I think it’s true that an understanding of God’s complete gratuity, complete non-involvement in violence is only understood in and through some kind of existential moment, or experience.
This doesn’t need to be anything over the top. It could be as simple as a sister-in-law remarking one day, “I don’t know if I can any longer believe in a God who would sacrifice his son.” It could be as simple as a friend asking, “How is it possible to be saved by God’s putting Jesus to death? Was that the only option?” Or as simple albeit intriguing as following a thought about desire through a couple writers and finally picking up a book by James Alison, called Faith Beyond Resentment.
These experiences, along with a couple similar ones, have marked my memory because they are so, well, unremarkable. And yet these occasions have shifted my thinking and have taken me on an exploratory journey that continually confirms itself.
All this obviously lacks any sort of theological sophistication. Admittedly, my coming to this understanding, which has now driven itself deep into me, was hardly “rational” or academic. It was existential, meaning: having been presented with something like a new suit, it was tried on, and found to fit. It was time to throw out the old wardrobe.
Of course, in this, I can be accused of taking refuge from cross-examination. It’s hard to argue against an experience turned embedded belief.
At the same time, “embedded” belief doesn’t last without at least occasional verification. In the face of centuries of sacrificial understanding, I’m quite sure my non-sacrificial perception would buckle under the weight.
But, amazingly, wonderfully, the ring of truth concerning God’s non-involvement in any kind of sacrifice or scapegoating violence grows louder. The idea, still embryonic, is gaining literary and theological backing. Rene Girard and theologians like James Alison who follow Girard’s thought are certainly responsible for this growth. But the idea is not Girard’s, it is the Bible’s, as Girard expertly documents.
For an experience, intellectual but beyong intellectual, possibly life-altering, try on Girard’s, Things Hidden from the Foundation of the World.