"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Resurrection–Christ’s Suffering And Crucifixion Were Far More Important

Easter is the most significant feast of the Christian calendar.  It is the symbol not only of Christ’s resurrection, but the hope of every believer.  Without Jesus’ suffering on the cross, his redemptive sacrifice, and his death, Christians would have little.  His parables, his wisdom, his compassion, and his concern for the spiritual well-being of others would mean little without his time on the cross and his death.  The sins of humanity were too great for any individual or even collective repentance.  Only the Son of God had the power to forgive all sins and to offer a path to individual salvation.

The resurrection – a pre-ordained, necessary matter between Christ and his Father – might have been miraculous, but the ordeal on the cross and his assumption of sin and the responsibility of forgiveness – was far more important for those left behind.

In other words we celebrate Christ’s resurrection – we have an advocate in heaven who serves as an example of forgiveness, charity, and compassion – but Christ’s real importance was his suffering.
Christ’s assumption into heaven was divine, but his suffering was very human indeed.  He was whipped, knifed, nailed to the cross and was hours in dying before suffocation ended his life.   His suffering was so unbearable that he asked God, his Father, why he had forsaken him – a very human moment of pain and despair at the moment of death.

It is too simple to suggest that Christ’s suffering should serve as an example – that we all should forgive, assume pain and suffering for and give selflessly to others.  To interpret the myth of a god’s son who is tortured and crucified for others and who dies for their sins as a parable of caring concern, moral courage, and rectitude is to do it injustice.

The more important lesson is that in God’s eyes the world still needs saving.  The destruction of mankind in the Flood, as complete and vengeful as it was, did no good.  Only a few millennia later and the human race had returned to its old ways.

he still more important lesson is that after millennia more, mankind is even more cavalier, more ignorant and dismissive of God’s word than ever before.

The Book of Revelations tells us that this too will not stand.  That those who have disregarded Christ’s teaching will suffer a death a thousand times more painful and tortured than his.  The world will never progress, never improve, and never reform.

There is an inherent contradiction here.  God tried to create a more perfect world by destroying the old, by providing essential precepts to follow for those who would repopulate it, and by providing support and guidance as it matured.  Yet this all-knowing God had to admit failure and intercede once again by sending his Son to once again deal with an ignorant and arrogant humanity.  If that were not enough, he, through his Biblical prophets, spoke of a final, fiery, holocaust in which only the faithful would survive.

Christ’s real story, then, is about God’s infinite patience.  How long can this Old Testament God, even in his more compassionate New Testament reincarnation, tolerate such insolence and grievance?  Will there be a Second Coming? More temporal compassion from Jehovah?

Why did God create such a willfully disobedient and sinful world in the first place?   In his infinite wisdom he must have known that the imperfect world he was creating would have to end badly.  It wasn’t just Eve’s fault, nor Adam’s, but the very wiring  of the humanity confected in heaven before the Garden of Eden. 

So the message of Judeo-Christianity is that the world is a perennial bad place with little real hope for universal salvation but the possibility of individual redemption and ascension.

Fundamentalist Protestants have understood this message better than most.  The only path to salvation is one built on personal, intimate relationships with Jesus Christ himself, taking him as one’s personal savior, and trusting in his grace and compassion. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, tant pis.

Jesus died for our sins, but he did so collectively – a generalized, blanket forgiveness with no statute of limitations.  By so doing he allowed the world to continue, hopeful that it would take his advice and not force his Father to resort to the same type of destruction he visited on Sodom and Gomorrah and the entire world.

Fundamentalists understand that there is no way for humanity ever to be able to keep his commandments, nor have enough collective faith to prevent Armageddon; so they turned their focus to individual salvation – the most un-Christian and uncharitable notion ever.

The Catholic Church took Christ’s admonitions differently.  If one did good works and continued the community focus that Jesus had intended among his disciples, not only individual but collective salvation could follow.

Where does that leave us?

Political progressives interpret Christ’s teaching in one way.  If one follows his precepts, is compassionate and inclusive, and concerned about the moral future of humanity, a better world can result.  Armageddon can be deferred indefinitely.

Political conservatives take Christ’s teaching to heart.  God, having tried many times to purify the world and expunge evil, has failed to do so.  Armageddon is certain and imminent.  There are only a few lifeboats, so save yourself.

What would Jesus do?

It seems obvious that he would side with the conservatives who have taken to heart the words of the Bible.  Mankind has never shown any moral rectitude or courage and as a result has been punished by God.  Not only that, God himself has been so pessimistic about man’s chances for redemption, that he has planned for a fiery end of times holocaust.

Yet there is no end to eternal optimism.  Despite thousands of years of history, Biblical assertions predicting the final horrific fate of humanity, genetic evidence of hardwiring and the ineluctable influence of a self-serving, territorial, and preservational human nature, progressives still hew to the belief that better is possible if not inevitable.

Jesus’s sacrifice, they say, has shown the way – a divine perfect example for our own lives.
In any case, it is Jesus’s sacrifice that we should remember this Easter.  Resurrection is all well and good; but once it is over, it is done with. 

Easter should be not only a celebration of his divinity, but of his very human life and sacrifice.   Some of us take it as an example of humility, service, love and compassion for others.  Others understand it as a necessary reminder of persistent evil and the need for personal salvation.

Whichever route one takes, the journey is worthwhile.

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