Mockeries and trials of God

The most well-known mockery of Christ is the third sorrowful mystery or crowning with thorns, but Herod’s mockery is described at greater length and gives us an insight into the dynamic at work:

And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.

Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.

10 And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him.

11 And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.

12 And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.

The same dynamic gets a more compact description later:

36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar,

37 And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.

In both cases the mockery of divinity is connected to the unfulfilled desire to see divine things, and is therefore a distortion of a desire human beings cannot help having – who wouldn’t want clear proof of God’s existence, if any proof could be given? Bertrand Russell certainly demanded it, and died and atheist  convinced he didn’t get it. It’s cliché in Naturalism to insist that God might exist, for all we know, but we simply see no evidence of this in the natural world.

And doesn’t the truth of the faith demand that the whole point of human existence is to one day get a clear vision of God’s power? Faith isn’t permanent but will pass away in knowledge. What can be wrong with the desire that God show himself to us and make himself more evident? Isn’t this just the Maranatha prayer?

But it’s clear in both passages quoted above that the desire for a revelation of divine power has made a subtle but decisive shift to a desire that God perform at our command. Herod has heard about Christ for a long time and desired to see him – but why didn’t he go out to see him? Almost certainly because if Herod went out he would have to become an audience member or one in the crowd. Herod “was exceedingly glad” because now he has Christ in his own court. Now Herod can have his performance without the humiliation of having to go out and stand with the riffraff or having to sit at the feet of some master. The soldiers have Christ on their court in an even more forceful way – they’ve just nailed him to a board and hung him to die.

The mockery of Christ is therefore our natural response to wanting knowledge of the divine without first taking him as master. God will show himself, but not to one who places himself in the emperor’s box and demands that God perform like a gladiator.

The skeptical objection is easy to form – oh, so God’s existence and power will be clearly seen after we’ve already submitted ourselves to it. But this is not how evidence works! Anyone can delude himself into seeing something as divine evidence after he’s imagined himself a student of a divinity!

The objection has important strands of truth but ultimately gets everything backwards. It is impossible to see something as God when demanding he perform in a court where we stand as emperors or judges. We couldn’t take anything that was beholden to us or who performed on demand as God and so to demand that something perform for us is already to assume it isn’t God. Neither is this sort of stance detached and objective. The question whether God is live or dead is far more significant than whether a power line or lion in the bush is alive or dead, and a detached and objective way of treating a downed power line or a very still lion is with care, deference, and extreme respect.

The demand that God perform is therefore inherently absurd, and the mockery is some reflection of this inherent absurdity.


%d bloggers like this: