.
With the ‘founding murder’ culture and communities were formed upon sacrifice, and with it came prohibition and ritual, ways to maintain peace.
And so humanity placed upon the gods our own violence and we created vampiric deities who demanded blood and sacrifice, scapegoats and endless rules, otherwise their wrath would be unleashed upon us, consuming and destroying us.
Evangelical versions of the atonement have been consumed by these myths unable to see how Jesus has revealed a better way. Satisfaction theories of the atonement – penal substitution and the like – are forensic in their approach, devoid of Trinitarian theology, dependent wholly on sacrificial myth and scapegoating, using a violent hermeneutic to interpret Scripture. They fail to see that Jesus and his work cannot be separated, that who he ‘is’ is what he does, what he does is who he is. We are dealing with ‘ontology’, with ‘being’ not ‘works’. This is not a question of order or law or some required ‘natural order’, but of what it means to ‘be human’ and becoming more human through the person of Jesus.
The God and Father of Jesus is not filled with wrath but defined as love (1 John 4:8), as One who runs to us and embraces us in all consuming love, grace and forgiveness (Luke 15:20). In Jesus the fulness of God has been revealed (Colossians 1:19), the totality of who God is now seen; total Unconditionality, unlimited love, boundless forgiveness. At the cross Jesus takes the fulness of our violence upon himself, absorbs it and overcomes it through forgiveness (Luke 23:34). God does not need sacrifice (Hosea 6:6), a balancing of the books to quench his divine anger.
Furthermore, God will not swoop in and rescue like, as Bonhoeffer put it, a ‘deus ex machina’; in the story of Andromeda she is rescued before the monster devours her by an invisible Perseus. How often in ‘Christian theology’ is the same concept applied to God; like Perseus, God swoops in, invisible, to rescue us from certain doom – unless you’re the child who dies of cancer, or the Holocaust victims or the starving in Ethiopia or gun crime victims or tsunami victims or persecuted people of faith or… The cross reveals a God who is with us in the darkness, who will overcome the darkness, yet dies in the darkness.
We are the children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and Christ took upon himself the fulness of our wrath and violence. We are the monster of the sea, we are the Greek gods of wrath, we are the King and Queen who sacrifice and scapegoat. Jesus is the innocent victim,
‘Jesus’ death is a source of grace not because the Father is “avenged” by it, but because Jesus lived and died in the manner that, if adopted by all, would do away with scandals and the victimization that follows from scandals. Jesus lived as all men should live in order to be united with a God whose true nature he reveals.’ René Girard