John in July: The Joy of Being Wrong about God (Jn 16)


The time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God (16:2)

In this verse, Jesus describes sacred violence to a tee. Humanity, since the days of Cain, has been blindly caught up in collective violence cloaked in religion. Jesus’ death reveals the violent murder hidden underneath the sacred so that we can no longer speak of it unequivocally as “service to God.” Since Jesus’ death, we have been better able to discern and distinguish between actions that are true service to God and actions that are thought to be service to God, but are in fact service to the Accuser.

Just as Jesus was killed by those who likely thought they were offering service to God by protecting the nation (11:50) so will his followers be vulnerable to persecution by those who think they are doing God a favor. Paul himself thought he was offering service to God by persecuting the followers of the Way. According to Acts, it was not until God the Advocate appeared to him as the Victim of his persecution that he began to see that the God to whom he was offering service was actually the “ruler of the world,” the Satan.

Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete (16:24)

The Accuser works by first accusing God of failing to be God, convincing humanity that God has not given us what we need to live a full and happy life and that God is indeed our rival. Once we are convinced of this, we fall prey to envy, shame, anger and fear, which we placate through blame and murder. The first few chapters of Genesis express this through narrative: In the garden, the serpent convinces humanity that God is their rival (“God knows that when you eat from the tree your eyes will be opened and you will be like God” Gen 3:5). When humanity sees God as their rival and behaves according to that lie (by eating from the tree) they fall prey to shame (3:7) and fear (3:10) which they try to placate through blame (3:12-13).

In these chapters Jesus is untying the knots that have entrapped humanity. He reveals God not as a rival but as a loving Father who seeks to give us whatever we ask because he loves us and wants to collaborate with us in our ongoing creation. He says, “Instead of seeing God as your rival and fighting with one another over what you think you need to live a full and happy life, I invite you to see God as your loving Father who seeks to provide for your every need and desire. When you come to experience God in this way, your joy will be complete.”

Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father (16:25)

I agree with Gil Bailie who thinks that Jesus’ plain telling about the Father is actually his self-giving love on the Cross, where he reveals the heart of the Father and how much the Father wants to love and bless and co-create with his children. On the Cross, Jesus embodies the Father who is so committed to loving and blessing us that he is willing to die in order to show us that we have been wrong in thinking that God is our rival. He is willing to suffer from the effects of human envy and anger by becoming the object of human blame. He is willing to do this not because he affirms our anger but because he wants to open our eyes to our own limited vision and invite us into a far more expansive life that is no longer bound by blame. On the Cross, he shows us that seeing God as rival is just plain wrong, which is good news because there is joy in being wrong about this.

In his appropriately titled book The Joy of Being Wrong, James Alison says, “Jesus understands his self-giving up to death as the creative opening up of the possibility of divine paternity for the disciples…What Jesus is creatively bringing into being is the human possibility of humans themselves becoming sharers in the bringing to fruition of creation” (188).

According to Alison, Jesus is saying, “Thanks to the fact of my self-giving up to death you will be able to enter in ways as yet unheard of into the deathless creation” (189).

Throughout chapter seven of The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes, Alison offers an insightful reading of John 14-16, informed by mimetic theory. He suggests, “the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of original sin are mutually interrelated in exactly the same way” (186). By revealing God as the wholly non-violent and non-rivalrous loving Father who wants to co-create with us, Jesus’ death shows us how we have been stuck in a blame-bound existence (“the necessity of victimary death” 195) and how we are invited into the creative perichoresis (circle dance) of the Father and the Son by becoming sons and daughters ourselves through the Holy Spirit. Alison describes the perichoretic dance of the Father and Son as the “constant interpenetrative enjoyment and aggrandizement of each other…[which] is itself more creative than any conceivable ‘creation’ which they might bring into being” (201).

We have been created to share in the dynamic diversity of the Trinity as we receive the paternity of the Father and become sons with Christ through the Holy Spirit, loosing our imagination from “rivalistic reductive mimetic desire” (205) and the compulsion to blame in order to become beneficent, creative and ultimately deathless.

This movement out of blame-bound imagination into deathless imagination comes by way of belief. which is not “a simple acquisition of truths” but “a gnoseological discovery which is simultaneously a participation in life” (191). And this participation in life is what Alison calls “ecclesial hypostasis” (195).

With this Holy Spirit-inspired imagination, his followers will have the “capacity to live beyond (rather than live toward, i.e., moved by) death.” And, “it is by their coming to live beyond death (which is the same as their learning to live lives of self-giving toward, but unmoved by, death) that they will know the complete mutual implication of the Son and the Father, because they will themselves be caught up in the making real and visible of that mutual implication” (189).

Making real and visible the love of the Son and Father in a blame-bound world involves becoming vulnerable to persecution and violence. Although the deathless creative imagination brings peace, it will inevitably also bring trouble…

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (16:33)

The way the deathless imagination manifests in those who have undergone and are undergoing the ecclesial hypostasis in a blame-bound world is through the forgiveness of sin: “The whole visible practice of the ecclesial hypostasis is the forgiveness of sin. The creative self-giving up to death (because unmoved by death) in the midst of human violence, forgiving that violence, is what divine creation looks like in the midst of the creation-shot-through-with-vanity in which we live” (208).

Jesus has revealed God as one willing to be our object of blame in order to show us how bound we are by blame and to invite us into a life of deathless creative imagination as fellow sons and daughters of the loving Father who has never been our rival but who is literally dying to be partners with us in the dynamic and diverse dance of deathless interpenetration and co-creation.

One thought on “John in July: The Joy of Being Wrong about God (Jn 16)

  1. For more on the deathless creative imagination of Jesus, see Chapter 3 of Alison’s Raising Abel: The Recovery of the Eschatological Imagination, “The Discovery of Jesus’ Imagination” (57-76).

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