live trapped in fear. we are afraid of losing our jobs, of being ridiculed by our friends, that people will talk, that we will be failures, that our spouses may be unfaithful, that we may get cancer. We fear that we are not raising our children properly, that the neighborhood will deteriorate, that we may be mugged, that the airplane may crash. We may be out of fashion or, even worse, old-fashioned.
On a more cosmic level we fear thermonuclear war, too much ozone in the lower air and not enough in the upper air. We are afraid of earthquakes, depression, recession, inflation, and world famine. The Ice Age may return, our country may turn into a desert, foreign nations may overtake us, the world may come to an end.
We may even die. Indeed, we will die. So we are afraid of sickness, disease, hospitals, and doctors. Above all, and quite reasonably so, we are afraid to die. And worse than physical dissolution at the end are those daily deaths of self and the fear of being tricked, chumped, taken advantage of, deceived, made a fool of, and put down. They may laugh at us, and then we would die of shame.
And all the other fears are linked to that one. Shame is the fear of being cut off, seen through, destroyed, put out of existence. When we are ashamed, we die a bit; and no one wants to die even a little bit.
So we build up massive walls of protection around our bodies and spirits. We will protect ourselves so that we need never feel shame. We will have so many defenses that we don't need to think about death. We amass material goods, power, pleasure, and prestige as guarantees against death. They do not provide us with permanent security, of course, but for at least a time they do offer the illusion of security.
We invent defense mechanisms to keep others at bay. We are silent and reserved so that they will think us strong. We must always have our way. And, so that they will think we are dominant, we can never admit that we are wrong (much less apologize). We often become nasty, vindictive, tyrannical, and unreasonable so that they will be afraid of us. Or, so that they will take pity on us, we become weak, pathetic, dependent, and incapable of coping. We turn to neuroses, to compulsions and obsessions, to erratic and unpredictable behavior, to paralyzing fears, even to physical symptoms of illness in order to focus attention away from who and what we truly are. We take up drink or drugs or excessive eating or compulsive work or sex to kill the pain of our fears. We kill ourselves slowly in order to protect ourselves from the sudden death by shame of being seen for what we really are. We never stop running.
So we live our tight, narrow, rigid, frightened, inflexible, dull lives. Any other way of living would involve our taking intolerable risks. We become cautious, careful, somber, grim, and conservative. It is a very dangerous pilgrimage that we are on, and there are many dragons and demons lurking in the bushes alongside the road. If we are not wary we will be in deep trouble.
Yet there are interludes when all of this fear seems foolish, when we see dimly that it is possible to live differently. These times seem to come particularly at the turning points of our lives—the dawn of reflective self-awareness in adolescence, the beginning of serious thought a few years later, our first serious love, marriage, having a child, crossing the crucial markers of thirty, when we are no longer young; at forty, when we begin to get old, and then in the last years, when we can look back at what our life has been. At each of these times we may briefly glimpse other options available to us. We sense that we are free to choose. We can continue down the path of dull, bland, fearful mediocrity, or strike out bravely and boldly, becoming someone very different yet remaining our own true self.
It is almost as though we were on one bank of a river and there was someone else on the other side calling to us. He is beckoning to us and we seem to hear the words that Jesus said to Lazarus when he brought him out of the tomb: "Come forth."
This call to come forth, to leave foolish fears behind, to take risks, to trust, to begin to live, comes to us urgently from other human beings. We are made with the capacity to challenge and to be challenged by others, to be stirred up, "turned on." The attractiveness of other humans, as well as their tenderness, opens up to us the possibility of intimacy with them. We quickly learn that intimacy can only succeed if one is willing to give death to shame and let the other one see us as we really are, taking the risk that he might laugh at us, ridicule us, break our heart. Intimacy can be achieved only if we are willing to be defenseless, vulnerable; it can survive only if we are willing to give to the other such untram-meled power over us that he can break our heart. In an intimate relationship we must remain vulnerable; we must knock down defenses every day of our lives.
Marriage is the intimate relationship par excellence. It is in marriage that most humans receive the principal challenge to come forth. It is through marital intimacy that we hear the voice from across the river, assuring us that there is nothing to fear, that it is safe to trust. The sheer power of physical passion and pleasure draws the bodies of man and woman together; they are driven to reveal themselves physically to one another, and in that revelation they discover the possibility of something even greater —though the possibility may be only dimly and fleetingly perceived. But the very intimacy of their bodies creates interpersonal tensions and frictions. Their life together combines the joy of physical union and the friendship of shared experience with the constant aggravation of the conflicts involved in a common life. The man and woman either open themselves up to one another, slowly and laboriously constructing a life together, or they pull back into themselves and settle for a marriage that is "like every other marriage," in which fear, defensiveness, shame, stored up hurts, and petty punishments alternate with bursts of passion—ever more infrequent—that seem to have increasingly less meaning.
Still, on occasion, they may faintly hear the voice telling them that it need not be this way, that it is still possible to begin anew, to start all over again.
Jesus came to tell us that the voice we hear calling to us is inviting us to the wedding feast; it is the Spirit of God, the Spirit who hovered over the waters when God called forth life.
Play music in Yahweh's honor, you devout, remember his holiness, and praise him.
His anger lasts a moment, his favor a lifetime;
in the evening, a spell of tears, in the morning, shouts of joy.
"Hear, Yahweh, take pity on me; Yahweh, help me!"
You have turned my mourning into dancing, you have stripped off my sackcloth and wrapped me in gladness;
and now my heart, silent no longer, will play you music;
Yahweh, my God, I will praise you forever (Ps 30: 4,5; 10-12).
Friedrich Nietzsche, the somber German philosopher, told us that the only God worth believing in is a dancing God. He was right; and the Holy Spirit is the Lord of the Dance.
Jesus told his apostles that they need not be afraid when he left them to return to the Father, because the Spirit would come to them. The Spirit is light, fire, and wind. The Spirit's light is truth, the Spirit's fire is passionate commitment, the Spirits wind is enthusiasm. The great wind and the tongues of flame at Pentecost showed the Spirit "turning on" the apostles, filling them with a confidence and an enthusiasm that sent them out to convert the world.
The Spirit is the paraclete, the helper, the advocate, the comforter. The Spirit calls us forth with his dazzling fire and his howling wind; but he also encourages us and reassures us when we are discouraged and frightened. The Spirit calls us forth out of our narrow fears and our timid anxieties by stirring us up, by attracting us, and then by reassuring us when the fears and timidities reappear. And thus it is with any lover whose beloved is fearful and hesitant.
The Father is the God who creates, the Son is the God who speaks, the Spirit is the God who calls. The mystery of the Holy Spirit does not tell us that life is completely safe. It does not tell us that despite all evidence to the contrary we can trust everyone and take every risk. It does not assure us that we will not get hurt. It does not hide from us the evil of death. It does not claim to protect us from all the pain that vulnerability entails. The mystery of the Holy Spirit merely tells us that there are grounds for trust, that it is all right to take risks, and that being vulnerable to others is a better way to live.
We will get hurt sometimes. We will fail often, we will be ridi culed frequently, we will be rejected occasionally, and we will be shamed at least once in a while; but we will only die once. It is not safe over on the other side of the river; on the contrary it is more dangerous. But it is a much better place to be, and whichever side we choose, death will find us.
The mystery of the Holy Spirit, then, reveals to us that the pains, the failures, the rejections, the ridicule, the shame we risk in the open life are not permanent. They are costs we must pay in the search for satisfaction, growth, and love. They are costs that are worth it because through them we learn how to love. And no matter how great the pain, the Holy Spirit, the healer, will bind up our wounds, soothe our hurts, heal our injuries, erase our shame, and encourage us to try again.
Life is not easy, but the doctrine of the Holy Spirit tells us that the full life is possible. Growth is painful, but the doctrine of the Holy Spirit tells us that we can still grow. The intimate vulnerability that is required for love is terrifying, but the mystery of the Holy Spirit tells us that with all the agonies and sorrows abroad in the world it is a place where it is safe enough to love. The Holy Spirit guarantees it.
But the Spirit does not remake us. The apostles on Pentecost were not turned into men they never were before. Rather they became themselves for the first time. The Spirit called out of them that which was most creative, most courageous, most generous, most fully and completely human; and he does that to us, too. He broke through the barriers of the apostle's petty ambitions, their blind materialism, their cowardly fears; and he can do that for us, too. The Spirit did not transform Peter and James and John and the rest into totally new human beings. He liberated that which was best in each of them. He did not attempt to create a new kind of man. He spoke to those depths of the personality of each apostle who had already heard his call but feared to respond. Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit speaks to our spirit. The God who calls speaks to that spark of divinity that is in each one of us. The God without speaks to the hunger for God within. Gods Spirit touches that finest, sharpest point in our personality, the very core of our identity, which tells us that we can be far more than we are. With the unerring instinct of a skillful lover, the Spirit knows exactly how to turn us on; he knows our weak link, which is in fact our greatest strength. He calls us from across the river with telling impact, because he knows that beneath our terrors and rigidities and hesitations, we want to respond.
We are free not to go. We can hear the invitation to the dance with the Spirit and turn it down. We know that part of us wants to let the Spirit blow us whither he wills, but another part of us is afraid to take the chance. What would happen? What would people say? Isn't it much safer to cool it, to run no risks, to take no chances? We have only one life, and we ought to live it cautiously. It is better to rust out than to burn out, better to oxidize slowly rather than explode in a great burst of flame.
Start with my toes, you old Ghost
Spirit the soles of my shoes and teach me a Pentecostal
Sprain my ankles with dancing Sandal around my feet, to roam with me in the rain and feel at home in my footprints.
Oh! look at me spinning, Sprinkling, tonguing teaching Winsoming wondrous steps lift me, how!? We'd better quit now, too all dizzy down giggly
(my junnybone's fickle for you)
I'm flying with your winding my feet and legs and waist
Stop chasing fool—I'm racing from you
Don't catch me
Oh, drown me—most For I love you so, You old Ghost!
The God who creates is the principle of unity in the universe; the God who calls is the principle of variety and diversity. The more special each one of us becomes when we respond to that which is most authentically us, the more different we become from others. And as more human beings respond to the Spirit that speaks to that which is most creative in themselves, the greater the variety and heterogeneity in the world. The spirit of this world tells us not to be different, to stay in line, to go along, to avoid the deadly sanctions which envy can impose, to flee from the risks of self-revelation and the shame of having that which is most secret in us seen by all. The spirit of this world wants to keep the world a neat, orderly, gray, dull place.
The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of and beyond this world, wants the human world to abound with the same wild profligate diversity which can be seen in the world of rocks, the world of plants, the world of animals. Only among humankind is it possible to resist the impulse of the variety-crazed Spirit. Bluebirds do not decide to be blue, the Grand Canyon cannot give up its many hues, the petunia cannot refuse to blossom, the fish darting among the corals cannot decide that its beauty is irrelevant. Only we humans can say no to the Spirit as he wheels and deals through the universe, twirling and whirling, dancing and leaping, spinning and jumping, shooting forth sparks of this divine creativity wherever he goes. We are the only ones who can say: "Thanks, Holy Spirit, but no thanks."
We can turn in on ourselves, pile up our earthly possessions, amass power and prestige, lead narrow, rigid, futile, desperate lives. We can become so atrophied that we don't hear the call from across the river and are unable to disregard those faint whispers and echoes that may intrude.
God's Spirit, then, is a spirit of creativity, variety, and enthusiasm. He is not, however, a spirit of mindless irrationality. If he speaks to that which is best in us, he certainly speaks to our minds as well as to our emotions. Spontaneity and creativity are not the same thing as undisciplined frenzy. The Spirit liberates the authentic self, not the unrestrained libidinal id. The dance of the Spirit is not the dance of drunken revelers. False spirits, as well as the Holy Spirit, are abroad in the world. The voices we hear in the night may be voices of evil, irresponsibility, and destruction. The most destructive of undisciplined human enthusiasms both to the individual person and to the social order are those that confidently but naively claim to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, when in fact they are in the possession of the spirits of madness, of this world, and of all those little hurts, angers, and resentments that have been turned in on the self for so long.
So we must listen carefully to make sure that it is God's Spirit who inspires us to make a decisive change in our life, to begin anew, to start all over again, to break with the past, to commit ourselves enthusiastically to a new vision. There is always a risk in change, and the risk becomes even greater when we realize that we may be deceiving ourselves about what is motivating our change. Instead of stripping away the barriers and defenses so that we can become truly ourselves, it may be that we have simply found a new means of keeping ourselves hidden from others. Now we can cope with the intimate stranger who threatens us so terribly by attacking him in the name of authenticity and enthusiasm, in the name of the Spirit. We aggressively try to strip away the defenses of others and pretend we are being open ourselves.
How can we tell whether it is God's Spirit or the spirit of this world who is speaking to us? If it is God's Spirit there is no nervousness; no frantic, fierce, anxious tensions; no desperate need to convince or to convert others; no compulsion to force others to share in our joy. God's Spirit brings peace, patience, kindness, tolerance, generosity, gentleness, tenderness, perseverance, serenity, openness, and respect for the freedom of others. If our new beginning, our rebirth, our new enthusiasm, and our sudden discovery of self are not marked by those characteristics, then they are the work of a false spirit, a spirit of hatred, punishment, and self-deception.
Most human activities are the result of complex, intricate motivations. It is hard to tell whether it is the Holy Spirit who is blowing us along with new energy and vigor or a howling demon of fear and anxiety, masquerading as a good spirit. It often seems that both spirits are at work at the same time. We must listen carefully. If it turns out that we are not more loving to those who are closest to us, which often means that they do not perceive us as more loving, then the Holy Spirit is losing the contest.
Many Christians have come to believe that the Christian life consists of discreet, cautious, and sober respectability. They are offended by the idea of a spirit of variety, a lord of the dance. Surely there are times in human life when discretion, caution, sobriety, and respectability are very much in order. The indis putable Christians, the apostles and the saints, could be discreet and cautious when the occasion called for it, but such behavior was not the hallmark of their lives. On the contrary, they were so outgoing, so open, so vulnerable to others, so generous, so creative, so ready to run risks, so eager to trust in the fundamental goodness of their lives that they often seemed to their friends and neighbors to be just a little bit mad.
You will remember that that is what the relatives of Jesus and the crowds who attended to the enthusiasm of the apostles on Pentecost thought. What a shame that grown men should be drunk so early in the morning!
We all know such people, men and women of sensitive, well-disciplined enthusiasm who are a joy to be with, who challenge and attract us while they are comforting and reassuring us at the same time. They may seem a little bizarre at times, and we both envy and hate them for their freedom and creativity. (If we could, we, too, might well try to crucify him.) Still we admire them. A world composed of such men and women would be much less predictable and well-ordered and respectable than the one in which we now live. By our inflexible standards, it might even seem a bit crazy; but it would be a more joyous and happy place.
That's what God's Spirit has in mind.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was not revealed to us to test our faith or to provide an abstruse puzzle for metaphysically inclined theologians. It was revealed to tell us something about God, and hence something about the purpose and meaning of human life. Briefly, the doctrine of the Trinity means that while God is one, he is not solitary. God is rational, God is interactive, God is a community, God is interpersonal love. The God who creates, the God who speaks, and the God who calls have been involved in an eternal love affair with one another and are now inviting us to join their dance of loving joy and joyous love. If the invitation is frightening, the reason is that we are being asked to join very fast company. But we are free to bring our friends.
Dancing is making a comeback in Christian liturgy today. Rightfully so, as it was part of the liturgy in days gone by. In the early centuries, Christians danced at martyrs' tombs or in churches in their honor on the vigil of the martyr's feast. In medieval France there were dances in the churches on Christmas and Easter that involved the bishops and the priests. In Spain, in the last century, dances in church marked the Feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Corpus Christi. Even today in Seville young boys in peasant garb dance a pavane in the cathedral in the presence of the blessed sacrament exposed on the altar, and accompany their dance with castanets. The medieval carol "My Dancing Day" echoes this Christian insight about a dancing God.
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day, I would my true love did so chance To see the legend of my play, To call my true love to my dance.
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love, This have I done for my true love.
Then was I born of a Virgin pure, Of her, I took fleshy substance; Thus was I born of a Virgin pure,
To call my true love to my dance.
This have I done for my true love.
Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear to my heart did glance;
There issued forth water and blood
To call my true love to my dance.
Then down to Hell I took my way
For my true love's deliverance,
And rose again on the third day
Up to my true love and the dance
Then up to Heaven I did ascend, Where now I dwell is sure substance, On the right hand of God, that man May come unto the general dance.
(Quoted in William Sandys, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, London: Richard Beckley, 1833.)
The same theme has been echoed more recently in the song, "Lord of the Dance," sung to the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts."
I danced in the morning when the world was begun, And I danced in the moon and stars and the sun, And I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth; At Bethlehem I had my birth.
(Refrain) Dance then wherever you may be; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he, And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be, And I'll lead you all in the dance, said he.
I danced for the scribe and the Pharisee, but they wouldn't dance, and they wouldn't follow me;
I danced for the fishermen, for James and John; They came with me and the dance went on. (Refrain)
I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame;
The holy people said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped and they hung me high,
And left me there on a cross to die.
I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black; It's hard to dance with the devil on your back. They buried my body and they thought I'd gone; But I am the dance and I still go on. (Refrain)
They cut me down and I leapt up high; I am the life that'll never, never die; I'll live in you if you'll live in me; I am the Lord of the Dance, said he: (Refrain)
("Lord of the Dance" American Shaker Melody. Arr. Sydney Carter [b. 1915]. Copyright © 1963 by Galliard Ltd. Rights Reserved. Used by permission.)
The Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection
(Why did Jesus Christ die on the cross?)
x here is evil in the world. earthquakes wipe out hundreds of thousands of lives, over 20 million people died in the Spanish influenza plague of 1918, one-third of Europe succumbed to the Black Death. Children are starving to death in South Asia. Poverty, ignorance, and malnutrition afflict the majority of the human race. Scores die in rush-hour commuter train accidents. Children are brutalized by their parents. Teenagers start off in a bus on a carefree picnic and end up going to their deaths. A young woman is killed by robbers on her honeymoon. Six million Jews are exterminated in concentration camps. Twenty million Vietnamese are killed in a "war of liberation." Pictures of refugees fleeing from some terror fill our television screens several times a month. The terrorist attacks of September 11,2001, are emblazoned into our brains and our very being. The line between being at peace and being at war grows finer every day.
Hurricanes wipe out towns and villages. Urban slums become jungles of crime and vice. The environment is being thoughtlessly polluted. Whole species of birds, animals, and fish are heedlessly destroyed. Natural resources are wasted without reason. Prejudice, bigotry, arrogance, and fear keep many people in subjection. Anger, hatred, and the desire for revenge lead the oppressed to strike out against the oppressors even though those who are destroyed are frequently innocent children, harmless old people, and ordinary citizens who have nothing to do with oppression.
Leaders are gunned down in the streets, prisoners are tortured. Elementary freedoms and liberties are destroyed. Indigenous cultures are uprooted in the name of a progress that turns out to be worse than what it replaced. Schools turn into custodial institutions for the children of the poor. The streets of the cities become unsafe. Violence is as American as cherry pie.
Droughts and floods combine to destroy crops, forcing up the price of food and causing something dangerously close to a world food shortage. Unemployment and inflation threaten to tear the world economy apart. The black lung disease kills coal miners. Needless industrial accidents kill or maim tens of thousands every year. Contaminated water and poisoned air lead to an increase in cancer. "Saturday night specials" create an ever-increasing murder rate. Highway accidents, mostly caused by drunken drivers, produce more deaths each year than the dubious foreign wars that snuff out young lives at their very beginning. Drug addiction turns young people into hardened criminals, and alcoholism torments the families of millions.
The great hopes of historic events like the Vatican Council are blighted by subsequent failures. We are unjustly punished by our parents, rejected by our friends, hated by our enemies, downgraded by our rivals, weakened by the poison of envy, betrayed by those we trusted, deeply wounded by those we love.
But the question is not why does a baby die in his crib, a young man in a napalm raid, a young woman in a gas chamber, a middle-aged man of a heart attack, a mother of cancer, a child because of the carelessness of a hit-and-run driver. All of us are under the sentence of death; some simply have it executed earlier and more unjustly than others. But it is unjust that we have to die. We are the only bodily creatures made with sufficient self-consciousness to know that we are going to die and to be sorry for it. We want with all the force that we can command to escape the sentence of death.
Yet we shall die, and our attempts to avoid it succeed only in postponing the inevitable. It is a bitter cruelty to be created with a hunger for immortality and then be denied sustenance. Maybe it would have been better had we never existed.
But we also experience good. The crops do produce food for tables. The blue sky hangs like a velvet awning above our heads. The heat wave breaks. Winter passes away and the snow and ice are replaced by the flowers of spring. The species does make slow, tortuous progress against oppression, misery, injustice, and hatred. Most diseases are curable, plagues are controlled, polio is virtually eliminated, despots are overthrown, some reforms work. Our children grow up and sometimes become our friends; conflicts do end in reconciliation; marriages get patched up; love does survive misunderstanding, thoughtlessness, and indifference. Wars end, old enemies become friends, we forgive others and are forgiven by them.
So there is a struggle between good and evil going on in the world. It goes on in the physical cosmos, in the world community, in human society, within our own personality. Evil seems much the stronger of the two, but it has not yet carried the day. Good is remarkably resilient. It always seems endangered, threatened, close to rout, yet it manages to survive and even to win victories. The outcome of the battle between good and evil remains in doubt, but evil, for all its ugly power, has yet to succeed in driving good from the earth and from the human condition. Good survives, sometimes just barely, but it survives nevertheless.
Yet does not evil win the final battle against the particular good that is in us? Is not all our struggle for growth, for trust, for love, no matter how generously waged or how successfully accomplished, finally cancelled out in the nothingness of death? Perhaps slowly, perhaps quickly, perhaps easily, perhaps with excruciating pain, we will die. Our friends will offer sympathy at the wake, prayers will be mumbled over us, our cold body will be put into colder ground, and dirt will be heaped on top of us. In a little while only a few people will remember us, and then we will be completely forgotten, as they too follow us to the grave. What purpose was served by our love?
But we are not sure. The sun sets only to rise again, nature dies in the autumn only to revive in the spring, hatred sometimes leads to reconciliation, love grows through conflict that is resolved; animals and plants die, but their substance is absorbed by other living creatures. Good survives by turning the apparent victory of evil into a victory of its own. "Birth and Death [are] inseparable on earth,7For they are twain yet one, and Death is Birth," says the poet Francis Thompson.
We experience death and rebirth often in our own lives. We pass the test, we overcome the fear, we break through the barriers of shame and timidity, we make progress against our inflexibility and defensiveness, we learn from our mistakes. In fact, we discover with time and experience that progress and growth in the human condition—whether it be personal or social—is always accomplished through a series of deaths and rebirths. In the psychotherapeutic experience in particular, we learn that we can only rise to the new human—-the more free, more open, more confident, more authentic self—by dying to the old person, that narrow, anxious, fearful, defense-ridden self. We become more human and society becomes more just only through death and resurrection.
Such insight does not solve the problem of evil, because in the nature of things it is not a problem to be solved. To set up evil as a problem that, if solved, will legitimate the existence of God is both to misunderstand the question and to load the dice against any but the agnostic answer. Agnosticism is conceded in the phrasing of the question. Even if the problem of evil is not solved (and it cannot be), the "problem" of good remains. How account for evil if there is a God? But how account for good if there is not?
So the real problem is the war in heaven (and everywhere else, of course) between good and evil. Whoever wishes to look calmly and coolly (if such be possible) at the full dilemma must face the existence of good and evil or, more precisely and less philosophically, the mystery of life and death. What is ultimately baffling is not death but life. The most pointed and most poignant question is not why we die, but why we live at all.
The Christ experience does not reveal to us any rational, metaphysical solution to the problem of evil. It does not explain why there is evil in the world; it surely does not pretend that there is no evil or that it can be glossed over easily. The Christ event reveals to us merely that evil is not ultimate and good is; death does not have the final word, life does. And hence we live, not dominated by the fear of death but filled with the expectation of life. This is revealed to us through the mystery of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
Like all humans, Jesus was deeply involved in the struggle between good and evil, between life and death. He preached life, forgiveness, joy, love, the Good News. He was misunderstood, envied, harassed, hounded, hated. His friends expected a temporal kingdom despite clear indications that the kingdom of God was not of this world. He was a healing presence, yet the crowds expected spectacular signs and wonders that he would not give them. He taught the fulfillment of the promise Yahweh made to the Hebrews, yet the leaders of the people feared and envied him.
He came to bring life, indeed "life more abundant," yet he spent the last year of his life "on the run" to escape those who would kill him. Finally, he bravely went up to Jerusalem to confront those who wanted to destroy him, won all the points in direct argument, was betrayed by a friend, treacherously arrested in the dark of night, deserted by his friends, convicted on trumped-up charges, tortured and beaten, and then executed by a cruel death reserved for rebels and slaves.
If this is what God does to his friends, who needs him? If this is what he permits to happen to one who was on terms of special intimacy with him, who claimed to be his son in a unique way, why would we trust God at all? Who wants to be the son of a father like that?
But, as happens so often, evil did not have the final word. The defeat of life somehow got turned into victory. Death did not have final dominion over Jesus. He lived and still lives. Despite the fact that it was the last thing they expected or wanted, the friends of Jesus did encounter him once again as very much alive; they encountered him repeatedly in circumstances under which their initial doubts, suspicions, hesitations, and disbelief could not survive. The Lord was truly risen. They could not explain (and neither can we) exactly how it happened, but it did happen; and they had to rush forth to tell the Good News to all the world, to cast his fire on the earth. The fire is still being cast, though in some times and in some places it has not come very close to the vigor and enthusiasm of those who encountered Jesus in the Easter experience.
The real question is not so much whether we believe that Jesus rose from the dead (though one cannot be a Christian if one does not believe. What else is the faith all about?) but whether we believe that we too shall rise. The resurrection of Jesus is a'sacra-ment," a dazzling burst of illumination that brings light to the darkness in which we live. It does not solve the problem of evil; rather it tells us that in the end the greatest evil of all will lose.
Life conquers death. My life will conquer my death. All of our lives will conquer all of our deaths. The hints we have that death is not final, the suspicions we experience that the resurrection experiences of our ordinary life are revelatory, the ineradicable hunch from which we cannot escape that life is stronger than death—these are confirmed, validated, ratified, and reinforced by the resurrection of Jesus—it is not outside the realm of rational possibility that somehow, some way, a single man should have managed to survive death. If that were all the faith Christianity required, one could stretch a point and make the commitment to Christianity with some feeling of rationality and common sense. Such a rational commitment would require little further in the way of expectation of the marvelous, the unexpected, the wonderful, the surprising. Neither would it demand of us an involvement like that of Jesus in the bitter struggle between good and evil that rages in the world.
But that is not what Christianity is. We are required to believe that all men will live just as Jesus did; and we are required to live just as Jesus did, committing ourselves fully and completely to the battle against evil even when we know it will win at least one cruel, vicious, arbitrary victory over us when it destroys us in death. We battle on, because we also know that even the one inevitable victory will be reversed. This is a profoundly optimistic belief. It affronts common sense. How can we believe something that sounds too good to be true?
The demand of the mystery of the cross and resurrection also terrifies us. Surely it is not necessary to live the way Jesus did, to serve other humans so completely and totally, to heal them so lovingly, to tolerate them so patiently, to pursue them so generously. Surely it is not necessary to face death so bravely and confidently. Surely it is not necessary to defy evil so contemptuously.
But the challenge of the "sacrament" of the cross and resurrection also attracts us, fascinates us, and tempts us. It resonates with our own best hopes, our own deepest inklings, our own most intractable convictions. It appeals to our best dreams— dreams we have whether we want them or not. It confirms our most optimistic suspicions, it reinforces our brightest expectations.
It probably is too good to be true. But still, what if it is?
If it is true, we will certainly have to change our lives. Those who expect to rise like Jesus will have to live and die like him. And such a life and death, such a reenactment in one person of the cosmic war between good and evil is a terrifying alternative to our present dull, complacent, mediocre life. But we all secretly suspect, in our most reflective moments and with our wisest insights, that such may be the only really human way to live after all.
The cross and the resurrection of Jesus tell us that what we had secretly hoped for, and secretly feared because of its demands, is indeed too good to be true, but is true nevertheless. Its challenge follows from every one of the great mysteries: What are you going to do about it?
The follower of Jesus does not deny evil or attempt to minimize its power. He believes in the cross of Jesus, and hence must face honestly and bluntly the ugliness and the strength of the evil that could do so terrible a thing to so good a man. But he does not despair over evil and give in to it. He believes in the resurrection of Jesus and knows that evil is not the finality. He does not retreat into the desert to escape the incurable evil of the world, because he believes in both cross and resurrection and because he knows that, like Jesus, he must dedicate himself to the eradication of evil from the earth. He must heal, console, teach, encourage, admonish, assist even if death will be the ultimate reward of his goodness.
So wherever we find the sick, the suffering, the ignorant, the hungry, the oppressed, the frightened, the lonely, the homeless, we will also find the followers of Jesus. They are there because the Lord himself has told us that it is in such places we will find him.
The best hint of an explanation of the mystery of good and evil to be found in the cross and resurrection of Jesus is that through suffering he came alive. The cross not only preceded the resurrection, in some deep way that we cannot fully understand but that seems to resonate well with our own experiences, it caused the resurrection. By dying with such courage and faith, Jesus, through the help of the heavenly Father, won resurrection. Life not only triumphs over death but somehow flows out of it. Death is not merely a prelude to life in the new man but also a cause; this is a commonplace of psychological growth inside or outside the therapeutic process. We can only rise if we are willing to go through death, not just as antecedent in time but also as it is precisely the liberation from fear of death that causes resurrection.
This profound psychological insight should not be turned into a law of physical science, but humanly we know that we begin to live free lives when we stop worrying about death. Death may then not be merely the end of life, it also may be its crowning moment; for in death all the energies and commitments of a life are focused into a single climactic moment. We will, of course, be afraid (as Jesus was in the Garden of Olives), but if we have lived as free people we will die as free people, and the fear will not wipe out the dignity and the grace of our humanity. In the moment of death we will feel the first inkling of resurrection; we have already beaten death.
And when the good and gentle Jesus reaches out to touch our hand as he touched the hand of the son of the widow of Nairn, and as he says to us as he did to Lazarus, "Come forth," there is just the possibility that we may sit up, look around in surprise, and say, "Is this it? Why, I've been through this experience many times before now!"
1. We simply do not know how the physical resurrection of Jesus occurred because we were not there and Jesus did not think it was important to go into the details. The stories we have in Scripture, it is generally agreed, are not detailed historical accounts, much less "instant replays." They are statements of faith. All that we can be sure of historically is that the followers of Jesus did indeed experience him as fully and completely alive many times after his death, despite their profound disinclination to do so and despite the clear changes to their own lives resulting from reporting their experience. In principle we may concede that it could have been a self-deception, but if so, its power and influence were almost as marvelous as the event itself. No useful purpose is served by arguing the fact of a historical resurrection with unbelievers. We can prove the fact of the transformation of the apostles and the fact of their belief. What we make of these facts and whether we choose to live in the light of the mystery of the cross and the resurrection are matters of deep personal choice and commitment which no one can argue.
2. Attempts to free God from the charge of being the "cause" of evil is the work of what are termed "process" theologians and philosophers. They think of God as the "Great Improviser" who respects completely the freedom of his creatures (even the freedom of the forces of nature to create its own disasters), and then subtly adjusts his plans and goals so that their fulfillment will come despite and through the exercise of creaturely freedom. The approach is interesting and persuasive, especially because it permits us to say that God suffered and died for us in and through Jesus (a traditional Christian conviction based on the custom of attributing to the divine "person" the actions of the human Jesus). The main weakness of this approach is that it seems to assume that God grows and even changes—an idea which is not false to the scriptural data but which certainly goes against much of the philosophical and theological premises of the Christian tradition. However, the process scholars argue that growth is a perfection and hence ought to be found supremely in God (at least in what they call the "consequent nature of God"). Whether this subtle and attractive but disconcerting approach can be reconciled with the Catholic tradition is a question that will have to be answered in the future. A number of very respectable Catholic philosophical theologians have argued that a rapprochement between Thomistic theology and process theology is not only possible but absolutely necessary.
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