Facsimile Gods and Seductive Narratives

Like so many people around our country, I have been reeling this week from the devastating images of the sustained, institutional abuse of young people in juvenile detention in the Northern Territory. The reality that the majority of these young people are Indigenous Australians yet again confronts us with the racism that lurks so closely under the skin of our nation.

To deny that racism exists towards Australia’s first people, is to deny the air we breathe. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be instantly judged, not by what I say or do, but by how I look, or the colour of my skin. This is what Indigenous people encounter daily.

In our current national, and global, context in which shocking violence is being experience by so many, people sometimes wonder where God is.  Commonly, it seems, people assume that if there were a God, this God would embody power like humans often do: in violence and aggression. That is, people think that God should come sweeping in overthrowing those who do wrong and zapping those we consider the bad guys. When the divine does not act like this, people assume that God must be either dead or impotent.

This is a seductive narrative, however it rests on an absurd foundation. First, we make God in our own image and then decry this facsimile for its powerlessness. As people from various contexts around our global village inflict horrific violence upon one another, sometimes in the name of God, while some may be tempted to blame God, this is avoiding responsibility. This is not the divine’s behaviour or being, this is our human behaviour.

While this kind of understanding of God as a superhero (or failed superhero) has been welded on to Christianity in various periods of history, and in various contexts, this is not the kind of God that Jesus reveals. Instead, Jesus confronts us with the disruptive reality that the divine, far from popular opinion, does not use power over humanity in order to make change happen. In wild contrast, the divine gives away power. In Jesus, the divine chooses to pitch tent (John 1.14) with us in vulnerability, as the outcast. This Jesus then keeps on choosing to forgive and befriend, heal, nourish and make room for others, including those who are deemed outcasts and wrongdoers by society. At the same time, this Jesus exposes and challenges the myopic assumptions of the powerful and the corrupt.

The extent of Jesus’ non-violent self-giving is witnessed most graphically in the cross. In complete contrast to assumptions that if there were a God, this God would be a smash and burn deity, the cross confronts us with the divine who endures our violence, and who in doing so, exposes the lie that violence is sacred.

The cross exposes our human predilection for violence and the divine’s non-retaliatory compassion that ‘endures all things’ (1 Cor 13.7). The resurrection reveals that this seeming divine weakness (1 Cor 1.21-25) is actually more powerful than all our violence and death dealing put together.

This invites a profound recalibration of our understandings of the nature of God, of violence, of power, of human behaviour and how we might live.  In my experience, seeking to follow in the way of Jesus is about entering the divine’s slip stream of non-retaliation and of, slowly, being reoriented into the flow of grace.

It is costly, but it is liberating, because we can finally tear up the facsimiles and begin again.

Rev Dr Sally Douglas