“The violence of Good Friday has nothing to do with God!” insisted Jesuit theologian Michael Kirwan SJ, in a Zoomcast on March 30th to members and supporters of ACI.
Director of the Loyola Institute in Trinity College, Dublin, Fr Kirwan defended this assertion by pointing to the ‘Divine Reproaches’ read at all Catholic Good Friday services.
Beginning with the words ‘O my people, how have I offended you? How have I grieved you? Answer me!’ – these laments make clear that God the Father is in solidarity not just with Jesus on the Cross but with all victims of unjust violence.
This passage in Fr Kirwan’s talk occurs about 38 minutes into the recording of the event, now clickable below.
Michael Kirwan was introducing the key ideas of the American-French thinker, René Girard – who saw clearly that ‘religion does funny things to people’ in their immature encounters with it. Even Jesus’s disciples became tangled in rivalry and conflict when he spoke of the Kingdom of God – because we have a natural inclination toward wanting to be superior, to be ‘the greatest’.
So, according to Fr Kirwan, the violence of the Good Friday events has nothing to do with “God sending his son to be some kind of expiatory sacrifice. It is not about God punishing his son. The violence of Good Friday is entirely the violence of human beings – and pious human beings at that.”
To access the complete recording, click the ‘Forward’ button below.
This website has an entire section devoted to René Girard’s philosophical approach to scripture and its stories of violence – from Cain’s murder of his brother Abel in the Book of Genesis to the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation.Dr Michael Kirwan is Director of the Loyola Institute based in Trinity College Dublin and Assistant Professor of Theology in the Catholic Tradition. He is the author of Discovering Girard (Darton, Longman and Todd 2004) a recognised introduction to the seminal insights of one of the most influential thinkers of our time.
But God suffers that violence in Christ. There are implications that go very far and very wide. To say simply that the violence has nothing to do with God could be very misleading. Of course God is not the agent of the violence but in Christ he is the patient; Christ’s human sufferings are also divine sufferings (not in a gnostic, patripassian sense).
Is there a theological issue regarding God ‘suffering’, Joe? I somehow recall the CDF having an issue with someone over that – understanding ‘to suffer’ as ‘to experience pain’. But to ‘suffer’ is also to ‘allow x to happen’ – as in ‘suffer the little children to come unto me’.
Your emphasis seems to be on God the Father not being indifferent to Jesus’s pain, or to our pain either. That is essentially the Girardian ‘take’ on all of the episodes of all-against-one violence in scripture, e.g. Jonah, Job, most of the Psalms, Joseph, Susannah – that they always emphasise the innocence of the victim – demonstrating an intentional ‘pattern’ of revelation – of the consequences, in ‘real time, of our rivalries, and of our unwillingness to recognise our own complicity in scapegoating (e.g. these times the fostering of enmity towards immigrants and refugees and sexual minorities).
But why did classical theology not see that pattern before Girard? And why even yet do so many not see it? The tendency to see the Crucifixion as a completely one-off event, utterly unique in both scripture and history, has surely been an evangelical disaster that has distanced the Father from us instead of emphasising his solidarity with us? Anselmian 1098 CE ‘satisfactionism’ – which makes the Father the ‘strategist’ for the crucifixion, by emphasising his need for satisfaction for sin – over and above what we ourselves suffer- is surely the mistake that Michael Kirwan is at pains to nail?
African American theology (e.g. James Cone) saw God’s solidarity with the many victims of lynching before most of our clergy and theologians? This blindness is surely connected with Christendom’s toleration of victimisation, over and over again – the clear understanding of God’s solidarity not with victims but with political establishments who had always to insist that God was on THEIR side?