Sunday, January 13, 2008

God's Story: As For The Story the Tyrants Try to Write

“Throughout the centuries, the blood of the righteous has been spilled on the earth: the blood of Abel and the blood of countless innocents who died during the violent times before the flood; the blood of nameless infants of Israel slaughtered by Pharoah and the blood of the innocents shed during the reign of Manasseh; the blood of the prophets sent to Ahab and Jezebel and the blood of the infants surrounding Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod; the blood of Stephen and James and Peter and Paul; the blood of Thecla and Polycarp and Lawrence and Ignatius and Agnes and Hippolytus. They have been crucified, skinned, torn in pieces, and fed to lions.

From all appearances these martyrs are forgotten forever. There are no warcrimes tribunals; there are few monuments, few memorials, few memories. Hundreds and thousands remain forgotten, nameless, faceless. By one estimate, seventy million martyrs have been killed in the history of the church, as many as forty-five in the past century. They have been killed in Russia and in Nazi Germany, in Turkey and in Algeria, in Nigeria and Sudan and Pakistan…Who even knows? Their blood is soaked into the ground and is silent forever.

That is what Ahab and Jezebel think, and that is what all the cruel powers who prey on the innocent have always thought- and hoped. As [Rene] Girard argues in book after book, all religions and cultures outside of Christianity are premised on this perverse hope, that blood is only blood, the hope that innocent blood can be silenced. When imitative desires fracture a society into war of all against all, harmony is restored by uniting all energies and hostilities against a scapegoat. The scapegoat does not cause the descent into social anarchy, but suffers as if she or he had and restores the social order…In all these systems, the gods underwrite the powers, the scapegoating majority, instead of defending the scapegoat. Girard argues that the Bible is unique in proclaiming the innocence of scapegoats and in revealing a God who hears the cry of innocent blood.

The innocent scapegoat is not some peripheral issue in Scripture but its central message: the gospel is the story of a man whose enemies conspire against him, a man falsely accused of blasphemy, a man taken outside the city to endure an unjust execution (Heb. 13:10-13). Naboth’s body [See 1 Kings 21 for the story of how Ahab and Jezebel murdered Naboth in order to take possession of his vineyard] like the flesh of a purification offering, is taken outside the camp to be destroyed (Lev. 4:11-12, 20-21), foreshadowing the greater purification offered by Jesus. In one sense the blood spilled from the cross speaks a word of mercy for the world, a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb. 12:24). Yet the Lord remains an avenger of blood, even after the cross (Rev. 17-19), and the blood of martyrs cries out for vengeance against the persecutors of Christ, his bride, his gospel. That cry will be heard; that blood will be avenged.” –Peter Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary, (2006), p. 156-57.

“Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea and said: “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again… “ The following verses describe how the music and the commerce and the social events will be silenced forever. The reason: “By your magic spell all the nations were led astray. In her was found the blood of the prophets and of the saints, and of all who have been killed on the earth” (Revelation 18:21, 23-24).

The movie Cry Freedom (with Denzel Washington) recounts the story of Steve Biko, an anti-apartheid leader in South Africa who was savagely tortured and murdered by the South African police for his outspokenness. I know little about Biko beyond this movie. I do not even know if he was a Christian, a “saint”, let alone a prophet-saint. But he was murdered for standing up for justice and God hears the cry of innocent blood. He is in solidarity with the poor, whether they call on Jesus name or not. The judgment of Babylon referred to in the passage quoted from Revelation is not merely for the blood of Christian martyrs.

Stephen Biko


Though Biko’s murder gathered media attention and helped to break the back of apartheid, many died unjustly and only a few knew, and official slanders and absurdities became their capstones. In Russia, many who profited during Soviet communism from the slander and torture and murder of the innocent still enjoy the loot of their corruption and the country suffers for not having had a public reckoning, which makes the demoralization more intense. Many believe in the existence of wickedness but as for goodess... But there is a new and living way and a vantage point has been opened to us: The wicked may prosper for a season, but let us sing with Rich Mullins, “Jesus, write me into your story!” We are a people who believe in the resurrection and a people who believe the story is ultimately one of justice for the innocent, The grave does not end the story. The case is not like Epicurus thought- that we should not sin, unless we can get away with it. The blood is remembered and there is a reckoning. Tyrants, big and small, observe the wind over the naturalistically silent graves of their victims and dream and hope and therapeutically remind themselves that after we die there is only annihilation. Though Lady Macbeth may wring her hands sleepwalking, with the apparition of the blood of her victims on them, when she wakes it is to a mundane, sealed existence safe from seeming unreality of guilt's claims on her. "Guilt" is only the threat of being caught in this lifetime. But God hears the blood, even if it is only Him alone who knows, and this ultimately will determine the end of the story.

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