Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?—William Cavanaugh Interview—part 2

William T. Cavanaugh
Dr. William T. Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh is Professor of Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. He holds degrees from Notre Dame, Cambridge, and Duke University, and has worked as a lay associate with the Holy Cross order in a poor area of Santiago, Chile, as well as for the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Notre Dame Law School. His books include:

2016 Richard Johnson Lecture

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. William Cavanaugh and attending his lecture “The Myth of Religious Violence”. I’ve broken the interview up into 6 short posts:

  1. Violence and Theology? Just War and Pacifism?
  2. Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?
  3. Did Constantine Make Christianity Violent?
  4. Has God Ever Commanded Genocide? What is Justice?
  5. Is God Violent In Hell? Does That Influence Us Now?
  6. Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Four Views on Hell? Origen? Torture? Is Everyone A Child Of God?

I’ve also posted it as a single, combined post.

Was God Violent To Jesus?

Was God violent to Jesus on the cross? Basically, is Penal Substitutionary Atonement 1, as taught by some people, an act of violence against Jesus?

As it’s taught by some people, yes. I think that I much prefer what Girard has to say about these matters. Which is, of course, based on the idea that God the Father didn’t kill the Son—we killed the Son.

That makes so much more sense {laughs}.

Right, absolutely {laughs}.

I think proper reading of what Anselm has to say about this is that the judge condemns the defendant. But then comes down off the bench and takes the defendant’s place—this is an act of self sacrifice. It’s not an act of violence, of one person of the Trinity against another.

Yeah… {both laugh} Yes, I totally agree. The way some people talk about it, it’s violence by our loving Father God against an innocent person, Jesus. I don’t think that sets a very good precedent.

Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?

Some people use some of the imagery in the Book of Revelation to try to frame Jesus as a military figure. He came the first time as a nice, meek, and mild Jesus but the second time He’s coming back as a military leader to conquer with the sword. Then they sort of use that to say that we should actually get on with that now—we should start bringing Jesus’ kingdom pretty much by military means—and you see them trying to reclaim the temple mount, etc. There’s a whole theological outworking. Do you see that as problematic and how would you interpret the passages in Revelation where it’s talking about wars basically?

To read through Revelation that way is to prove that Nietzsche was right about Christianity, that it’s a resentful, kind of slave religion, that would take revenge if it had power but doesn’t because it’s a religion for the weak but we fantasize about getting our revenge and take our revenge in kind of passive aggressive sorts of ways. I think that’s just a really horrible way to read Christianity, and it’s a misreading of the Book of Revelation too.

I mean, you’ll notice that the rider’s rope is already dipped in blood before the battle begins at the end of the Book of Revelation, which means that it’s the martyrs that conquer. I mean this is a book of martyrdom and it’s not a book of vengeance, and so the whole experience of the Church under the Pagan Roman Empire—under which the Book of Revelation was written—is an experience of martyrdom and not of violence. It’s of experience of refusing to commit violence, and suffering it instead, and praying for the conversion of the empire, which eventually happens.

But I think any other reading of the Book of Revelation as vengeance, is a misreading of the Book of Revelation and it’s really hard to square with the Gospels as well, where Jesus comes back with the wounds in His hands and says, “Peace be with you”. You know people want him to come back in life as Arnold Schwarzenegger—”Jesus is back and he’s mad as hell!”—and He just doesn’t.

Yes, He is the Lamb that was slain, seated on the throne.

1. As William implied, I think some explanations of Penal Substitutionary Atonement make a lot of sense but some don’t.

6 thoughts on “Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?—William Cavanaugh Interview—part 2”

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