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Posted by on Mar 18, 2008

Holy Week – Salvation Through Suffering or Self Actualization?

Holy Week – Salvation Through Suffering or Self Actualization?


The profound Christian mysteries of Holy Week – the Last Supper, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection – are part of a cycle that we often break up into pieces. We can focus on the suffering Christ or move more comfortably to the Resurrected Christ. We can focus on the suffering humanity of Christ or His triumphant divinity. The problem of course is holding the contradiction to arrive at the truth by affirming the opposites. Is Christ human or divine? Yes.

In our lives, are we supposed to unfold and blossom in all of our God given gifts or do we have to exercise discipline and self-scrutiny and trim away important parts of ourselves – our sensuality, our connectedness with the earth, our search for joy and happiness? It seems that from the 1700s to the mid-20th century there was an emphasis on asceticism – a word created in the enlightenment – for the rational and spiritual to dominate at the expense of the heart, the emotions, and all things physical. Even the great secular Freudian construct of the human person posits a dominant super ego, the besieged ego, and the troublesome impish id of desire and impulse that seeks to undo the ethical correctness of the super ego and the reasonableness of the ego.

The psychology of Maslow is known for its emphasis on the self-actualization of the human person. The focus of Christian existentialism in the 20th century was on authenticity. In the late 20th century, the immanence of God with us was emphasized, as opposed to the previous focus on God’s utter transcendence. The re-emergence of Catholic and Protestant teaching of the social gospel has focused on the rights and dignity of individuals and communities to develop their gifts, free of domination and exploitation.

Of course, as we all know, we pay a price for our self-actualization and for advocating this freedom for others. That price is suffering – due to our own imperfect attempts at being authentic or “real”, the fear and resistance of ourselves and others to freedom, and the forces of oppression which come upon us in violence, social disapproval, or our own lack of will.

When we come right down to it, it is often more comfortable to stay in our zone of known suffering than to accept the insecure joy of resurrection. If I experience love, joy, and some glimmer of self-actualization, it will always be imperfect, and the “blues” (the dark days) will return. It may be a spiral upward, but it’s also a lot of insecurity and hassle and change. We have to live ambiguously. We don’t have the answers. In fact, we have to affirm opposites. Who needs this tension?

The bad times and the good times – through both there is only one guarantee – challenge.

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