As he admits, this is not an easy concept to express – like Luther’s theology of the cross, which in many respects it resembles. And for much the same reason, since each involves a fundamental shift in how we naturally view the world.
This article summarises Dr Alison’s concept of the intelligence of the victim, which it links to Rene Girard’s theory that:
…all human mythology is from the perspective of the victimizers, namely, the story of human culture generated at the expense of victims – though the collective violence of culture is veiled behind the violence of the gods. The Gospel is the inbreaking into human mythology of God’s story of salvation as told from the perspective of the Lamb of God, God’s Son offered to our cultural mechanisms of victimage.
Luther expressed his theology of the cross in his words crux sola est nostra theologia: the cross alone is our theology. God is to can truly be known only as he is found hidden in suffering and the cross. The intelligence of the victim, similarly, has implications across the whole of our theology: on our understanding of Jesus, God, human society and what it means to follow Jesus.
Dr Alison starts with the resurrection of Jesus, and points out that this did more than provide a new understanding of the afterlife. Instead, “something radically new became known”, and it is this that Alison describes as “the intelligence of the victim” – the “profound shift in … understanding” which Jesus’ followers underwent:
[T]he disciples started being able to tell the story of Jesus’ execution not from the point of view of the muddled, frightened, half-hearted semi-traitors that they all were, but from the point of view of the victim.
They realised that “Jesus himself had understood all this from the beginning”, and that the “intelligence of the victim” had been a central aspect of his life and teaching all along:
It is not as though he lived his life, and then by mistake got involved in an imbroglio in Jerusalem and so got killed. From the vantage point of the resurrection, the presence of the forgiving victim, the disciples could see that the whole drift of Jesus’ life had been towards the passion.
This revelation about Jesus was also a revelation about God himself. Old Testament texts such as Psalm 118:x enabled the disciples to grasp how:
…the making of this man a victim, apparently in ignorance, and done to please God (Jesus had been judged a blasphemer) was in fact the condition for God to be revealed for what he really is: the forgiving victim.
As Alison writes towards the end of the book, Jesus’ aim in living out and revealing the intelligence of the victim is to reveal the Father:
The whole process of Jesus’ life, leading up to and including his death, is what defines who the Father is. This is because the life is lived in obedient response to the Father’s love, and is an exact imitation of the Father’s love lived out in the human race. The imitation reveals the one imitated.
3. Human society
Dr Alison argues that, in Matthew’s gospel, the intelligence of the victim was “not seen as something only related to the person of Jesus”, but as a universal principle:
Jesus is revealing something that has always been true about human society, from the time of Abel the just, to that of Zechariah the son of Berachiah (Matthew 23:35). … Human society is a violent place, which makes victims, and the revelation of God is to be found in the midst of that violence, on the side of the victims.
4. Following Jesus
Finally, the intelligence of the victim is not only present where Jesus speaks explicitly of his death and resurrection, but in Jesus’ moral teaching and his call to discipleship.
So, for example, in the Beatitudes “the people chosen as proximity to God are all marginal, dependent people”: the poor, the meek, the merciful and so on. Similarly in the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:
It is the crucified and risen victim who is judge of the world, and the world is judged in the light of its relationship to the crucified and risen victim.
Above all, the intelligence of the victim implies a freedom in giving oneself to others, in not being moved by the violence of others, even when we realise that the result of this free self-giving is likely to be the same as it was for Jesus: a lynching. Jesus’ followers are freed to:
start to side with the victims and those who can easily be victimised, even though, as an inevitable consequence of this breaking out of the violent determinism of the world, they would be liable to become victims themselves.
In my next post, we’ll look at how this intelligence of the victim is lived out in the “new Israel” of the church, in particular in the Lord’s Supper.