Undoing the Sacrificial Matrix

This is in response to a comment on the Achan post. The question was:

Does your spin on the Achan story depend on the notion that there must have been other “Achans” who weren’t caught?

The way I see it is if the events in the Achan story" are interpreted literally, then obviously you can have only one Achan. Things are what they are. God commands the wiping out of nations and anything associated or "touched" by them, like Achan and his family. And so it goes, the sacrificial altar humps along, (throughout scripture) claiming its victims and restoring "meaning" and "peace", and keeping the sacrificers safe and on the right side. (And far as we’re concerned, all we need to do is make sure we stay on the right side.)

If however you question this kind of God and refuse an Arianistic split between Father and Son and believe the Son wholly reveals the Father, then things look much different. The first difference is that the interpretation of the Achan event must be seen not only theologically but also anthropologically. That is, that this culture, as those around them, lived within the cult of sacrifice. But with a difference–that the writers interpreted the events within their culture as best they could, with the "light" they had. And that "light" was God’s gradual self-revelation.

In fact the story of scripture is that this "light" grows through God’s slow but persistant self-revelation; even while God continues to work within our own sacrificial matrix as a way of finally undoing it. The light becomes successively brighter as we move through the historical books, then through the poets and especially the prophets; and finally, in Christ, we discover that the "light" is the Light of the world.

With this anthropological as well as theological understanding in mind, "my spin" on the Achan story is that it doesn’t need other Achan’s, actually, doesn’t need an Achan at all. That’s because an "Achan-like" culprit/victim will be found. That is just the intransigence of the "scapegoating mechanism".

In the same way, Christ didn’t plan his being sacrificed, it wasn’t a Father/Son sacrificial pact as the substitution atonement theory presents. What Christ did know is that his studied non-association with sacrifice and scapegoating, powerfully represented in everything from the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, a quintessential scapegoat, to the cleansing of the Temple and its sacrificial fascination, would inevitably result in his being sacrificed. As Caiaphas says from deep within the mechanism, "better to have one man die in exchange for the nation…" And so Christ is sacrificed, and predictably "peace" breaks out, Pilot and Herod become friends over the sacrificial altar.

And without the resurrection, the mechanism stays hidden, violence casts out violence claiming sacred status, the "power of sin" holds, Satan doesn’t fall like lightning. But mercifully, of course, the resurrection redefines everything.

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  1. “Mercifully, of course, the resurrection redefines everything”….yet we still think that violence will wipe out violence; we still don’t get it. And until we get it, as long as we continue to believe in the violence of God, we will continue to be violent in the name of God, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim….God-as-violent in scripture is a dominant theme, and we’ve latched on to it. But though the bible offers contradictory and irreconcilable portrayals of God, the majority of them emphasizing violence and punishment, we no longer accept them as suitable models for us (executing children who talk back to parents, stoning of homosexuals and prostitutes etc). We’re evolving and understanding better than we once did, but still not seeing clearly enough…still see “through a glass, darkly.”

  2. I like the point you are making about a progressive revelation.

    Jesus his own good self taught that at least some of what was outlined in Mosaic law was not God’s preferred will but rather His accomodation to the needs of the material He was working with. Because of the hardened hearts of the early Isrealites some issues were left unaddressed till the clay was able to accept the molding.

    Much like the church taking 1850 years to get its head and heart around the need to abolish slavery, things take time in the unfolding of the creation of the Sons of God.

    Perhaps a better day is yet to be revealed in and thru the church

    or perhaps not…..we may be the new chicks that refuse to be warmed beneath the wings of the mother hen.

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