Reflection on God and the Suffering Servant, Isaiah 53:10-11
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Reflection on God and the Suffering Servant, Isaiah 53:10-11
(October 18, 2009)

This passage, which refers to the Suffering Servant, begins, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin.” Does God ordain the suffering of the Servant? If so, does this indicate that God sometimes supports scapegoating?
People have always found it tempting to force scapegoats to suffer the consequences of the community’s transgressions. The community often gets validation from religious authorities, including Christian authorities, who have claimed God’s endorsement of abuse of minorities, women, homosexuals, animals, and other victims in ways that constitute scapegoating. However, I think the Bible describes Jesus as holding that God does not favor such victimization. Indeed, if I believed that God supports scapegoating, I might worship God out of fear of divine retribution, but I would not love God.
As I discuss at length in Guided by the Faith of Christ, a central component of Jesus’ ministry was to help people find ways to transcend the human inclination to participate in scapegoating. The above passage from Isaiah says that the Suffering Servant “makes himself an offering for sin.” Earlier, Isaiah had described the Servant as sinless, and I think the servant, by allowing himself to be blamed for the iniquities (Isa 53:11) of the community, demonstrates that he is a victim of scapegoating. If the Servant had some degree of guilt, the community could have convinced itself that the Servant deserved the punishment. One reason scapegoating is frequently difficult to recognize is that the victim is often guilty to a degree, but not as guilty as scapegoaters believe. By being sinless, the Servant clearly did not deserve to be punished.
If the Servant had tried to use violence to defend himself, the community would have become convinced that his violence was a manifestation of his guilt. If the Servant somehow diverted attention to someone else, for example claiming that another person was “possessed by the devil,” the Servant might have been spared, but the ideology of scapegoating would have been preserved.
I do not think God wanted the Servant to suffer. Instead, God offered the Servant an opportunity to help save the community from its proclivity to engage in unrighteous, unjust scapegoating. By exposing their scapegoating as unjust, the Servant would undermine scapegoating itself.
In future commentaries, I will suggest that, similarly, God did not want Jesus to suffer and die. However, Jesus’ destiny, which he chose to accept, was to allow himself to be a victim of scapegoating and, in doing so, reveal the community’s scapegoating to itself.

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