Like the tiny coral which over time produces a massive reef, the Christian Gospel has uniquely refashioned the human landscape. The nonviolence and forgiveness of the Crucified One has seeped into the deep structure of human affairs, throwing into relief the victims of human violence, and, at the same time, evoking life-giving responses of compassion, forgiveness and nonviolence. In this sense our world can rightly be called “virtually Christian.”
With our sacrificial glasses put to the side for a moment, what seems fairly clear here is not that the servant gives up his life to satisfy the wrath of God—that would have to be read into the text—rather, the servant willingly gives up his life (nefesh) non-violently (Isaiah 53:9) for the very people who put him to death. He sees the profundity of what he is suffering through and so, gains an understanding and a knowledge that makes “many” righteous (Isaiah 53:11). The knowledge that the servant earns is a recognition of both God’s desires and of what it means to be human. Anthony Bartlett calls it a “new theological-anthropological truth.” To be righteous—that is to say, to be like God—is to be like the suffering servant, the one who has no violence in him (Isaiah 53:9). James G. Williams drives this point further home in the following: “It wasn’t God who caused suffering, it was the oppressors. As the divine voice says in an oracle found in chapter 54: ‘If any one stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you.’ ‘Strife’—the conflict of mimetic rivalry that results in violence—does not come from God.”
“A sea of glass mingled with fire” (Rev. 15:2).
Peace and energy do not always go together, though they should. Energy need be none the less energetic if it be peaceful, nor peace the less peaceful if it be energetic. Peace without energy may be only stagnation; and energy without peace may be but a form of panic. What we need is that our glassy sea be mingled with fire, and that our fire shall have for its home a glassy sea. Too often the water puts out the fire, or the fire dries up the water; but in every true life these dwell helpfully together. Why should peace exclude passion, and why should passion destroy peace? Why should one moral quality triumph at the expense of another? Yet, too often it is so. Sometimes our sea is not glassy, but tempest tossed; and sometimes…
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“Heaven will solve our problems, but not, I think, by showing us subtle reconciliations between all our apparently contradictory notions. The notions will all be knocked from under our feet. We shall see that there never was any problem.
And, more than once, that impression which I can’t describe except by saying it’s like the sound of a chuckle in the darkness. The sense that some shattering and disarming simplicity is the real answer.”
C.S. Lewis, from A Grief Observed