Jesus Christ Shows That Suffering and Peace are not Opposites.
We have all been brought up in a culture—which is increasingly becoming a global culture—which says that, through some uncanny stroke of good (?) “luck, ” or “chance” we have been born into the
world; we exist; so now we have to squeeze every last pleasure out of this existence we can. For tomorrow we die.
We are told in a million ways and through every medium that appetite and lust are the only laws, so we had better not lose the prize but elbow out anyone and everything that would “get in our way.”
Meanwhile, we see suffering and death all around us, more and more the older we get. Bad luck, we are told. So forget it, move on, be smarter, and we can live longer and minimize, or at least postpone, our inevitable demise which is the “price” of pleasure.
Even the planet and universe are destined to burn out, so for heaven’s sake get to work and build up your barns and heap up your treasures for your “self’ so you can finally enjoy the good life.
The Fruit and Recipe of Despair
Such “scientific wisdom” is a recipe for depression and sorrow, it is the great lie which is the fruit of philosophical despair. I say “philosophical” despair because, as St. Thomas says, “a little error in the beginning becomes a great error in the end”.
In relation to the Whole, despair reduces the universe to my perplexity, my unanswered questions, my anxiety, pain, roadblocks and sorrows, to my infinitesimally small self. Despair is released only when my soul expands in the proper direction.
If we conceive ourselves from the
start to be the product of sheer inexplicable chance, merely one in a blind continuum of chance-organisms, insects, and animals outside of any transcendental
hierarchy of Purpose, then it is little wonder that some must conclude that life is ultimately meaningless. In that event the only real goal is to kill the pain which serves as an obstacle in the way of the epicurean goals. And if to “kill the pain” is the only goal along the route to the greater goals of fulfilling appetite and lust, then it becomes a quaint and arbitrary matter of more or less capricious law which outlaws the opiates, lifestyles, and countless sins which serve to kill the pain for a great many people, even if at the price of giving birth, inevitably, to other forms of even greater pain, if not personal than at least for others.
The Christ Event
Over against this philosophy of despair stands what has been called in theology (because it has no parallel in history) the Christ-Event. Not merely a teaching—though surely that—but the revelation of the One true God in Jesus Christ Who is the Beginning and Goal of all created
being; the revelation that “in the beginning” was not nothing (which inexplicably and absurdly became some-thing) but the revelation that we are the creation of the Tri-Personal Source and Ground of all being, Who is the Sacred Heart at the Center of all being; the “One Who Is,” and Who when asked His Name by Moses replied so profoundly: “I Am” (Exo 3:14; Jn. 8:58).
This is the revelation of One Whom we did not—could not — invent, but Who invented—created— us! I say “could not invent” because while it is true that just as our hunger points to the existence of bread and it is wise to look for it, and we should not be surprised that our spiritual questions(1) should also naturally point to The Meaning which existed before all that exists, this revelation nevertheless was revealed definitively to us in the most absolutely unexpected way: in a Cross of execution which, shockingly, did not end all Hope, but gave Birth and justification to every hope.
It happened when the One who purported to be the “Son of Man,” that Sacred Heart, prophesied that after precisely this necessary suffering, “for the sins of the world,” he would rise again from the dead on the third day. Human beings do not invent such a religion. They are confronted by it.
And on the third day, just as He astonishingly prophesied, His tomb was
found empty, even as He “showed Himself’ to his disciples, and to hundreds and hundreds of others (ICor 15), His wounds still in His Hands and Feet confounding the cynicism of every doubting Thomas
He Taught Them and Us
And he remained for a time to console the shocked ones who immediately began to feel fire burning in their hearts as they recalled His every teaching, His every saying and sign, His “Breaking of the Bread” and Eucharist with them, which Eucharist He was, it was now so astonishingly clear (Jn 6).
He had taught them to love one another, especially the poor, the stranger, the sick, the blind and lame, penitent sinners… He had taught them to invert the values of this world with the values of a Kingdom which He came to proclaim as breaking in upon the daughters and sons of time. He had
taught them that righteousness and purity were something that proceeded from the heart, and that the Law itself was only a means to that end, not an end in itself. He had taught them that “the wages of
sin,” of man’s Original brokenness, from the beginning, was eternal death, but that just as He rose from all suffering and death, so would we, certain of the same joyous expectation now, through the certainty of this revelation, affirming realities which once seemed “too good to be true”. Good News, indeed!
He taught them to forgive one another, over and over and over, and to accept our stumblings as the price of spiritual pruning and growth; that appetite and the desire for bodily union—completion—with an “other” were not evil in themselves but were meant to serve life and love, not an escape from despair or to be used as tools of exploitation.
Not Meaningless, Not Opposites
He taught them that suffering was not meaningless, but, to the contrary a gift, an
atoning gift—our cross— which, when united to His Cross and suffering (Col 1:24) would break open the hard shell of self and reveal the tender fruit of love, sympathy and empathy for all other forms of suffering.
Paradoxically, He taught them that pain and the most sublime joy are not opposites, that it is only by accepting our cross and following Him, and even eventually dying, accepting the final price of creation, finitude—as He did—that we would experience joy and wish to alleviate the suffering of others and heal as he healed, raise others to life spiritually as He did, in the certainty that just as death was not the end of Him, it would not be the end (telos or goal) of creation, us.
Breaking From Sin
And he taught them that, in the end, the suffering which would not yield to treatment and medicine (and He was the great Healer not at all opposed to
medicine), which once was viewed as a cosmic absurdity, the proof of
meaninglessness, was to the contrary the sacred means, when accepted voluntarily, by which we “break from sin”. Peter said :
“Think of what Christ suffered in this life, and then arm yourselves with
the same resolution that he had: anyone who in this life has bodily suffering
has broken from sin, because for the rest of his life on earth he is not ruled by human passions but only by the will o f God. (1 Pet 4:1 -3).
No longer is our joy ephemeral in the ultimate sense, or our sorrow the meaningless final word. Such a meaningless word has been shattered by the Word made Flesh (Jn 1:1-14).
God Himself has entered time and space to reveal the Heart of the
universe! And nothing has or will ever be the same. —- SH
(1) who am I? why is there something and not nothing? What is the meaning of all this everything?