Some months ago I came across a passage from the letters of Peter by accident. I have always found that the things I most need to read turn up out of nowhere, unsought for, yet always personally compelling at just a moment in time when needed..
There were words before, and after, the single phrase sizzling on the page that amplified and contextualised it, but I hardly was aware of them. I was suddenly on fire with the words of Fire that the Spirit had inspired in Peter in regard to the meaning of Christ.
“..because Christ suffered on your behalf, and thereby left you an example; it is for you to follow in his steps”.. [1 Peter, 2, 21].
The full passage from which this line comes runs from 1 Peter, chapter 2, verses 19 to 25. But the phrase that still burns me every time I return to it remains= where he went and what he did is a heroic journey and heroic battle which you must travel and you must fight, if you want to belong to Christ.
You can respect, even admire, Christ at a distance, and then going where he went and doing what he did is not incumbent upon you. Its yoke does not rest on your shoulders, nor does its summons trouble your heart. His passion is not exemplar, guide, and helper, of your passion. Christ’s passion need not, in equal measure, hurt and rouse your passion. You can look at where he went and what he did and not really see it with the heart, and without it striking you hard and creating compunction, you need not ever consider that, one day, you too will follow a passion that puts you out on a limb, out over the deep, suspended and in suspense over the Abyss into which you fear to fall if you risk too much. That Christ risked everything, so you could risk more and finally come to the supreme and final risk will remain dormant. You will know it is so, because the heart knows the score, but for that very reason, you will choose walkways of life that need not ever call upon the heart.
Those who are followers of Christ ‘must go where he went and do what he did’; this is the meaning of the Cross.
Thus, the Cross does not absolve us from making its ultimate sacrifice with our own life and action, but on the contrary, what Christ did by embracing the Cross is an example which invites us ‘to follow in his steps.’ But what is the Cross an example of?
It is an example of heroic passion, or passion at its most heroic, the extreme heroism that goes to the end of the line. Indeed, in saying we must go where he went and do what he did, it is being asserted that Christ’s action takes on a wound and a burden that we cannot take on; it lifts the old weight we cannot lift, and pays the old cost we cannot pay. It comes to the very place where the most heroic human passion fails, the narrow straits where we are stuck, the deep place in the heart where we hit the wall, and the killing ground in the world where we cower and fall flat on our face into the dust. Christ enters the primordial place of human defeat, to do there what no human being can do– including all the enlightened ones, the illumined teachers, the wise elders, none of whom who could take on the wound and the burden, and therefore all of whom left it in the dark and suffering depths where every human being knows everything is lost. What Christ does in that place of human heartbreak is to forge a way through, a heavy and a costly way, but a way which enables us to pass through ‘in his steps.’ Through Christ, we can go where he went, and do what he did.
By our own strength, as Christ tells Peter, we can ‘do nothing’; we will always step out on the wave tossed seas and walk a few steps, and then start to sink, certain we are going to drown. Or, we will step up, and then falter, and finally run, betraying what we vowed to stand up for. Passion goes farther than anything else we can humanly come up with, but human passion fails at a certain step which is ‘a bridge too far.’ Drama is the story of heart, but in the truest dramatic story telling, the human heart gives its all and by virtue of that, comes to the point where it cannot give; the human venture is a tragedy precisely because when we truly reach the sticking point, at that point we cannot stick. Where we need to be most staked to the ground for what is most at stake in existence is precisely where we fall. The criminal, the weak, the lazy, the self-indulgent and self-righteous, do not even get near this staking point, but the tragedy is, even the heroic, even the most noble, even the very best, cannot stand it at this point, and will inevitably give up and give in. Tragedy is the fall of what is greatest in us.
This ‘fall’ is prior to sin. It is more akin to humanity leaving the kitchen because of not being able to bear and endure the heat– rather than cooking up poisoned food to kill others, whilst greedily cooking up the richest food for oneself. By the time sin arises, the fallenness in the heart is already established. The fall is existential.
There is an innocent suffering inherent to existence — to which the righteous Job was subjected — that precedes sin, and is in fact the existential pre-condition for its arising. This has a vital bearing on what Peter is saying about the Cross of Christ.
There is a suffering fated to existence in this world, and this is the suffering that wounds and burdens us, requiring us to lift a weight and pay a cost. Such suffering is inherent because of the material limits in which we live, the limits on what we can ever know, and the basic reality that our roads as human beings cross, so that we affect and are affected by one another. A weight you refuse to carry is put on my shoulders and crushes my back, causing me to start to buckle and crash into another brother only precariously standing, and when he hits the ground, several more brothers can no longer stand upright and come down with him. The weight you will not carry becomes the heavier burden your brother must carry, the cost you will not pay becomes the more expensive debt your brother must pay.
The weight was put down ages ago. The cost was refused ages ago.
It hurts too much to speak of this. No one speaks of the weight not carried by our passion and the cost not paid by our passion. It is too shaming. It is too hurting to remember it. But we are reminded of it every time our greatness loses its way and loses its footing, falling into the human tragedy. The human tragedy is that, when it really counts, our greatest is not up for it. Sin may be a sign, or consequence, of tragedy, but if we were simply sinful, there would be no tragedy to the human condition. There would be an error, inviting correction. Tragedy is not like that. It is far more profound. It hurts us to look into its depths. Its agony and anguish is too close to home.
On the Cross, Christ takes on the human tragedy, and by joining with it and diving into it, leaving nothing of himself immune from its ravages, intervenes and changes it from the inside. This process of embracing the human tragedy, in order to redeem it in the very depth of its most powerful affect upon the human heart, starts at the Cross, is suffered and fought out in the mysterious ‘3 days’ of the Descent into Hell, and its victory proclaimed in the Resurrection. The Resurrection declares the turn around and reversal in the depth effected by Christ’s entry into the hell that has captured the human heart and held it in slavery from the beginning.
The divine-human passion redeems the human passion. This is the Cross; this is why ‘you will go where he went and do what he did’ is the Christian litany, the holy mantra honouring Christ’s unbelievable sacrifice, unbelievable deed, unbelievable victory, in the deep place of human defeat.
Consequently, we must be clear on the issue Peter understood, not doctrinally but existentially, and this is that Christ passes through the point in innocent suffering, existential suffering, the suffering inherent to existence, where we faltered, and funked it, declining to take it on, and then finding the refusal ‘set in stone’ and increasing our incapacity over the ages upon ages of human existence in this world. “The world is deep”= in our fall we fail the world’s depth, making our depth and the world’s depth the indwelling of hell.
This, however, is what Christ’s innocent suffering changes by suffering what we cannot suffer. It is prior to the Cross as ‘atonement for sin.’ Christ’s sacrificial death, at the deepest level, is not because of carrying and paying for people’s sinfulness; it carries and pays for something prior to and profounder than that. Certainly, it must be acknowledged that there is a suffering that is passed around and gets inflicted upon us all when people ‘behave badly’; this is the sin that becomes so entrenched, so widespread, so magnified over time and distance, that its consequences cannot be removed by any effort of human good will on its own. According to Isaiah in the 4 Slave Songs of the Messiah, the Messianic King suffers and dies for his people, because of carrying and paying for their cumulative sins. Peter is referring to this passage of Isaiah briefly and elliptically when he adds to the more primary meaning of the Cross he has pointed out the secondary, atoning meaning= “In his own person he carried our sins to the gallows, so we might cease to live for sin and begin to live for righteousness” [1 Peter, 2, 24]. But the key to the primary break-through in the place of deepest human break-down is earlier= “But when you have behaved well and suffer for it, your fortitude is a fine thing in the sight of God” [1 Peter, 2, 20]. ‘Behaving well’ is a short hand, almost a euphemism, for passion; this is even more clear in the opening shot of this passage= “For it is a fine thing if a man endure the pain of undeserved suffering because God is in his thoughts” [1 Peter, 2, 19]. When God is in our heart, deeper than any thought can reach, then we can act for God from passion, and accept the ‘undeserved’ suffering this brings us as a consequence of such a deed; this accepting of undeserved suffering, in effect being punished for the good we risk doing, is what we have primordially repudiated and this is why we cannot do good beyond a certain limit. It is the greater in us that is blocked, imprisoned, stopped. Peter is claiming that it is this very limit that Christ crashes through, and so when we follow Christ, we too discover we can accept innocent suffering as the consequence of passion. This allows us to act like Christ who “committed no sin, [and] was convicted of no falsehood”; and who “when he was abused ..did not retort with abuse, when he suffered he uttered no threats, but committed his cause to the One who judges justly” [1 Peter, 2, 22-24]. The last phrase is the most important. When Kierkegaard articulated passion as a ‘leap of faith’, he was pointing to the same reality that Peter describes as not giving sin for sin, not returning evil with evil, or using injustice to repay injustice, but standing by the passion that holds God in its heart, and risking its entire fate to the justice of God.
In short, the Cross is an example inviting us to walk in its footsteps, because the Cross is prior even to our own sinfulness, and refers to our greater and deeper passion, showing us a way in which we can go to the maximum with that passion, no matter its weight, no matter its cost, without retaliating when the world rewards our best with its worst.
The teaching on the atonement puts humanity as guilty before Christ’s innocence, which is perfectly just when you look at our smaller side; but that is not the whole story, as the West of Christianity has mistakenly and even heretically tried to render it, for Peter’s teaching in this passage puts humanity as innocent with Christ, which is just to our bigger side. We need to be forgiven of sin by the Cross in the secondary atonement meaning; yet in the primary heroism meaning of the Cross we need to forgive sin, as Christ did.
Christ’s undaunted heroism tells our shattered heroism, ‘take the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ The bravest and most giving way of heart passion is what is restored by the Cross, Descent into Hell, and Resurrection, and therefore Christ’s suffering invites us who are moved by its strange drama to go where it goes and do what it does.
This was always necessary, and the true calling of humanity, whether there had been any fall, and lapsing into sin, or not. We lapse weakly into sin as the easy way in the existential situation which has been abandoned by our capacity for the hard way of greatness and depth; in other words, given we cannot suffer for passion of heart, suffer innocently and carry the weight and pay the cost, so there is no strength, no flame, in us to contest the existential arena and stand up for a harder but truer way of acting in it. Sin dominates the existential arena, easily, because there is no bigness in us to overcome our smallness.
Peter is simply saying that Christ has shown us the way to live and enact the heart, without losing heart; Peter simply declares that Christ is the hero, the real hero, who goes all the way, and if we learn the secret to this heart and its passion, then we too can go all the way, not counting consequences, but no matter what. We too can be Christlike in our action of heart, conveyed through passion.
It isn’t an imitation; it is a ‘cleaving’ to him, a dual yoking. He is yoked to our tragedy, and cannot escape it, by any deus ex machina, magical, supernatural, means; we are yoked to Christ’s suffering way through our tragedy, which inverts it and reverses it, turning defeat into victory, the lostness into a finding of our feet and our way ahead that will never be lost again. But we have to accept his suffering which accepts fate; and we have to accept that this is an inversion, or reversal, of everything we hold dear, and makes sense to us. We have to embrace that Christ’s way of dealing with the absurdity of existence is itself, by our lights, ‘absurd.’ The solution to the problem feels like the problem intensified; thus Christ’s way is the last thing we would ever turn to for a way through the existential dilemma. We know our own weakness in its grip only too well= we smell our own stink all the time. But Christ does not appear to be the strength and the wisdom we seek as a way through the exactions and rigours of the existential arena. On the contrary, Christ’s way appears that of a fool, and a weakness.
But this is the secret that Peter realised very personally. Christ is the man not only of constant sorrows, but the Reversal Man, the hero who turns inside out and turns upside down the triumph we might have expected, and preferred. In Christ, God accepts reversal to join with our loss of any way forward and we accept reversal to join God’s way forward.
This is the heroism of Christ, accepting both kinds of reversal in his heart, the reversal of God to be in humanity, and the reversal of humanity to be in God. Such is God’s binding to humanity, and humanity’s binding to God. The innocent assumes the compromised, and the compromised assumes the innocent.
The human passion that embraces Christ’s divine-human passion at the deepest is Peter, not Paul and not John. Peter knows the secret of how Christ’s kingly heart passion restores humanity’s kingly heart passion, and establishes it as the primary ‘stand’ in us facing up to all the innocent suffering the world imposes upon us, some of it coming from people’s sinful proclivity, but some of it coming from the existential fate that conditions existence. In this world, we lose. In this world, injustice rules. Should that stop us? Should that become the measure of our puny passion, our excuse for not giving our heart to the world, but withholding our heart from the world? The suffering is too savage.
Peter signalled his very personal understanding of the reversal Christ underwent out of passionate love for us in his refusal to be crucified right side up, and his preference to be crucified upside down. He understood that in Christ, God is reversed for us, and we are reversed for God.
At a certain moment, Paul gets confused about the atonement, and seems to be substituting the priestly ‘offering’ for the people’s sin that ritually occurs in the temple for the real ‘sacrifice’ in the world for all the people which only the Messianic King can make. The king can make sacrifice for the people in a manner, and with a power, unique to his spiritual role.
There is a place in the letters of Paul which echoes, and fills out, Peter’s experience and understanding of Reversal. Peter ‘went into this’ deeper than Paul could, a fact revealed by the way Paul elected to die. Far from being crucified, either right side up [God’s reversal for humanity] or upside down [humanity’s reversal for God], Paul insists on his rights as a Roman citizen, and both defends himself at his trial, which Christ did not, and elects for a quicker death.
None the less, there is a passage in 1 Corinthians which is so close to all the implicit resonances surrounding Peter’s account of Christ as the hero of passion — the hero of the story of heart — that it is worth considering at length [1 Corinthians, 1, 17-31; and 2, 1-16]. The passage is well known, and commented upon widely, but its key significance is not necessarily always appreciated, for it concerns the reversal. In effect, the bigger in us reforged by Christ, in and through the Spirit, operates in a way that the smaller in us regards insane, irrational, unsupportable, not sensible, not reasonable, not even decent.
Paul starts off his long discussion of the meaning of Christ’s Cross by pointing out he has not come to people as a priest= “Christ did not send me to baptise, but to proclaim the Gospel; and to do it without relying on the language of worldly wisdom, so that the fact of Christ on his Cross might have its full weight.”
Referring to, and sparking, human passion is so that ‘the fact of Christ on his Cross can have its full weight.’
“Scripture says, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the cleverness of the intellectual.’ ..God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.. Jews call for miracles, Greeks look for wisdom; but we proclaim ..Christ nailed to the Cross; and though this is a stumbling block to Jews, and folly to Greeks, yet to those who have heard his call.. he is the power of God and the wisdom of God” [1 Corinthians, 1, 17-24].
The way of heart passion brought to humanity from God by Christ is the true power of God and is the true wisdom of God, though by human standards and criteria, it reverses what we want as power and reverses what we want as wisdom.
“Divine folly is wiser than the wisdom of man, and divine weakness stronger than man’s strength. ..to shame the wise, God has chosen what the world counts folly, and to shame what is strong, God has chosen what the world counts weakness. He has chosen things low and contemptible, mere nothings, to overthrow the existing order” [1 Corinthians, 1, 25-29].
This is why God rarely chooses people as his vehicles and vessels of heart passion ‘men of wisdom, by human standards’ or persons who are ‘powerful [by virtue of being] highly born.’ Out of the worst of humanity God is going to raise humanity’s best, or to put it differently, from those lacking respectability and truly washed up in the eyes of society will come the restored heart passion. Both the socially ambitious, climbing the ladder of success, and the religiously pious, are far from the place in the heart that needs redeeming and can be redeemed, once it embraces the way of reversal.
Paul goes on to say that ‘Christ nailed to the Cross’ is “..God’s hidden wisdom, his secret purpose framed from the very beginning to bring us to our full glory. ..in the words of Scripture, things beyond our seeing, things beyond our hearing, things beyond our imagining, all prepared by God for those who love him; these it is that God has revealed to us through the Spirit” [1 Corinthians, 2, 7-10].
This last — a direct borrowing from Isaiah — is vital, because even the example provided by Christ would not be enough to change us. For in the process of loving and following Christ, it is the Spirit who brings the new reality of divine passion and human passion re-linked into our own heart, to rekindle it. Earlier, Paul says “..there is no place for human pride in the presence of God. You are in Christ.. by God’s act.. And so in the words of Scripture, ‘if a man is proud, let him be proud of Yahweh’” [1 Corinthians, 1, 29-31]. ‘God’s act’ means the action of the Spirit. No one can know that Christ is the way that God’s wisdom and God’s power works in the world unless the Spirit reveals this to them.
Though Christ enacts the way of heart passion, it is the Spirit who leads and inspires him in this way. The Spirit drives him to its radical extreme, and plunges him into its unfathomable depth, to undergo the secret mysteries of heaven hidden in hell and heaven only won from hell. These mysteries are only disclosed to those who cry out to God in hell, and can receive Christ as God’s reply to the ancient human crying from the depth that is ruined yet still holds the secret of the turnaround, the inversion that upends conventional wisdom and strict morality, and reveals that it is all still to play for. The heart can come back from terrible ruin.
The Spirit searches out the deep things of God and of humanity, it says in the Jewish Bible. Paul adds to this theme= “For the Spirit explores everything, even the depths of God’s own nature. ..only the Spirit of God knows what God is. This is the Spirit that we have received from God, and not the spirit of the world, so that we may know all that God.. gives us; and ..we speak of these gifts of God in words found for us not by our human wisdom but by the Spirit. A man who is unspiritual refuses what belongs to the Spirit of God; it is folly to him; he cannot grasp it..” [1 Corinthians, 2, 11-14].
The Cross does not provide us admission to heaven, saving us from going to hell. This long-standing, and wide-spread, interpretation is radically false. It betrays the Cross, in fact.
The Cross is not about getting to the next world. It is about remaining in, indeed being wholly bound to the fate of, this world.
The sacrificial action of the Cross – not priestly self-offering, but kingly and warrior self-staking and even self-emptying – is necessary because it suffers the wound, takes the risk, carries the burden, pays the cost, for the redeeming of this world in its materiality, freedom, and historical arena of grief and strife. The Cross is passion of heart ‘suffering anything’ for the sake of loving the world in order to redeem its tragedy. The Cross is love without restriction; nothing can stop it, break it, curtail it. The Cross declares, I will die rather than throw away this love supreme.
The Cross is the power and wisdom of God that redeems the entire world process, from beginning to end. Despite the paradox of its reversal of humanly expected power and humanly expected wisdom, only this wisdom of God that is folly to the worldly and only this power of God that is weakness to the worldly can contest the nightmare of history from which we cannot wake up ‘for’ God and humanity, ‘against’ the Evil One. The Satanic Accuser who makes a bet with God in the Book of Job seeks to ‘rule’ the world and make its long journey end in hell. God gambles with us because he has faith in us finally coming through. We will not in any sense, or on any level, avoid hell but we will pass through its check mate to emerge on the other side. Satan has no faith in us, but seeks to convince God of our utter futility. Satan accuses, judges, condemns, all of humanity as not worth the gamble, as a bad investment by God. Satan wants God to look down on humanity, as he does, and so uses the ‘trappings of God’ to belittle, dismiss and sneer at, humanity. Wherever harshly dismissive, and non-redemptive, attitudes prevail against the human venture, and the religious paraphernalia of ‘church, scripture, tradition’ is used to intimidate and imprison its willingness to brave uncertainty, Satan is at work. For example, Satan knows the Bible better than any human ever will, and can use Biblical quotation as a weapon of universal condemning, individual oppression, social tyranny. Many people who think they are defending the honour of God, by disallowing humans to question or defy God, or honestly be hurt by God as was the innocent Job, the trusting Abraham, the battling Jacob, are ‘of the devil’s party’ without knowing it, as William Blake said of Milton, but could be said of all forms of religious fundamentalism. The Inquisition, the witch burning, the bombing of infidels — and everything else in this spirit — is Satanic.
Thus, far from enabling us to escape the world, so that we abandon it to the devil, while we enjoy heavenly bliss, the Cross plants heaven in hell, and commits heaven to hell. To the disappointment of our human way, heaven allows itself to become ‘subject’ to hell, but paradoxically, this makes hell subject to the power and wisdom of heaven working to change it from within its very core and in the deep where hell has its root. The core is penetrated and exposed. The root is plumbed and undercut.
This does not mean heaven surrendering to hell, or allowing hell to have its way unopposed. It does mean that to fight hell, we must suffer hell. Heaven must undergo hell to expose its falsity from the inside and undercut its lie from the depth. There is no triumph of heaven over hell, from outside and above, like a bird of prey swooping down on a snake. There is no heaven defeating hell by destroying hell, suppressing hell, imposing superior force on hell. These scenarios are all what God repudiates in Isaiah when, speaking of the reversal of the Messiah, he announces ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, my ways are not your ways.’ The Cross over turns, and upends, all our childhood hopes in the good guy with the white hat killing off the bad guy in the black hat. That dualism of ‘good versus evil’ is rejected by the Cross.
Yet evil is taken on and opposed. At the very point of its victory, it is overcome; at the very point of its rise to the summit, it is undermined. At the very point of our defeat, victory within and at depth is won and this prepares us to go into the world in a new way, to become the same sacrifice for all the world as the Cross was for each of us.
The Cross breaks the power of evil.
There is no compromise with hell, no indifference to hell, no evasion of hell, no rising above hell or pretence concerning the truth that, in the heart, we are flat on our back, unable to stand, or step up. Thus any premature oneness wherein everything becomes united, and the unity saves all joined with it, is equally rejected by the Cross. The Sword, when reversed, becomes the Cross; and the Cross, when reversed, becomes the Sword. The Sword of Truth crucial to righteousness, the struggle of passion for standing in the heart’s abyss, is needed to pave the way for the Cross of Sacrifice crucial to redemption, the struggle of passion to extend the heart into the world’s abyss.
Thus, what ‘I’ stand on — the heart particular to me — becomes in the end what ‘we’ stand on — the heart common to us all. In the end, there is only one human heart, holding all persons, creatures, things, in its warm, chivalrous embrace. The killing ground where all of us inevitably contend and clash becomes, finally, the ground of reconciliation and forgiveness, and thereby also transmutes into the ground that upholds all persons, creatures, and things, over the abyss. If redemption fails, all sink into the abyss.
If only one goes down, all go down. Redemption is all or nothing. There is no salvation of a few and abandoning of the rest.
If you go down, I will go down with you.
If any human heart ends in hell, God’s heart ends in hell with them.
In short, the Cross removes the ancient and otherwise irremovable restriction on how far we can go with the love that binds itself to the world.
The Cross stakes God to the ground, for the sake of what is most deeply at stake in the world. This staking does not relent, does not waver, does not give in and give up, and in it is no weighing up of pain, and no measuring of price.
This Way that God chooses, and we would not choose but can be won over to, does not bypass but accepts the deepest heartbreak= the heartbreak of God in the heartbreak of humanity. The God of the Cross is not some shallow, above it all, happiness; nor some angry old man taking petty revenge on those who dare to defy his majesty, and omnipotence. The former false god is a coward, the latter false god is a bully.
The Cross reveals the God of the heartbreak.
A human heart not broken cannot be redeemed, nor can it redeem.
A human heart broken has a second chance that seems miraculous, to be redeemed and to redeem.
You can tell the true persons of heart passion by the deep rents in their faces where tears have flowed.
‘Blessed are those who mourn.’ These will come to the ‘hunger for righteousness’, and will partake in the great mystery of redemption suffering and fighting for this world. The heartbreak in the world, concerning ‘God, us, and world’ is not going to be transcended by transporting us elsewhere; it is our deepest heartbreak that is going to become the deepest breakthrough in the heart.
As the mystery of the Cross happens in us, and towards the world, so hope dawns, after inconsolable sorrow and non-negotiable anger.
The Cross operates between the tension, even contradiction, of the truth of standing and the never anticipated, nor welcomed, plunging into the depth.
Christ comes ‘not to make peace, but to bring a sword’; this is the sword of truth, and such truth will ‘separate husband and wife, parents and children, brother and sister, one friend from another friend.’ The Daemonic forces us to take sides= not in the worldly sense of egoic partisanship, or the rivalry of those with different vested interests, but in the spiritual reality of what your stand is in the heart and what you stand for in the world. The ‘truth in the inner parts’ required by God has to divide people and throw them into authentic battle, the righteous fighting the blatantly unrighteous and the deluded self-righteous, before redemption can unite people in the human tragedy and forgive them all.
The Messianic King is the most upright among his people before he is reversed, and then he becomes the deepest.
The Cross is not a penalty, or a punishment, from God.
Worldliness will not be replaced by other worldliness. Rather, the world will be made holy in the end, and precisely as ‘world.’ Hence the apocalyptic image of the end of everything as the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. The Cross is ‘the ticket of admission’ to the mystery of this world’s catastrophic fall, and reversal of that fall, in time and over the entire span of time.
The penalty and punishment is imposed on any heart that challenges worldliness and the devil’s way of manipulating it to evil ends. The penalty and punishment comes from worldly forces, structures, beliefs, working hand in hand with the Evil One to derail the redemptive end which God is betting humanity can reach. But there is no guarantee. The forces opposing any opposition to worldliness and the evil infiltrating it, is huge, and comes from ‘wickedness in high places’, but trickles down from the vultures in the rich high rise building into the jackals prowling the street. At all levels, political, financial, religious, authority serves and promotes the increasing hell that is taking over the world.
Thus, the Cross is the price the heart willingly pays, to see it through to the end, and not flinch or baulk half way.
The Cross calls us not only into the world, but summons us to the hell in this world bidding to become its ruling principle and dominant force.
Anyone either righteous or redemptive, or righteous becoming redemptive, is going to be crucified in this world, either literally or in other ways, for standing on truth, and gambling for redemption. This happened to Christ, and it will happen to us, to a smaller or bigger degree, whenever we follow Christ, by going where he went and doing what he did. Worldliness, and the spirit of evil driving it, imposes a severe penalty and a horrible punishment on anyone whose love impels them to go out on a limb, and to the bottom of the abyss.
In the world as fallen and sinful, real heroism is not wanted but is harshly dealt with, intimidated and crushed; anyone touched by the warrior king, and the Messianic Spirit inspiring and driving his heart passion, will be resisted by the worldly system and those running it, to the point of a bullet in the head, like Martin Luther King Jr in America, or Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany, or Father Alexander Men in Russia. Even if you make no direct challenge to the ‘powers that be’, none the less just doing the simplest things to spread the Goodness of Eros into this world can get you killed. This is what befell the early Christian martyrs.
Eros bestows a Gift upon each and all; its living out is communal. The Daemonic sends out a Call that comes from direct experience of Christ, in the Spirit; its living out is personal.
But there is a paradox many Christians have had to discover down the ages. As Karin Greenhead puts it=
“Maybe Eros is first a gift but through this gift some people start to respond to a call. ..a lot of people in church appear to respond to a gift without necessarily going to hell and back. Conversely, in gratitude for the gift some people give their life to Christ unreservedly. Then that of course means you may very well be dragged off to places you had no intention of going to and burnt.. That is Daemonic.”
The martyrs were not seeking death, to escape the world and go to heaven. They were condemned by the Roman authorities because, as Costa Carras points out, they extended the generosity and charity of the Agape of Eros not just to ‘their own’, but to anyone and everyone. Their light shone on just and unjust alike; they Gave Away all they had to Christians and Pagans equally, without any discrimination. There was no club of the kosher excluding the non-kosher; there was no cabal deciding who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out.’ They eschewed worldly status built on rivalry and egoistic domineering, eschewed worldly possessions built on avarice and mistrust, eschewed worldly ambitions built on pride and vainglory, in order to live the life of inter-personal sharing that is travelling toward the mystery of ‘being as communion.’ They were nothing remotely like capitalists, but not communists either, though they certainly were ‘communalists’ in the Jewish sense, dedicated to fundamental and radical human solidarity and togetherness. No Jew in the whole era of the Old Testament would have sanctioned any individual advantage that is gained at the expense of collective disadvantage; the Divine Goodness is extended to the ‘people of God’ as a whole, ‘to each and for all.’ It was this faithful witness to Christ, in living out the Gift of Grace without compromise, which got the early Christians in trouble. The early martyrs accepted death as the penalty for their fidelity to the Grace of God that had changed them inwardly, inspiring them to outwardly live differently to the hierarchic society around them; they demonstrated in their death the spiritual reality of this Gift and showed by their life its workability as a basis for transforming the way in which a human society functions. The Roman State regarded the early martyrs dangerous revolutionaries.
Aristides, 137 AD, described the Christians of that time to the Emperor=
“It is the Christians, O Emperor, who.. acknowledge God. They do not keep for themselves the goods entrusted to them. They do not covet what belongs to others. They show love to their neighbours. They do not do to another what they would not wish to have done to themselves. They speak gently to those who oppress them, and in this way they make them their friends. It has become their passion to do good to their enemies.. Every one of them who has anything gives ungrudgingly to the one who has nothing. If they see a travelling stranger, they bring him under their roof. They rejoice over him as over a real brother, for they do not call one another brothers after the flesh, but they know they are brothers in the Spirit and in God. If they hear that one of them is imprisoned or oppressed for the sake of Christ, they take care of all his needs. If possible they set him free. If anyone among them is poor or comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast two or three days for him. In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs. This, O Emperor, is the rule of life of the Christians, and this is their manner of life.”
In short, it can happen that we start with the Gift of Eros, but soon and without being able to anticipate it, we are suddenly taken farther than we thought we would ever go and are brought to the Sacrifice of the Daemonic. Then we would have to say with the Orthodox saint, “my Eros is crucified.”
However, there was a basic flaw evident in Christian witness by the time the Greek Church in the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East and the Latin Church in North Africa and the Western Mediterranean were becoming settled organisations. This flaw seems to have only grown stronger as the ardour of the Christian love for all human beings, and the fervour to build ‘the New Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land’, cooled. At some point the martyrs began to be misinterpreted. Their ‘this worldly’ Eros was rendered, instead, other worldly.
The Christian other worldliness was rooted in the belief that, given Christ had come, so the world would soon end. In fact, Christ states he does not know, because the Father holds it back even from him, when the world will end. Redemption, it is clear, needs much time. The impatience to finish off the world, in order to quickly get to heaven, is anti-redemptive in spirit, and thus an abuse of the meaning of the Apocalypse. Those demanding an Apocalypse ‘right now’ are opposed to the Way of the Cross, and reject Christ as the Redeemer.
Thus the falsehood that ‘the world is soon coming to an end’ supported the failure of heart passion that arises from wanting to get out of this world and go to heaven. The truth is very different= the heart passion which is destroyed and reforged in the depth ‘through’ Christ’s example ‘by’ the dynamic impetus of the Spirit is called to remain staked to this world, and never leave it, until redemption has completed its lengthy and difficult task. The Jewish Bible says those who want their names written in the Book of Life – everlasting life – must accept ‘the sufferings and raptures of the Spirit.’ These are the sufferings and raptures inherent to working for redemption, despite its improbability, and hurtful exactions.
But for all too many Christians, believing the world would soon end turned into the belief that they would become a select few whisked off to heaven while the many perished as the world lapsed into oblivion. Augustine of Hippo, in his vile and heretical magnum opus written out of horror at the sacking of Rome by invaders from the Shamanic lands of the north, abandons the city of this world as the New Jerusalem, and prefers instead the City of God, far above and beyond the perils of the city built with human hands yet able to be built on the Gift and Sacrifice of God. Again, no Old Testament Jew would have separated the City of God from the city of humanity; the former indwells the latter, making them a divine and human co-operation, or co-building. The whole of history is, from a Jewish standpoint, the co-creation of God and humanity. Human hands are not despaired of, and sliced off, in redemption, but on the contrary, our active and creative capacities are crucial to God and humanity making of the world a heaven come to earth, the ‘heavenly earth.’ This is the ‘new heaven and new earth’ that Christ’s Resurrection inaugurates as the ‘new age’, but which must be completed by us, working with God and against the Satanic Accuser. Our creativity and activity is conjoined with divine creativity and activity, and both are focused on bringing the investment in this world to final fruition, not allowing it to end in dereliction and ultimate ruination of all possibility.
Consequently, the hope for a quick end to human history — with all its depredations and temptations but also all its radical passion of heart needed to take on these blocks — severely undermines the stand at the Cross of all Christians. They start to think heaven is their reward for declaring some sort of creedal belief in Christ, rather than cleaving to him in heart passion, and going where he went and doing what he did. Hence putting up with any this worldly privations and assaults is accepted, because it is a ‘test’ that ‘proves’ their staunch loyalty to Christ, so it books their ticket to heaven. When Western Christians in particular refer to ‘carrying their Cross’ it is usually with this false connotation of putting up with this world’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune only so as to be ‘saved’ from the world by being removed to heaven. This is a lie; a betrayal of the Cross as the power and wisdom needed to redeem everything and everybody ‘bound hand and foot’ to the protracted process of the world. Indeed, the false interpretation of ‘carrying one’s Cross’ also falsifies the refiner’s fire in whose furnace the heart and its passion are burned to ashes, to ready it for becoming the human vehicle of the Divine Fire. The heart is searched out in depth, tested and proved in depth, broken and reforged in depth, by the Daemonic Spirit, so as to make its passion singular in its relying on truth, and unreserved in its service of redemption.
Nothing could be further from the Cross than this statement by the ‘beat novelist’ Jack Kerouac= “Avoid the world. It’s just a lot of dust and drag and means nothing in the end.”
The Cross disputes this assertion which unites Luciferian Gnostic and Satanic Fundamentalist.
Thomas Hardy was standing near the Cross in saying, “If way to the Better there be, it exacts a full look at the Worst.”
If the genuine ‘this worldly’ meaning of the Cross, Descent into Hell, and Resurrection, began to be lost to Christians from the time of the primitive church onward, then the real meaning and purpose of witnessing to Christ was jettisoned, or watered down, and underplayed. What should have been central became peripheral. What should have been frequent became rare. The ‘Messianic’ Spirit that gripped the Jews for centuries, and climaxed in Yeshua of Nazareth, was forgotten. The Christians became Greek, then Latin, then Celtic and Anglo-Saxon/Germanic/Nordic, but the vital Jewish foundation was ignored. Christianity has to be Jewish before it can spread out into other cultures, times, places. If its spreading out is not on the basis of, and guided by, the Jewish Messianic Spirit, then it will result that Christians cease to be loyal to who Christ was and what Christ accomplished.
He is the Jewish Messiah foretold by the prophets, and prefigured in the Davidic kingship. He came into the world not to judge it as Satan does; but as the Lamb Sacrificed Before the World Was Made, he came to demonstrate that there are no limits to how far love can go to redeem the world in its entirety.
Thus, whatever we do to redeem, at a price to us personally, is faithful to Christ. Even those who manifest explicitly no creedal loyalty to Christ, if their way of action in this world is redemptive, then implicitly they belong to Christ, in the deeper heart, by the presence of the Spirit in their passion and its deed. Many creedal Christians do little or nothing to follow Christ, or actively are disloyal to him by doing terrible things in his name– like the invading Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Episcopalian, Christians who visited genocide on the native indigenous peoples of the Americas, and justified this Satanic crime in Christian terms. Those who espouse no creed may do much more to follow the hard footsteps on hard ground that Christ walked. Never mind what people say; notice what they actually do. This alone tells whether they are embracing, or denying, the Cross ‘with every breath they take.’
‘This worldly’ Eros contributes to redemption, but only the Daemonic which will not allow the devil to take over the world unopposed is the engine of redemption.
This is why the figures of Eros, priest and monk, cannot stand in for, nor in any sense replace, the Daemonic figures of king, warrior, prophet, reversal clown and holy fool, existential sage, and derelict tramp. This is why the religion of Christianity as a whole cannot be run only from the temple, but is really situated in three places, not one= the temple is the place of the sacred, the world is the place of the holy, the wilderness is the place of the mysterious.
Temple= sacred= priest, and monk.
World= holy= king, and warrior.
Wilderness= mystery= prophet, and sage.
And at the base of all these Daemonic figures= the wrecked, the poor, the bereft, the unfixable and inconsolable. These ‘losers’ are us, at depth. This is the deeper ground of the human condition, the human tragedy binding all. In the Daemonic, the first are last, and the last are first, because the greater only live and act in this world as sent from God to be the ‘suffering servant’, even the ‘despicable slave’, for the sake of the lesser. In the Daemonic, the test of the Messianic king, and of his warrior and his prophet no less, is whether he can love and help the least. If their state is left out of the love and help, it is not redemptive.
It is the ‘least of these’ who know the fundamental heartbreak at the deepest root of all of humanity, and cannot climb out of it. No secular or religious solution changes these people’s fallen down condition one iota. They are beyond all remedy– except the craziest and least likely of all help, the Cross.
Preoccupation with personal redemption, or the redemption of an elect few with whom we identify, is a sign that the Cross has not touched our depth. We are unredeemed in depth, and thus we falsify the way redemption works for all the world. We ignore it, going over to the fallen way of worldliness, or we seek to absent ourselves from the worldly problem through some spirituality that does not engage it, or worst of our options, we pretend we can redeem but, like Christians down the ages, spread horror and poison into the world, and claim Christ’s sanction for this dishonouring of the Way of the Cross ‘submitted to by Christ.’
Indeed, Christ predicts that a time will come when any person truly following him — following in their human heart the divine-human heart of Christ — will receive calumny, punishment, even murder, from people who think they are doing God’s will.
The Cross tells us, keep going. Accept your own heartbreak in the depth of your heart, so as to be able to enter upon the holy ground of the heartbreak in the depth of the world. Without embracing your deepest suffering and opening it to Christ, you will not open to the deepest suffering in humanity and become able to fight for the redemption of this suffering as did Christ.
The message of Peter is latent in the tears he wept because of betraying Christ. These tears tell the story of the heartbreak of God in the heartbreak of humanity.
How could a man as impetuous, as wavering, as unstable, as Peter become a ‘Rock’ for Christ’s most ultimate, radical and profound, mystery? The Cross is the gateway to Descent into, and Resurrection from, Hell. This threefold sequence inaugurates the new age, it is the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth, where hell is not transcended nor crushed, but suffered, fought with, and overcome, in an unexpected way that is redemptive.
Peter was the most engaged, and committed, of all Christ’s followers, always jumping in, and immediately getting in over his head, yet by virtue of that, crying to Christ from a deeper place than many people will ever go.
It is precisely because Peter was both able to dive in from the prompting of his true heart, yet got straight to the point of heart brokenness, that he is the Rock in the depth. This is the paradox of the Daemonic. Peter is always ahead of everyone else in taking on whatever heart passion is called to take on. He is not anything like a statically stable, rigidly certain man. If you prick him, he bleeds. He is as variable as the heart truly is. Thus he is not dispassionate in any sense; he has not attained the ‘impassibility’ that the Eastern Christian monastics recommend. On the contrary, he reflects the truth of the heart’s inherent ‘passibility.’ Peter is neither simply lax in heart, nor is he hard hearted. He is the earthiness of the heart, the mystery of our humanity in its being able ‘to go either way’= its openness to and influence by both truth and falsity, its ability to go with upright standing and stepping forth, or go with fallen weakness and retreat. Passion must come through its passibility, its intrinsic vulnerability, and it does this not by virtue of ceasing to be ‘passionate’, but by ceasing to miss passion’s mark, and starting to hit it. Or put in different terms, passion passes through its own passible state by ‘cleaving’ to God; if it sticks to God through thick and thin, then though still prone to error, passion is led by God and is gradually ‘stabilised’ as it keeps moving over the rough ground of existence. By hitting the target, your aim becomes truer.
In coming unstuck by trying out the heart, Peter enters the deeper reality of our broken heart and lapsed spirit. From this place he accepts he can do no more, and turns to Christ. He cries out to God from hell, and God joins him in hell. Peter is not the Rock because he signifies some spurious authority of the Bishop [Roman Catholic], or of Scripture [Protestant], or of Tradition [Orthodox]; by sharp contrast, he eschews all top-down authority, and never resorts to the control that tries to get on top of things, and by that very manoeuvre builds a wall round the heart stopping its passion from making any leap. The spontaneity of his heart makes him unpredictable. Those who are rational, and self-mastered, remain high and dry, and never get to the place where Peter knows he can drown and he can burn up. With Peter, the unwavering is reached only through the wavering, and thus he signifies the authenticity that goes through the waves and flames to find the truth. He can weep for his disavowal of Christ when his heart is put on trial towards the world. Indeed, having betrayed Christ three times, his weeping is a recognition in the heart of the heart that turns him around, and binds him to Christ in a profounder way.
Peter is the Rock because he goes through it all, with no guarantee. He sinks, he burns, he goes down and down and down. Yet in this place, he knows he can do nothing, and he turns to Christ to help him truthfully refind the real heart and be loyal to its passion.
By coming through the most narrow straits, Peter exemplifies the breadth of redemption; by plumbing the most abysmal hell, Peter exemplifies the depth of redemption. By being overcome and giving way, yet realistically and in existential veracity offering this to Christ, to come back and try again, Peter becomes the mountain that cannot be moved.
What is it that will no longer be moved?
We have to learn to make our failure the very adhesion point of cleaving to God, through Christ, in the Spirit. This would be like Peter.
The Cross reveals the redeeming of the world. Peter reveals how we humanly bind ourself to Christ’s Way of the Cross. We do it through our humanity, neither judged Satanically nor flattered Luciferianly, but admitted for what it is, in its amazing potentiality but also its sombre tragedy. Peter loved Christ, but he also loved the human heart, and mourned its fallenness, and hoped beyond hope, from despair and repentance, in the recall of its defunct passion.
He loved Christ, but was allowed by the Spirit to see and understand accurately that Christ was the lover of the human= the Messiah awaited by the Jews who delighted more in the title Son of Man, signifying God’s binding to the human out of love, than in the title Son of God, signifying the human’s binding to the divine out of faith. We need to turn to God, but God loves us more than we love ourselves, and is far more concerned with putting us back on our feet than making us kow tow. God needs no kow towing from us. God wants to restore us to our earthy humanity that has a great and deep heart, and a passion of love unstoppable like his.
The Fire of God is in our flickering flame, and God ultimately will not let it go out.
The holy flame is kindled from the human clay. The holiness most ‘other’ in God is brought into the world through what is most earthy in us. This is a paradox most persons, religious or secular, reject. But look at David, the direct ancestor of the Jewish Messiah.
Peter loved Christ, yet he knew Christ loved the human heart, and felt the aching pathos of its vulnerable passion.
Peter’s love for Christ recognised Christ’s inexhaustible love for us.
This is why the keys of the kingdom are in Peter’s hands, and why ‘what he lets go here is let go forever and what he retains here is retained forever.’ Peter was reached at his worst by Christ’s love, and so Peter’s love for the world, in Christ, will reach the worst in everyone. No one will be locked out, everyone will be brought in, everlastingly.
Peter is primary in Christian witness because he shows the route by which we come to and follow Christ’s Cross.
The Cross restores the ‘hidden man of the heart’, as Peter describes the life of passion. Yet the way this happens is strange. No one wants it. It is ‘the foundation stone the builders rejected.’ Like the Uncarved Block of Taoism, it is always neglected, over looked, even despised. But the least has become the most, and what we thought the most has been shown as nothing to get excited about.