Monday, January 19, 2015

The God Who Was Spat Upon

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”..

Be not far from me, for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet — I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots…
Psalm 22: 1-8; 11-18

Reflection – We have come to a psalm that is well familiar to us, one that in a sense stands at the very heart of our Christian faith, so connected it is in our minds (and in truth) with the Passion of Christ, with the awesome reality of what our God did for us when he came among us as a man.

There is more to the psalm that what I quote here, and it goes on to a ringing and even triumphant expression of faith is God’s power to redeem and save. It is a psalm not only for Good Friday, but for Easter Sunday as well.

But I wanted to highlight the first part of the psalm, this psalm that our Lord Himself cried out in his anguish on the Cross, this psalm which so accurately describes what was done to Him. Whether we like it or not, we are all at this time forced to confront the painful and difficult question of religious violence. The outrage that is felt by people of strong religious faith when their beliefs are mocked and their most sacred realities profaned, and the terrible capacity, then, of at least some (a small percentage, yes, but who do incalculable harm) to lash out in murderous violence and rage.

While there is a particular struggle within Islam around these questions right now, we know that at least historically violence has been done in the name of Jesus Christ. It is the dreadful human tendency—a profound and tragic mistake—to go from ‘This means a great deal to me, and I believe you are doing something horrible in mocking it’ to ‘And so I will kill you if you don’t stop.’ It is hardly limited to religious questions, but of course religious faith does mean a lot to those who have it, and so it does show up in that venue.

I cannot speak about Islam on this blog—I don’t know enough about it, and do not have the time to educate myself enough to write intelligently on the subject. But it seems to me that, at least for Christians, our faith and this psalm at the heart of our faith at least gives us a path of contemplation and a way of understanding that should deliver us from the terrible scourge of committing violence in the name of our God.

Because the God we worship in Christianity is a God who was spat upon. A God who was mocked. A God who was slapped in the face, flogged, sneered at, thrown down into the dust. And this is our God—the God we worship, the God of spittle and blood and dirt, of wounds and shame. The God who was murdered, and that death was the life of the world.

It seems to me that this makes a great difference, or it certainly should, to how we Christians approach the mockery of religion and the ridicule of our most sacred beliefs. We do not have to ‘avenge the honor’ of Jesus, and if we think we do, we have gone badly awry in our understanding of Jesus. Jesus saved us—saved the whole world!—through being mocked and derided, humiliated and scorned. The God who was spat upon does not need us to defend Him; “Put your sword away…” (Matt 26:52).

The problem of religious violence and the deep struggle within Islam around this question (and let us not forgot to pray for all Muslims at this time) is a thorny one. But at the very least Christians have a way out, and we need to present this more clearly—God’s response to hatred is not more hatred, violence for violence, blow for blow, but is the path of suffering love, humble acceptance, and forgiveness of enemies. This is the Christian Gospel, and it has never needed to be preached more urgently than in the year 2015.

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