Cain’s violence was carried over into his city building also, and this violence has become part of the myth of human civilization ever since. The bible exposed the innocence of Abel and the truth about the violence, but human culture has covered this over. The Roman culture stood on its narrative of righteous brutality. The gospel is very much a story of Christ replacing this narrative with one of peace. The path to peace is peace, not violence.
This is clearly seen in the New Testament when we know the history of that time. Rome claimed their Caesar was the Son Man in Daniel seven, that ascended to heaven to rule over the nations. This claim was commonly known by all in that day. Paul refuted this in his letter to the Roman church, in the first chapter.
Jesus reflected on Rome’s claim when presenting his kingdom. “The kingdoms of this world rule over the people. My followers will rule by serving the weakest.” Then in Matthew 25 he spoke of his ascension to power at the Father’s right hand. This passage in Matthew is a direct comparison with Rome. His kingdom rules by, “I was hungry and you fed me. I was an outcast and you brought me in.” Nations, including our modern nations, that don’t rule this way, harden their own heart, which leads to their own self-destruction.
What has been hidden is our violence, which we claim is how kingdoms and nations are built and preserved. Jesus has come to undermine this very idea at the foundation of our cultures. Since the beginning, cultures have been founded and carried forward by violence. What is hidden is our guilt, hidden within our propaganda, and the true nature of God, whom we claim to be following in this violent process.
We may ask, doesn’t God call nations to save the weak by force? We call it Just War. Romans 13 says such nations are the servants of God for our good. This was referring to Rome, and to Babylon, when Jeremiah warned Israel not to resist their power, for God had sent them. But both Babylon and Rome were also destroyed. God is calling the church to renew these powers, so their rule is genuinely just, not a brutality that is hidden in our national narratives.
Matthew said the parables of Jesus revealed the things that were hidden since the beginning. The central focus of the parables was the kingdom of God. It was about how a new kingdom was breaking out and would displace the former reign of satan and slowly fill the earth like leaven fills a lump of dough. One of the main parables of this new kingdom was about the sower, who sows new seed. The seed is hampered by the conditions of this world, but it eventually brings forth fruit.
The parables reveal the true nature of God and of worship. It angered the Pharisees that Jesus was visiting sinners. They thought such people should bear the brunt of religious punishments. This is where Jesus gave the parable about the Prodigal Son, to show God’s nature of love towards people.
This was hidden from humanity. They had religions of sacrifice and death, which they thought were in line with the character of God. But the Prodigal Son’s father was not at all like this.
The parable of the Good Samaritan showed the irrelevance of the temple sacrifice to the real need of Jerusalem and the real healing of the society. While they left the outcast suffering on the street, and the foreigner outside their orbit of concern, their society had no hope of repair. The religion, or church, that God wanted was our worship on the street, where the suffering is.
The things that they thought were religion and pleasing to God were destructive to the community.
Isolating the sinners and the foreigners could only bring further injustice and anger to our societies.
Instead, God sends us among them to heal. This is what was hidden: what God is truly like, one who doesn’t come to condemn, to punish, but to heal. All of our religions had been built on the opposite.
The parable about the mustard seed completely removes from us any notion of scapegoating the weak. It challenges our whole culture of mimetic rivalry, which was the dominate culture in Jesus’ day. The mustard seed grows into a large bush and the birds of the air find rest and protection under its branches. The birds then referred to Israel’s enemies. This was an unbearable message to those who wanted to punish the guilty. Jesus said we are to build societies that seek the healing of those we accuse.
So this is what Jesus’ parables were unveiling. The arrival of a new kingdom, that would unmask our blindness. It would change the way we saw God and change the way we saw those we punish. It would open our eyes to a new way of building society, a new way of responding to our rivalries. This would build a social cohesion that is just and merciful.
This is what was hidden from the Pharisees. They were expecting a messiah who would punish their enemies. We still read the story of Israel in that way today. We still think God is doing that to Israel’s enemies. But this isn’t God.
This was how the Pharisees read the prophets of the Old Testament. They were blind to their message. All the woes of Jesus against the Pharisees were about their blindness. They didn’t see the real value of religion. Its purpose wasn’t to make scarifies to God in the temple, or in church buildings, but to bring in the sick and to heal those satan accuses and treads down.
Jesus said they build the tombs of the prophets, while claiming that they wouldn’t have done those things to the prophets, if they had lived in the days of their ancestors. It’s like us, reading the prophets, and applying them to God’s destruction of our enemies. It’s like saying that we honour the prophets, but not hearing their message and not doing what they said. Their message was mercy to our enemies, to all those who are refugees, to all those who don’t have homes, to all those who aren’t as fortunate as ourselves.
Maybe Cain thought Abel had taken God’s favour away from him. He blamed Abel for this. He wanted that favour back. In killing Abel, he could take out God’s favourite. It’s like sibling jealousy in the family. He could get Abel’s divine favour, in an occultic sense, becoming the master of religious ceremonies. He built a city, based on violence and an occultic view of God. And this deadly view of God and of social life permeated human culture.
Jesus came to expose it. “This isn’t what God is like. This isn’t what worship is like. This isn’t how cities should be built. This isn’t how the weak should be dealt with. This isn’t how we respond to trouble, with more violence. But instead, we live reconciling, self-giving lives, planting the seeds of a new world. This is the seed of the kingdom we sow in our societies.”
What is Hidden
Girard believed that the thing that was hidden to man since the beginning of our civilization was our propensity to build society on the sufferings of those we blame and cast out. And we build a story to justify it, which becomes the myth of our nation.
These myths still rule our national narratives today. Our nations are founded on the myth of our own goodness. We see the rise of nationalism today, which bases its justification on the same myth. We don’t see our own faults. We don’t see the peoples we have trodden down. We don’t see ourselves through the eyes of our scapegoats. These myths stop our world from coming together, from us seeing ourselves as our neighbour’s keeper.
Maybe other nations are worse, and we feel a justification for our own myths. Maybe our myths are partly true. No doubt this is what Paul believed, when he went about prosecuting those who challenged his Jewish nationalism. He thought he was bringing order to the world.
But God stopped him in his tracks, and instead called him to build a common table, where there is no Greek nor Jew, no male nor female, no slave nor free, no rich nor poor, no Barbarian nor wise.
We build a table at which our myths are not welcome. They are exposed by the self-giving love and forgiveness of Christ.
What is hidden is the inaccuracy of our myths. They are lies that we don’t want to see. They stand in the way of the kingdom of God, just like they did in first century Israel. The thing hidden is our own scapegoating of others. We can see scapegoating when others do it, but not when we do it. Christ came to reveal this to us, by asking us to take up our cross.
And what is hidden from us is our false view of God. Like the pagan, who had sinful gods to excuse and cover their own sin, we also worship a God whom we can blame for our sin in the world. We have a God we can call sovereign, whom we claim punishes sinners, and therefore the God we often claim is responsible for the evil and suffering in the world.
We have an angry, warfaring God, especially our “last-days God,” just like the pagans, and this “takes away our sin,” our complicity in the violence.
But this is to blind us from our own actions, the consequences of our own scapegoating upon the sufferings of others. We too can sweep these things under the mat of “the God who works in mysterious ways,” instead of laying aside our nationalism, our neglect, our resignation and going out to heal our brother.
What Girard saw about the bible was that it was written to succour the innocent in their sufferings.
We started out as the suffering, the “people who were not a people,” and now we must remember those who are suffering, whom the gospel is for. We were in bondage in Egypt. Now we must remember those in captivity in this world, and not blame those who are excluded, when they threaten us.
Source of Religion
And we were all blind to the fact that sacrifice wasn’t God’s will. The idea that man invented sacrifice to compensate for his guilt and to offer others for our guilt was hidden to mankind. We invented religion to govern our sacrifice and prosecution of others for our sin. The reason for this is that we took on board the law, to join satan as accusers. The law filled our hearts at that point, and for this reason there must be sacrifice.
And this spoiled the whole meaning and purpose of the priesthood. The original plan for the priesthood was that it brings shalom and sabbath to the whole creation. But then it became a religious purpose of officiating over the sacrifice and prosecution of others for our sin. This is what human religion made the priesthood and we were blind, thinking this was from God.
God never meant us to have these human forms of religion, but we thought they came from him. He meant us to have love for one another, which brings shalom to creation. God just wanted us to have life.
It is in Christ that we return to the true form of priesthood. The Sermon on the Mount outlines a life that is self-giving, marking out a reconciling, redemptive community for our enemies. This is the sabbath, shalom, sacrifice-free living. The priesthood in Christ is self-giving, as Christ did. The original purpose of priesthood is restored, as sacrifice is finished in Christ.
This is what was hidden since the fall. The Prophets tried to reveal it, but the people didn’t understand. That is why they said God wanted mercy, not sacrifice. It’s only in Christ that our eyes are open. And they are opened, because when they sacrificed Christ for their sins, Christ forgave them for it. He didn’t accuse anyone. He didn’t demand any sacrifice in return. The killing and violence ended with him.
This means to unveil what is hidden. It is to reveal, as in the title of the book of the Revelation. What is revealed is the nature of God, over against the nature of man and his human cultures. God reveals himself in Christ, in a way that is completely unexpected to humanity.
In Christ, God forgives man. He doesn’t mimic man’s violence. In Christ, God unveils his own nature, as one who forgives, who even heals his own enemies. He doesn’t seek vengeance against his enemies, but instead lays down his life for them, to show them his forgiveness and love.
This is the revelation, the unveiling, the apocalypse. It is how God fights. How he overcomes evil.
How he rules. How he breaks the cycle of violence and hatred. The things that are hidden, that Christ revealed in his parables, and in general incarnation and gospel, are related to the nature of God, that is contrary to everything we naturally think about power. In God, power condescends and forgives the enemy. In God, power serves, it doesn’t compete.
The apocalypse is the person of Christ, who unveils that God isn’t like us. Instead, he is the opposite, and he has come to make us like him.
And what is unveiled is our own unrighteousness. Like in Romans 1:18, Paul says that in the gospel God’s wrath is unveiled against all ungodliness. The emphasis here is on “all,” that is, regarding both the Jew and the gentile. This is Paul’s theme in Romans. It isn’t just the gentile who has sinned, but the cross unveils all own sin. This breaks down any boast we have against the “other.” It cuts off our “otherising” people different to ourselves. Paul’s aim was to build one new community, where we receive and care for the other. This ends scapegoating, because the things hidden about our own sin are revealed in Christ.