Identification with the Crucified One

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)

“Christian identity can be understood only as an act of identification with the crucified Christ, to the extent to which one has accepted the proclamation that in him God has identified himself with the godless and those abandoned by God, to whom one belongs oneself. If Christian identity comes into being by this double process of identification, then it is clear that it cannot be described in terms of that faith alone, nor can it be protected against decay by correct doctrinal formulae, repeatable rituals and set patterns of moral behavior.” (Moltmann, The Crucified God, p. 19)

The Crucified GodIn our culture, followers of Christ often use the word “Christian” to separate themselves from that which is different or other than what we mean by that word. Our religious affiliation is deeply embedded in our identity. So I might say that I am “Christian” as opposed to being “secular” or “I am Christian” as opposed to being Jewish/Buddhist/Muslim/or-any-other-religion. (Or if I were like Ken Ham, I could say “I am a Christian” as opposed to someone who might be persuaded by scientific evidence)

For Moltmann being Christian involves a “double process of identification”: 1) On the cross Christ identifies with humanity at its worst – in all of its godlessness and godforsakenness, and 2) in response we identify with the crucified one. So, to say “I am Christian” means “I identify with the crucified Christ”. Which, to take it a step further, means that I find myself as in the community with those who are far from God and abandoned by God. Moltmann describes this community in the Preface to the Paperback Edition of CG: “Beneath the cross the boundaries of denominations and cultures collapse. The community of the sufferers and the seekers is an open, inviting community.” His application of this is particularly pointed in his discussion of the eucharist:

The cultic division between the religious and the profane is potentially abolished in faith in the Christ who was profaned by crucifixion. Thus the eucharist, like the meals held by Jesus with ‘sinners and publicans’, must also be celebrated with the unrighteous, those who have no rights and the godless from the ‘highways and hedges’ of society, in all their profanity, and should no longer be limited, as a religious sacrifice, to the inner circle of the devout, to those who are members of the same denomination. The Christian church can re-introduce the divisions between the religious and the profane and between those who are within and those who are without, only at the price of losing its own identity as the church of the crucified Christ.
CG, p. 44

Below is yet another audio clip and transcript from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann, where he is asked about this double process of identification as it relates to atonement. In it he argues that we need a process of justification not just for the perpetrators of sin and injustice, but also for the victims. It is well worth a listen!

E.V. There is a pretty robust conversation going on right now here and in Great Brittain about the nature of the atonement. And some more conservative Reformed theologians are taking a strong stand about the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement coming from Anselm. N.T. Wright and others are pushing back giving a more nuanced and fully orbed understanding of the atonement. When I’ve tried to explain to people based on the Crucified God and other books of yours to give it a name (because i don’t know that it falls under the Christus Victor theory or the penal substitutionary theory), I’ve called it the identificationary theory of the atonement. In that, in Jesus Christ, God identified with the godless and godforsaken aspect of humanity and hung on the cross…. and then we identify with Christ on the cross. So there is a double / bilateral identification. But i don’t know how that economic transaction takes place in the atonement, and how you would think about it. Because it is very appealing to me that God suffered, that God really was tempted, that Jesus really was tempted. That it’s not just a nice story, but that he really did walk in our shoes. And that when we identify with his suffering on the cross, that’s atonement. But I think that probably falls short for some people who want to know exactly how it works.

J.M. We can call the first: the christology of solidarity. He suffers with us; and the second: he suffers for us, for us the guilty. And both sides belong together. He suffers for us is a reconciling suffering. But we must see both sides together. He was given up for our sins and raised for our justification. So the whole process is called justification. On the one hand, forgiveness of sin by the crucified one, on the other hand, resurrection into new life. And the lutheran tradition failed to see the second part of it; they called forgiveness of sins already justification. which it is not. Forgiveness of sin is a negative act which clears the negative things out of your lfie. and resurrection and jsutification brings you into a new life, a new righteous life. And both sides must be seen together.

But there’s another point which is my point so many years I’ve tried to convince Catholics and Lutherans about it but i cannot get through… on the one side, we have the tradition of the justification of the sinner: forgiveness of sin to new life, reborn, etc. But what about the victims of sin? Must we not speakabout a justification of the victims of violence and injustice, of sin. if we look to the Psalms, God is righteoues, because he gives right to those who suffer violence and injustice. So the victims are important, and the justification of the victims is perhaps a first act. Because in practical terms, the sinners who have become guilty of their victims, have always only a short memory if they havea memory at all, but those who have suffered because of their violence and injustifice have always a long memory. So if you from the side of the guilty want to enter into the truth of your life, listen to the victims. because they can tell you who you reaqlly are and what situation you are. There is no justification of the sinners without a justification of hte victims first. I think we learned this after the war when we listened to the storeis of the survivors of concentration camps. Because we knew about concentration camps, but not exactly what happened. And the more we listneed to the stories of the survivors, and looked into the eyes of the survivors, the more we became aware of who we, the Germans, really are. And the same took place in the truth commisions in South Africa. The victims must tell the story, and the perpetrators must listen, to see what they have done, because otherwise they will never become aware. And in the church we have a good sacrament of repentance: first confession the truth, second change your mind, and third make good what you have done evil as much as you can. But we have no ritual, and no sacrament for the justification of the victims. They must overcome the depression they feel. they feel weak and insulted and degraded. So they must get out of this. And then they must overcome the feeling, the quite natural feeling for revenge, to overcome evil by the good, as Paul said, “Don’t let yourself be overcome with evil, but overcome evil by the good.” And so they must be alleviated and raise their hearts to God, and must find a new self-confidence which victims normally don’t have. And then they have the divine key in their hand to forgive, but this is only the end if they have gone through this process. For the perpetrators cannot forgive the sins by themselves. They must be forvgiven by the victims. I think this is the lesson of Martin Luther King Jr in his famous letter from the jail of Birmingham: have mercy with this poor white guys who are so racistic etc. Feel mercy with them. and this brings you into a new sovereign position. But this is also a long process. and so parallel to the sacrament of forgiveness for the perpetrators, we need this sacrement for the victims to overcome their depressions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *