What is the origin of scapegoating? We tend to think it was a system set up by God. We think that God requires blood to forgive the guilty party. We likewise think that sacrifice was a system set up by God, so he could forgive people. We believe that God is the one who requires the blood. But this thinking gives us problems when we come to the Prophets and to the teachings of Jesus. The Prophets said that God did not institute sacrifice and he did not even like it. (Psalm 50:1215, Hosea 6:6) Jesus reiterated this in his teaching. (Matt 9:13)
“For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Jer 7:22) In other words, the idea didn’t originate with God. “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired.” (Psalm 40:6) God’s use of sacrifice in Old Testament times was what we call “missional.” That means, he takes what is the practice of human culture and uses it to draw the people to himself, so he may transform them and their culture. The use of sacrifice in human culture to clear guilt, and to offer gifts to the deity for his blessing and favour, wasn’t something that God instituted. It was instituted by man, when like Adam and Eve in the Garden, they saw that they were guilty. God took this human custom so that he might transform it and take it away.
What was the transformation? Man invented sacrifice to buy favour from God. Especially in the pagan cultures, it became the gods demanding something from people. God continued with this concept of sacrifice but transformed its meaning. Instead, God became the sacrifice, and he was giving himself for mankind. This transforms our hearts. The leaders of our society are no longer taking gifts from the people, but giving their lives to serve the people. This is the distinction in the kingdom of God, instituted by Christ giving his life as a ransom to set us free from satan. In doing so he laid down the new pattern: the greatest among you shall be the servant of the least. It isn’t the sacrifice of another anymore a scapegoat it is now the sacrifice of our self for our neighbour.
Sacrifice for sin was set up due to the law. The law wasn’t God’s purpose for man, but was a system that man put himself under through the knowledge of good and evil. His guilty conscience required sacrifice for sin. It was required by satan the accuser. So God gave himself in Christ to free us from the law, or what we call in law terms the wrath or judgement of God. The cross was not something required by God for our sin, but a rescue mission for those who are separated from God due to their sin. Or as Christ called it, his cross was a ransom to rescue us. (Mark 10:45) The cross was not something God demanded, but something he gave. In Western theology we have often left this satan component out when reading about the atonement in Romans, but this element is vital to our understanding.
This law mindset, or demanding payment for sin, was very high in the priority of the Pharisees. It was their view of God: they thought God’s law must be satisfied. This is satan’s view. This is why they demanded the woman caught in adultery be stoned. As Jesus said to the disciples, when they wanted to call down fire upon the guilty, “You don’t know what spirit you are of.” This is the thing: satan has hidden from man the real nature of his activities. When we demand the stoning of the guilty party we don’t know what we are doing. And this is especially so when the cause is righteous. The more righteous the cause, the more our motivation and spirit is hidden from us.
It is common in all societies today for people to get behind the condemnation of the guilty party. The motivation for such actions is often that we like to transfer to that person our own sense of guilt and shame. Scapegoating, calling out the guilt of someone else, especially if the cause is just and good, is a perfect opportunity for us to feel better about ourselves. We think we are doing good. This is what is hidden from our eyes. We don’t know that in taking this position, we, not the guilty party, are operating as the satan of the society. We have become the accuser under the law, looking for blood. Satan wants this hidden from our eyes. He wants us to feel good about what we are doing, because he wants us to keep killing others for our sins.
Possibly the greatest instance of scapegoating is when we attack another country in war, for a just cause. This doesn’t bring justice as we assumed, but escalates violence and suffering for many. We felt that going after Saddam and Gaddafi would heal the world, but it opened the door to untold violence. We don’t overcome violence with violence. We felt that entering Afghanistan to kill would make things better, but it has considerably made things worse. It’s just what the enemy wanted. In a theatre of violence, the enemy can perpetrate far greater levels of crime.
Jesus had to first expose the Pharisees’ scapegoating violence, and the Gospel of John does this wonderfully. In John 8, Jesus calls them out as murderers, and this is proven in the case of the woman caught in adultery. But the Pharisees are blind to this and they deny it. They believe they are operating in a just cause. In John 9 the Pharisees scapegoat a blind man, for its always the relatively innocent or weak person that is targeted. Jesus claims it is the scapegoaters who are the real blind. In John 10 Jesus calls this behaviour out as “the satan”, who works within our hearts to steal, kill and destroy. Jesus is throughout speaking of his own death, in which the Pharisees will offer Jesus through gross violence for their own sins. (John 11:50)
The whole teaching and life of Jesus can be seen as undoing the sacrifice/scapegoating system of human violence and blood lust. Instead of a system of killing to overcome enemies, Jesus offers a new way of doing society, of moving from satan’s rule in our world to God’s rule over our communities. Primary to this new way is instead of blaming or judging others, to take out the log from our own eye. Instead of calling for revenge, eye for eye, we move from killing others toward actions that rebuild hurting relationships, restore injustices through mercy and selfgiving, and which work towards reconciliation. We are moving from our traditional culture of law, blood and killing by gossip, to a culture of taking up our own cross to serve and heal ourselves and others.
Jesus is showing us that when we call out the sin of others we are really justifying ourselves. He is showing us that this leads to a life of violence, that releases satan into our societies to kill and destroy. He is showing us that this form of so called justice, that has operated in our cultures from the beginning, is actually satan led. He is showing us that we must lay down this way of living and instead follow his way as the Prince of Peace and Lamb of God. We pursue justice by forgiving our enemies and serving them, by loving them and praying for them: by building bridges to serve the weak and those different to ourselves, the foreigners, rather than demonising (scapegoating) them. This overcomes evil and satan.