There always was a man to blame

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:28-30

I don’t know how far back the tradition of diss tracks goes in American music, but they seemed to reach a peak in the Golden Age of Hip-Hop1. Whether you prefer Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline” which bobs and weaves like Muhammed Ali or Tupac’s “Hit ‘Em Up” that punches with Mike Tyson power, these are both Heavyweight champions. (And if you don’t care for boxing, these songs might not be for you either. Please just take my word for it: songs that verbally insult their subject — aka diss tracks — were a big deal in this era.)

Finding earlier examples of diss tracks is a little more challenging, but one example stands out. In 1952, country artist Kitty Wells dismissed Hank Thompson’s proclamation, made earlier that year, that he “didn’t know God made Honky Tonk angels.” Divine intervention was, apparently, the only explanation that ol’ Hank could imagine for why his wife might not be faithful. Kitty Wells had other ideas.

Her reply to Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life” prefigured the Golden Age of Hip-Hop2 in more than one way, since she used the same chords in much the same way a DJ might sample part of a song to make another song. In her chorus, Wells asserted that “It wasn’t God who made Honky Tonk angels.” The culprit, she alleges, is the male of the species, who tend to expect greater fidelity from their partners than they are willing to observe themselves. So, gentlemen, don’t push this one off on God.

Blaming God has a history much longer than diss tracks, of course, although not quite as long as men blaming women.3 And we don’t seem to get tired of it. Of all the ways to understand the crucifixion of Jesus, one in particular takes a strangely circuitous route to seemingly put the blame back on his father. Under that scenario, God is so angry, so vengefully angry at humanity for all of our misdeeds, that God needs to take it out on somebody and Jesus is the only one capable of receiving it. So then it’s God’s fault? For being mad?

That doesn’t make any sense if we accept what Jesus said earlier in terms of God loving the world and all that. What seems more likely is that the people who did the executing are the people responsible for the executing. And of course that sends us casting around for somebody to point a finger at. This always ends in a bad look, like antisemitism or being convinced that your political opponent would have crucified Jesus. And it misses the point.

It wasn’t God who made Romans kill Jesus. We each find our way to contribute to that horror. Which is a problem if we know it and a bigger one if we can’t see it. If the whole story of Holy Week is true, then healing help is on the way. But first we have to admit that we’ve got a sickness that we can beat on our own.

  1. The 1990s. ↩︎
  2. ibid ↩︎
  3. Genesis 3:12 ↩︎