Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth
Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence
By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
Part 17: Job
In revealing the scapegoating mechanism, few books are more helpful than the book of Job. A series of terrible misfortunes befall Job, a righteous man who had previously been blessed with a good family, good health, and material wealth. His predicament outlines the “theodicy problem.” In a world governed by God (i.e., a theodicy) it is not possible for all of the following propositions to be true:
God is righteous.
God is all-powerful.
There is injustice.
Any two may be true, but not all three, and this presents a problem. Since the world certainly seems to contain injustice (#3), it follows that God is either not all powerful or not righteous. Yet, Jewish tradition had held that God was all powerful and righteous, and thus the “problem.”
The book of Job addresses the theodicy problem and offers a path towards its resolution, but does not fully answer the theodicy problem. Job believes his treatment has been unjust, but he does not deny that God is both righteous and all-powerful. Despite his misfortunes, Job refuses to curse God.
His friends visit and do nothing to alleviate his misery. Their solution to the theodicy problem is not to doubt that God is righteous and all-powerful. Rather, they conclude that there is no injustice—Job deserves his suffering. They tell Job (rather uncharitably) that he must have sinned against God, though Job (and the reader) knows otherwise.
From the perspective of mimetic theory, Job is a scapegoat. The sacred order has been violated—an evidently righteous man has suffered the most grievous misfortunes. Rather than offer him the solace he needs, they cruelly accuse him of wrongdoing, despite having no evidence to substantiate their claims. They scapegoat him in order to maintain their own sense of the sacred order.
Job, convinced that he's been treated wrongfully, demands an explanation from God. God eventually addresses Job, but God does not appear to answer Job’s question. Instead, God addresses Job directly and respectfully. In doing so, God avoids a relationship that involves jealousy and rivalry, which would normally cause resentment and retribution. If God had taken a condescending attitude, Job would have been embittered by God’s arrogant abuse of power. If God had approached requesting Job’s understanding of God’s motives, such an attitude of supplication would have encouraged Job to have contempt for a God who hurts innocent people for no good reason. Instead, God simply points out God’s grandeur, power, and mystery, and this respectful engagement engenders Job’s respect.
Britt Johnson, commenting on Job, notes that this story has parallels with New Testament stories about God incarnate as Jesus Christ. Johnson writes, “The issue of theodicy is not resolved by discussion of right and wrong, nor by power and suffering, but by nonrivalrous relationship that completely sets aside issues of reward and punishment.” (“Repenting of Retributionism”)
This is the relationship with Christ that the New Testament offers. Christ doesn’t desire our suffering, but Christ doesn’t make our suffering go away, either. Rather, Christ is a loving friend who gives us no reason to consider him a rival. Christ does not demand our subservience, nor does Christ try to win a popularity contest by saying and doing whatever we want. Christ gives us no cause to compete with him or to feel that he is a rival in our projects to satisfy our desires. This nonrivalrous relationship itself is Christ’s demonstration of a way to deal with the theodicy problem—the problem that in a world governed by a powerful, just God, there is immense suffering among innocent victims. On the Cross, Christ did not bitterly accuse God of injustice or impotence, but instead asked (like Job), “My God, my God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34) In John, the passion story relates, just before dying, “It is finished” (19:30), indicating an acceptance of God’s plan.
Jesus did not curse God, nor did he curse those who were scapegoating him (“Forgive them, father, for they know not what they do”). The response to the theodicy problem is to trust in God rather than to participate in the scapegoating mechanism or reciprocal accusation and violence (the two end-products of mimetic desire and rivalry). Therefore, both the book of Job and the passion of Christ don’t fully answer the theodicy problem. Rather, they offer a way to respond to it. We are called to participate in loving, respectful, nonrivalrous relationships, with God and with each other. We have a free will that enables us to choose to not scapegoat, to not create new victims, to not participate in reciprocal, escalating violence. We are mimetic creatures and we need models, and our model for such relationships is Christ’s relationship to God and to us. Christ’s model shows us how to live lovingly and compassionately. There will still be pain and suffering in this fallen world, but, to the degree that we imitate Christ, we become instruments of the solution rather than contributors to the problem.
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Part 18: A Brief
Review of Girardian
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