Sunday, September 16, 2012

On Suffering

If we did not have a God Who suffers, none of this would make any sense.

Not the rape of children; not the justification of evil; not the helplessness and loneliness and fear of the victims. 

The love of spouses, the love of true friends, the sacrifice of lives - it would all seem to be a mere sick joke in the face of ultimate evil.  We would hesitate to call it "evil", since the "good" would seem so impotent.  We would become nihilists, materialists, mute ciphers in a world that was meaningless but that hurt.  And we couldn't even rage against the hurt - what good would it do?  "What is good?" anyway, as Pilate might have said, with that sophisticated smirk of his, that educated sneer - Pilate, who condemned Him to death and had an elaborate explanation for why it Really Wasn't His Own Fault for doing so.

But He hung there.  In full view, beaten, tortured, slowly dying.  Betrayed by a friend, abandoned by His Church, brutalized by His people and their occupiers alike.  Jew and Gentile, full of hatred for one another, united in that dark afternoon in their mutual hatred of Him.  How fun!  "Why can't we all just get along?"  Maybe we can, to tear apart and crucify the only purely Good man who ever lived.  Peace be with you.  And with your spirit.  Now let's kill Him.

He did not turn from them when they spat upon Him.  He did not return curses for curses.  He did not reject our rejection of Him, our abuse, the worst we had to offer.  We gave it to Him, and we give it to one another. 

We give it to one another but we tell ourselves we're justified, or we're not really sinning, or there are mitigating circumstances, and whatever we do, it's Never Really Our Own Fault for doing it.  We told ourselves that we were doing good that day we crucified Him, after all - the day the sun stopped shining.  Our intentions are good, we say, and we throw up whatever excuse suits us, and keep right on hurting and hating and hailing the Coming of the Kingdom of Hell.  And we're not that bad after all - we leave our home-made Calvary and go to Church and clap along to the guitars and listen to the preacher tell us how much God loves us and "Why can't we all just get along?"  Peace be with you.  Pass the remote.  I'm spiritual, not religious.  Gimme some Jesus, but get rid of that cross.  It tends to trouble my guilty conscience.

There is a dark and awful thing inside of us.  On the one hand, it's an evil that makes us want to hurt people.  On the other, it's a terrible hurt, a suffering from the evil that's been done to us.  I don't think we have any clue about the depths of secret suffering in our fellow man.  If we saw the pain that our neighbor lives with every single day, and if we saw how that pain was, in some cases, deliberately inflicted, or inflicted out of simple to-hell-with-you negligence - with the best of intentions, of course - by people who were simply out for themselves, we'd go mad.

In fact, the truth of human nature was never better revealed than on that day when the sun died and the earth gave up its breath in a terrible heave - that day when we all stood around jeering at Him.  There is no king but Caesar.  There is no god but Mammon.  There is no god but Nothing.  And to hell with You, savior!  To hell with You.

Such is the tableau.  Such is the eternal picture, the archetype of Human Life.

What we did.

But in the midst of that, He redeems us.  It is not a senseless murder, a meaningless act of brutality. 

It is a sacrifice. 

And it is the Reality behind Life Itself.


Brian Czaicki said...

I have been seeing this more and more at the church here in Columbia where people's faith and lack of faith is as temporal as their mood. They claim God as an indebted genie to them and if you say I read the shorthand of the shorthand, then they skim my shorthand. The youth group I work for I am considering dropping because we eat dinner and play games and music for the first hour and a half followed my 20 minutes of actual conversation and prayer. Frankly it disgusts me. I hate most modern christian rock and am disgusted that our message to the youth is God is a safe place. A place where everyone accepts you and we don't have to talk about the hard things in life. Those are for the world. Its no wonder to me that when these kids go to college they don't continue their faith. Why would they? NO ONE gives two shits about you when you get to college. Its not longer the feel good high school program. This realization to them means that God has somehow abandoned them and they fall to the lukewarm souls category or worse, a militant atheist. God heals suffering, he doesn't hide it and he doesn't pretend it doesn't exist.
My question to you though, sometimes I wonder if Jesus suffered enough. This sounds like a cruel cruel proposition but really others have it worse off than he did by far and their tragedy is no sacrifice. It is that pointless brutality that you mentioned in your article.

Joey Higgins said...


It seems that you don't understand the crucifixion completely to state that Jesus didn't suffer enough (or I am misunderstanding your comment - if that is the case, I apologize - please correct me where I have misunderstood). Jesus' physical suffering may not have been as great as others (although it's pretty bad, especially when considering He could have chosen a different setting where He would have been spared flogging) - but His suffering for all of our sins, for all time, is a burden that would not be possible for anyone else to bear. Taking care of our own souls is work enough!

As far as the youth group goes, I did the "core team" at my church for about a year and while the atmosphere was similar to what you describe, it isn't necessarily pointless. There are some things you might be able to improve such as shortening the dinner to 1 hour and increasing the amount of time for actual prayer. HOWEVER, even if that is impossible, as it can be difficult to change programs when people are entrenched in error - if your prayer is 20 minutes and it is a good, solid 20 mins, that's 20 more minutes that the kids would have had otherwise.

The problem of lack of college ministry is a real problem in the Church and is being addressed by some leaders, although probably not enough in the scheme of things. A huge portion of the Church is community and if that life teen or teen group can become a community that is closer to God than not - it's a net positive.

The Christian Music thing - you're probably going to have to work on that - because most youth groups and youth programs are going to have some contemporary Christian music and a lot of it is going to suck. However, it can be sort of a gateway. I think it's easier to go from Matt Maher/Chris Tomlin/Sara Kroger to Gregorian chant than Ke$ha - at least it has been for me. Some of it is really quite beautiful in the message and music though - on that - tastes will vary.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Part of the explanation of the sufficieny of Christ's suffering lies in how He suffered everything possible that night - betrayal, torture, ridicule, abandonment, etc. Perhaps some have been betrayed more brutally or tortured more ruthlessly, but that night Our Lord suffered at least some of every kind of pain known to man - including anxiety and fear. It was all there.

The other key to the sufficieny of Christ's suffering is that He was both God and the one sinless man. The rest of us deserve at least some of what we get in this life, as a kind of "karma" if nothing else. But He deserved none of it, and yet took on, both actually and symbolically, all of it.

Brian Czaicki said...

Fair enough but its still a temporal event. I don't want to say Jesus didn't have it bad enough, but you mention karma or this idea that there is a price or equatable amount to pay for. Granted I don't know spiritually how much he suffered by any regard but still it was one day. One day, one event, is adequate for all of eternity? Even if it covers every category of suffering does it cover it to the fullest extent? A lot of people tell me the crucifixion will make more sense when I become a parent. I don't doubt this but as to right now it remains a minor mystery of faith to me. It doesn't seem to balance the scales because as you said, that would be a burden that no one else could bear.

Secondly, I've had so many people try to turn me onto christian music. The language is dead in almost every song. The words "redeemer" and "unlimited" mean nearly nothing in any of them. I honestly would listen to maybe 5 songs in modern christian music. Maybe I just don't consider chanting Jesus over and over again to chord changes and the same static drum beat with bass backing inspirational.

I appreciate the comment on the youth program. I was really excited to get working on it and I guess I'm slightly disappointed in the result. It is difficult though but frustration has been blocking the fact that the 20 minutes is better than nothing. My wonder is if the issue is a lack of curiosity. Often I hear the younger ones use words like virtue and faith without really knowing what those things mean. Hell I don't know what those words truly mean. I would never use them as a justification.

I do have hope for the youth in this way and its something I didn't mention in the earlier comment. The people I have seen that are headed to the religious life are some of the most dedicated and focused individuals I've ever met. There is a high hope I have for the cloth and the quality of the future priests and nuns should be exceptional. In that I have high hopes.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Brian, first, St. Paul says, "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His Body, that is, the Church."

In other words, the suffering of Christ redeems us once and for all, but that suffering is not confined to Good Friday. It continues to happen. It is drawn out through time. And we share in it. See Col. 1:24.

This is the case because we are members of His Body, which continues to suffer; and God exists beyond time, so that the suffering of God is, in a sense, eternal. It is "complete" from an eternal perspective, "ongoing" from a temporal perspective at any moment in time.

As for "chant", I did not mean the Buddhist-like mantra chant of Jesus' name, I meant Gregorian Chant, which is the most solmen form of music, and which is most suited to the Sacred Liturgy.

I think the nature of Youth Groups is that they are bound to contain a certain superficial element. I would hope a certain catechesis is involved, in which things like Virtue and Faith are being examined; but if not, it's at least a way to socialize with other young folk who are minimally well-intentioned (for whatever that's worth).

I do share your hope, not only for new priests, but for new Christians in general - if they study and pray.