Yesterday, Good Friday, I attended the Stations of the Cross liturgy at our church. As we walked through the episodes of Jesus’s condemnation, crucifixion, and death, one phrase from the first station loomed largest in my thoughts: “He did not spare his own son, but delivered him over for us all” (Romans 8:32).
If you believe, as I now do, that a primary aspect of the Good News is the decoupling of power and domination, this verse could be read as a rejection of nepotism — a statement of God’s total solidarity with all people, from the lowest to the highest. When human beings acquire wealth and power, we tend to give preferential treatment to “our sons”, the ones we consider our kind of people, hoarding more resources for them than they need, at outsiders’ expense. Jesus’s parables portray God as king, land-owner, judge — all positions that humans have used to dispense unfair advantages — in order to underscore that God is not that kind of authority figure, and neither should we be.
However…as a survivor of familial violence, I also felt triggered by the image of a father who put other agendas ahead of protecting his son, whose safety was his special responsibility.
Before I incorporated this trauma into my political and spiritual identity, all I wanted from Christianity was a safe place to move beyond it. (And I’m grateful that, for the most part, I found it.) In those days, God forgive me, I would have been too quick to explain why the latter response to Romans 8:32 was a misreading.
Now, I think it’s essential that the abuse-triggering interpretations be allowed to stand alongside the positive, healing ones. Not to undercut Christian doctrine in a reductionist psychological way, and not to compete with its claim to be the single “correct” response to the Good Friday story.
Rather, in this season of repentance, those trauma reactions should be heard to indict us, our community, our society, for having created the conditions where a person would be unable to believe in a loving Father or a willing sacrifice.
This is not merely a private problem for the survivor to work out between herself and Jesus so that she can bring her feelings into line with ours. Our job is not to save her by making her one of us, but to listen to her prophetic voice outside the gates (a place where Jesus spent a lot of time) so we never forget that the church’s central task is to model an abuse-free community, where power is exercised only as loving servanthood.