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Everybody Needs a Scapegoat

June 9, 2016

 

I once went to a healing meeting. A man on a stage said that God was giving him inside information about different health conditions that people in the audience were experiencing. He said that if he called out the name of a particular condition that you were experiencing it meant that God was healing you.

My son was sitting next to me. My school age son who couldn't walk, talk, dress or feed himself. Who had epilepsy and problems with vision and coordination. Would the man call out my son's condition? Was it possible that my son might be miraculously healed? The man said that someone in the audience who couldn't previously lift their arm very high was now able to lift it above their shoulder. Really? That was the height of God's healing power? I went home disappointed.

I always relate to the story in the Bible about the father who brings his epileptic son to Jesus and Jesus heals him. Jesus always healed everybody. That's one of the things I really like about Jesus. I sometimes feel like that father – bringing my son to Jesus – except that he doesn't get healed. I used to wonder why. Did I do something wrong? Was God holding out on me? One person said it was because I had sin in my life. They were pretty much saying that my son's disability was my fault.

Who is to blame?

There was once a man who was blind from birth and people asked Jesus whose fault it was. Someone had to be to blame, right? Was it the man's fault or his parents' that he had been born blind?  Jesus said that neither the man nor his parents were to blame. That's another thing I like about Jesus. He wasn't into blaming people for stuff. And then Jesus healed the man so that he could see.

It seems to me that part of the human condition is to look for someone to blame when things go wrong. But we don't like looking within. It needs to be someone who isn't me or, in the case of a group, isn't us. So whether it's my parents, the government, Islamic extremists or the bully at school, someone else is to blame for how I'm feeling. Everybody needs a scapegoat.

So why do we find it necessary to apportion blame? Rene Girard has suggested that we project our shadow – what we don't like or don't want to admit about ourselves – onto others. In the biblical story of our origins, God asks why a particular thing was done and the man blames the woman and the woman blames a snake. It's always got to be somebody else's fault.

The goat in the room

Civilisations have relied and continue to rely heavily on scapegoating in order to maintain the status quo. If two tribes are warring it matters very little who threw the first spear or why. What matters is finding a scapegoat … someone to blame and sacrifice in order to end the fighting and preserve society. Indeed, entire religious systems have been built on this premise. We project our own anger onto a deity and then seek to appease this angry god of our own making by offering sacrifices to it.

 
Jesus came to put an end to religious sacrificial systems but religious people didn't like that so they killed him. At Jesus' trial, the Jewish high priest even stated that it was better that “one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50), and in the process made his creator into the ultimate scapegoat. Jesus loved us so much that he was willing to bear the angry accusations of the mob and even die as the ultimate nonviolent response to our misdirected anger.

The funny thing about Jesus coming to put an end to religion is that people liked what he said and did, so they made a religion out of him. In the process, some people have overlaid Jesus' explosive new message of unconditional love with old school scapegoating theology and believe that Jesus had to die to appease an angry God. But in his first message as leader of the fledgling church, Peter makes it clear that it was the people who murdered Jesus, not God. God was the one who raised him from the dead. (See Acts 2:23-24).

God is not angry

So the good news is that our shortcomings didn't cause God to turn his back on us and demand a sacrifice. In the Genesis narrative it was Adam and Eve who hid from God, not the other way round. The apostle Paul wrote that we were alienated from God and became his enemies “in our own minds” (Col 1:21). Did you get that? The disconnect between us and God is all a product of our own misguided thinking.

What the gospel is all about, then, is not a self-focused, personal hell-avoidance policy. It's so much broader than that. Paul says that God was, in Jesus, reconciling the cosmos – the entire created order – to himself (2 Cor 5:19). We hid from God. We were angry. We needed someone to blame so we projected that anger onto a loving God then lived in fear of him. We had forgotten who we really were. In Jesus, however, we are reintroduced to a kind creator who has always loved us and has never been far from each one of us. Now that's good news!

 

 

Mark Darling has a background in psychology and applied neuroscience. He is currently exploring the high country of grace and finding many delightful places of rest for the soul. Mark enjoys surfing, bush walking, making music, good food and laughter in the company of friends. He resides on Queensland's Sunshine Coast and has two grown children.

See all previous articles by Mark Darling

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