Friday, November 15, 2019
After the Fall. . .
Our desire to find a path without suffering is, in part, the reason why we seek a "Christian" society or nation in which morality has the force of law and culture is either an unwitting or intentional ally. If we have a society in which common values and goals are shared between church and state, then it is less likely we may be asked to give up anything for the sake of faithfulness or sacrifice anything for the sake of a larger good. But a culture in which “Christianity” dominates through force and majority rule may not be one of great virtue but merely a reflection of the ordinary truth that the strong rule the weak. In the same way, the faith is not triumphant when sacrifice or suffering is excised from the walk of faith. Neither faith nor the Church is made stronger when the way is eased for a more comfortable Christianity. In order for lives to change, hearts must change and with this change must come the willingness to suffer for the sake of doctrine and practice of the faith. The heart does not have to change if behavior is enforced by fear of punishment. So the path of Puritanism ended up with laws ruling but hearts still filled with wrong desire.
What we have forgotten, the early Church knew only too well. If a Christian walks in the way of the Cross, suffering will ensue. The faithful must be prepared to lose, at least as the world counts it, in order to be faithful. This is clearly what Christ teaches. Today we find ourselves in a world in which faith has been manipulated into a means to get what you desire out of life and where the sign of God's blessing is to resolve the problem of suffering and relieve the person from loss. In the early Church, the stories of the faithful were the accounts of martyrdom in which the threat of death did not shake the resolve of the faithful to remain true to Christ. The heroes of these early years were not those who found accommodation but those who suffered all rather than fall away. In contrast, today we celebrate the rich and famous, the sports figures and entertainers, who seem to be able to have it all and to do is their way. In this scenario, however, the Church is hardly different than the world around her and resembles the creation of Christ's blood hardly at all. There was, after all, a reason why the earliest canonical heroes (saints) are mostly martyrs. While we may idealize such devotion today, none of us wants to be placed in the cross hairs of such a choice.
The Gospel does not make us into better consumers but teaches us to sit in the lower place, to serve as Christ has served us, and to suffer gladly with Christ in confidence of the great reward that this world may not see or know. God is not where suffering is absent but hidden in suffering. Someone said to me years ago that if you are not covered in blood you are not standing close enough to Jesus. While rather crass and blunt, the point is well taken. Jesus did not promise us a rose garden but He did warn us of the rejection, persecution, imprisonment, and death to come for those who seek to know Christ and Him only. Our life does not manifest worldly marks of success but flows from the Cross and the Cross alone. Is this not what the Benedict Option is about? Is this not a challenge to the kind of institutional Christianity in which God's job is to make us so successful and happy that the world will want to know what makes our lives so rich and so easy? Luther's theology of the cross is not cliche or slogan. It is the way of Christian life.