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Posted by on Mar 22, 2008

Good Friday: Identifying with Christ or Christ Identifying With Us?

Good Friday: Identifying with Christ or Christ Identifying With Us?

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For those who love Christ, remembering His passion and death is always an occasion for sorrow. However, such human acts as compassion are never simple. The pain of the impending loss of a loved one – anticipatory grief – can be worse than the actual loss. In fact, when death finally comes, we often feel guilty about experiencing relief. My friend Jim lost his father when Jim was in eighth grade, after a protracted two year battle with cancer. When we talked about it a couple of years later, Jim confessed that he still felt more relief than grief.

Of course, we couldn’t experience compassion without a close identification with the other. This becomes very complex in the person of the Christ. He did not fight his enemies. He did not curse. He did not condemn. He forgave. He blessed. This human-divine reaction to an injustice that is almost as inconceivable as it is enraging provides no adequate psychological outlet for the post-Freudian soul. How can we proclaim and fight for justice if God Himself did not? Tragically, the consolation in the Gospels and the wider testimony of the New Testament – that no evil, no matter how overwhelming, how senseless, can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus – escapes us. (Romans 8:38-39) Instead of experiencing this Passover of the Lord – the Blood of the Lamb on the door posts and lintel of our home that spares us from the Angel of Death – we run out into that night of despair by focusing on the ways we have been complicit with that evil.

When we hear that we are saved from a life defined by suffering and pain without meaning and no exit, we can think that we were saved from something we deserved. “Evil as you are … who among you would give his son a scorpion when he asked for bread?” (Loosely taken from Luke 11: 11-13) is a stark reminder to the disciples that Jesus could not conceive of His Father wanting anything less than we ourselves would want for our own children. Just as our children are all too much in our own image and likeness, we are in God’s. The teaching and life of Jesus in this regard is at odds with the vengeful patriarch of the Old Testament who punishes and chastises. (Lest we be tempted to think that Jews hold or held onto to this concept, we should remember that Jesus was not the only Jew who presented a view that had grown beyond it. The are interesting similarities between Jesus and his contemporary, Hillel the Elder.)

Enter God’s protectors:

“Ah hah! Now he has said it on his very own blog! Your own words condemn you. God doesn’t care about sin, you say. There are no consequences, no punishment, no reckoning. You present a God who is merciful, but not just. If Christ did not die for our sins how was the Father appeased? How is he the sacrificial victim?”

The Blogger Offers a Parable:

Once upon a time, there was a wonderful teacher who healed by word and touch and saved people from all kinds of physical, psychological, and social maladies. He made the mistake of speaking truth to power and telling religious and civil leaders that outward observance only made them into whitened sepulchers. They waited for the right time and got a close friend to betray him, and they took him off to Guantanamo, and then transferred him to a third world country, where he was tortured to death by specialists trained at the School of the Americas. Like so many thousands of his time, he was supposed to have become one of the disappeared. Fortunately for us, He didn’t stay dead and he didn’t stay hidden. Strangely though, he left again, said he would return, and in the meantime the were supposed to wait for a Holy Wind to make everything clear.

Yet His disciples wanted an explanation. If He was truly God’s Son, how could this have happened to Him? If he really was the Messiah, how could he have failed? He was just as maddening as those parables he used to tell them. Where are the answers? It was like one of those Eastern religions. “The question is the answer.” And that other junk the Beatles found in India, under the influence of something other than the great American mystic, Jack Daniels.

God finally sent them someone they could understand – sort of. “Like, well, yuh see, dude- God don’t need sacafices, ” The voice of the aging surfer was hoarse with too many years of funny cigarettes, his faced etched with too much salt and sun, his eyes opaque while he waited for the waves to rise. “It’s like, all ’bout love. All God wants is love. The torture and sufferin’ part, that’s what we do to us and each other. Man, like the Teacher Dude, the Guru Guy, like he couldn’t hang out forever. ‘Cause like, you guys were all brain dead on a kind a gnarly bad trip. Like he let it happen. The tube was closin’. Like there was just the wipeout; like really bad at Mavericks. He did it to show y’all that if yah stay in the water and go for it, sooner or later it’s gonna happen if ya stay true to the search for the Big One.  Dude, got some extra change? My old lady’s on me for the rent, like ya know.”

The words of reproach, as the seeker turned away, were familiar. “That sucks man. What a waste. I came to hear some guy explain some @$#%?! blogger’s crappy parable. I could’a been watchin’ the game on my big screen.” So he zipped up his jacket and marched straight home, out of the saving mystery, ignoring the glory of the sky, the dazzle of the water, and the carpet of color and bird song all about him.

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3 Comments

  1. I like your take on what Jesus was about. However, the New Testament is a mutlti-authored text and in fact, there’s plenty of material there not only to support Jesus as representing God’s love, but also God’s harshest judgment – plenty of verses where Jesus is portrayed as telling people who don’t believe in him that they’re going to hell.

    One’s take on the Bible depends on what material one selects and emphasizes. I think this finally speaks more to where we’re at spiritually than to the Bible itself.

  2. Thanks for your comment and for your blog at http://www.originalfaith.com.

    Clearly, whenever we experience anything our reaction and interpretation depends on the way we have structured reality in terms of our socialization and our own specific mind-body response. This is the notion of phenomenology. We experience what we apprehend in a very mediated manner.

    The bigger question is our experience of the Christ direct and real or forever muted, constrained, and shaped by the Bible and / or accepted formulations of teachings called dogma?

    As a seminarian I was trained with the view that our human responsibility is to create meaning. The decision to accept my existence and that of the universe as absurd never had any real appeal for me. It did fortunately, shake apart enough of my Catholic upbringing to open me up to wonderful spiritual experiences that showed me a reality beyond my own ability to construct.

    As a result, I tend to see the notion of God’s judgment along Catholic phenomenological lines of our response to compassion, service, and awe. We can either accept it or reject it. Love can never be forced, compassion can never be prescribed,and hope can never be legislated.

    I personally have chosen to live within the broader Christian construction of the last 2,000 years not only because I believe in it but because of my experience of the Risen Christ in its community.

    Your own path and wonderful enlightenment are a great help to those alienated from institutional religion and to “believers” who have not entered into the Mystery.

    My only concern is that a rejection of the successes and failures of the Christian community and its nuances as a social cultural movement can set people on the path of an anti-intellectual “my truth, my spirituality dogmatism” movement only to repeat the travesties and horrors of the past and to ignore the Glory of the Resurrection.

    Best wishes on your forthcoming book and prayers for your health.

    Peace and blessings,

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