Oppressors and the Cross

Some dissertation musings I wrote out, more of a sketch of thoughts than a final product. But it shows a little bit what I’m thinking about these days.

Oppressors don’t feel guilt, and they don’t orient their sin around guilt. The cross as a way of expunging guilt isn’t effective or worthwhile. We put ourselves up on the cross with Jesus, deserving the blame he received as a way of dealing with our existential guilt. Jesus is there instead of us. But that’s not the message of Acts 3. The oppressors do not feel guilt, they attach blame. They are the ones who put Jesus on the cross, each for different reasons.

The oppressor tends to attach blame to the oppressed, foils for discontent. Something is wrong in life, oppressing sin needs a target to blame in order to excuse sinful behavior. The wife who isn’t good enough becomes the excuse a husband needs to cheat. The culture that is economically suffering becomes a target to blame for a society dysfunction. Supposed nefarious plans for domination in one group becomes a source for anger and domination, leading to colonization, racism, sexism.

We find targets to blame to justify our own arrogance and attempts at oppression. The oppressors who do this do not feel guilt because they have rationalized their behavior as being justified by the supposed sins of others, who brought on their suffering due to some present or historical deficiency. The inversion of oppression works the same way. The oppressed blame their oppressors, raging against the causes of suffering. Here is where the cross takes on a new emphasis for established and new oppressors.

The cross becomes a target for our blame because human psychology needs a direction to rage and ruin. Like Cain, we take our frustration on targets other than God. We orient ourselves in a religious posture while re-directing the rage and fear onto other targets, onto those who should be our brothers and our sisters. When, in fact, our existential fears—whether aesthete or pharisaic—really target existence itself, and for that the only acceptable target is God. The cross becomes, not a place for our guilt, but a place for our rage to go against whatever inequality, frustration, or temptation we might feel.

Don’t blame others for deserving what you do to them. Blame Jesus, put him on the cross. He went willingly before all the blame cast upon him, taking the blame for others.

The cross takes our blame, our rage, our racism—all those sin-stained orientations of death that despise others while trying to justify our own position. The oppressors put Jesus on the cross, and it was not because they were feeling guilty. It was because they were not feeling guilty and so had to have targets to blame to redirect their responsibility.

The face of God is the face of the crucified Jesus, who takes our rage and accusations with silence, only saying, “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” Jesus who takes this rage and accusation is the only one whose identity is wholly secured to absorb it, not only for himself, but for all the victims of phenomenal history and all the victimizers. Those who feel guilt put themselves among the criminals on the cross with Jesus. Those who oppress, however, are represented by Pilate or the Jewish leaders or the mocking, sadistic Roman soldiers.

“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” (Acts 3:17-20)

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