4. The Suffering That Comes Unchosen

Christ is preordained to the suffering in existence that cannot be removed, but which can be for humanity either a bottomless spiritual defeat or a fathomless spiritual victory. Christ does not choose to take on this suffering in any ordinary sense. It is chosen for him by the Daemonic God before he comes into the world, from before the beginning of time, and his freedom consists in the accepting and affirming of what was always chosen for him: he says to it, ‘not mine, but thy will be done.’ The Daemonic ‘meets out his share’, exactly as it does with all human beings, but the difference is he faces and undergoes what we turn from and flee.

No human being wants, and voluntarily chooses, the suffering inherent to existence.

In the world we face the challenge to use our heart or throw it away, and the temptation to give up on the heart and let down all those in the world who cry out to us, ‘we need your love.’ We can hurt and be hurt, we can betray and be betrayed, we can damage and be damaged, we can offend and be offended. Our innocence is abused and we abuse innocence. The heart can be glad and the heart can know a terrible bleakness. Not for nothing was this life called a ‘vale of tears’, but this life also contains a seed of something mysterious, strange, marvellous, if we can keep faith with it, and undergo its existential blows, reversals, trials, for the sake of what is at stake– that its possibility may not end in ruination, but may be redeemed, and hence bear fruit ‘in the end.’ This is why Christ did not end any of our suffering, but embraced all suffering: making suffering redemptive of the heart and redemptive for the world.

But redemption is a process in time. It is not some instant conversion. What Christ did for us, so that we can do it, must still be done by us. It takes time for Christ’s seed to be planted in each and in all, to work in the depth, within and without. Christ’s seed is already planted. In one sense, it has already affected all people everywhere, unseen; thus could Dogen, the founder of Zen Buddhism, go beyond the Buddha, and even beyond the Bodhisattva, to something more Messianic, more Christ-like. Yet, there is another sense in which Christ’s seed must be received by us more personally and actively, so that we can become a seed for humanity, a seed for the world. In short, the paradoxical process which Christ’s sacrifice instigates in the depth has to be embraced by us in our depth. Or put another way, his new suffering has to be embraced in our old suffering, for that old suffering to be changed.

But how can we let God’s suffering for us [Cross], which becomes a redemptive suffering of us [Descent] into our heart, if we cannot even own, and be immersed in, the old suffering ‘all flesh is heir to’ just by being born into the world? How can Christ’s divine-humanity reach us if we repudiate our humanity, which is divided, tempted, broken, yet still has a spark which is ardent, zealous, faithful?

The problem is two-fold:

[i] We don’t want to acknowledge our own deep suffering, so why should we want it exposed, dug up, reactivated, by God’s deeper suffering that embraces it? The more determined to remain invulnerable we are, defended from our suffering, the more Christ’s suffering repels us.

[ii] In our deep suffering, we are on a terrible edge, in a fight for our life, and a fight for the life of all things. We know we are losing this fight, and that slowly but surely everything is slipping over the edge, ready to fall endlessly into an empty void. In this place, we know a total contradiction. We are defunct and derelict, yet we are still moved to not let it all go, but hang in and even try. The place where the journey has failed yet refuses to be over, the place where the battle is half lost, half still capable of being won, is taxing and heavy and full of agony. It is bitter, regretful, despairing, yet even in this acid gall there is some vulnerable, irrational yearning.

It is in the context of this two-fold problem that ‘the wound inflicted by the Daemonic’, the suffering that comes unchosen, is a mercy of God, not a curse. God has to ‘drive’ us back into our deeper suffering to embrace it in his deep suffering, making death and hell the existential furnace that sifts and tries life and heaven.

Consequently:

[i] God wounds us in one way [waves of water] to get us out of the shallows.

[ii] God wounds us in another way [arrows of fire] to throw us into the deeps, and force us to re-own, and re-enter, the old suffering in which we are struggling. F. G. Lorca called the old suffering a ‘black pain’, a pain inexplicable and devastating. It is ‘the deep pain in the heart.’ This is the pain for which there is no secular or religious solution. It cannot be solaced. It cannot be fixed. It cannot be made better. In this pain so old in humanity, so sorrowful and so dirty, we are pierced, we are besmirched. It is our shame, our guilt, our apprehension. It is our grief, our mourning, our sadness. There is anger in such sadness, to be sure, but also acute distress. This black pain deep in the heart is ultimate for humanity. It is the Koan for which there is no solution. It is the Cross on which the heart is already crucified, long before Christ came. It is the unbearable we bear and cannot bear. It is the unendurable we endure and cannot endure. The black pain defeats all explanation, secular and religious, and defeats all healing, secular and religious. It is what is, and no one can do anything about it. Spiritual, social, psychological, panaceas are just furious currents that smash into its unshifting rock, leaving it untouched and unmoved. In the deep place is our ultimate heartbreak.

We are heart-broken about our own possibility, we are heart-broken about the possibility of the world and humanity. But the deepest heartbreak is about God. This is what people most radically will not own. In this last heartbreak, we know we have forsaken God, and we fear God has forsaken us because of it. In this deepest heartbreak is all our mistrust that God’s heart will be present to our heart, no matter where it goes, or how far it falls. We doubt God’s heart will be with our heart way out on the limb, and in the death and hell below. We doubt we are good enough for God, and doubt God is good enough for us. We doubt we are loveable and doubt we are loved. The people who claim to be straightforwardly obedient to God, and offer God praises and thanks, are liars in the heart; in the heart we hate God in our love of God, in the heart we despair of God in our love of God. In our heart, we are desperate about God, pleading with God, spitting on God, all the time, day and night, in sleep and in waking. We are heart-broken about God. We are in torment about God because we cannot stop loving God, and cannot start trusting God, ourselves, the world and humanity.

There is no passion so fervent as the love of God, and no passion as desolate as our repudiation of God, our hate of, mistrust in, and despair over, God.

Our heartbreak is over the heart.

It is a stalemate, certainly a stasis, almost but not yet a checkmate. We know a few moves remain, and that they will be make or break. But we don’t know what they are. We cannot make them happen, of ourselves. And we dread them, because whilst things are static, we still survive the contradiction. But if it were to be suddenly dynamised, ‘moved’ towards a decisive resolution, then we would feel really up against it, because we would understand full well that the half and half situation was going to be finally decided, and it could be decided for an ultimate better or for an ultimate worse. This is why, in our deep pain in the heart, we cling to our old suffering and find it hard to let it be penetrated, accepted, changed, by Christ’s new suffering. This is why, as a Leonard Cohen song has it, we resist being tempted by a God or a devil. Our own ultimate place is onerous enough; to open the old wound and let air in, to take up the old burden and let the dust be shaken off, risks our half risking to a more ultimate risk, suffers our half suffering to a more ultimate suffering. What if God finally failed? What if we finally failed? What if God failed us and we failed God, in the last throw of the dice, in the last gamble, for him and for us? This is terrible beyond any imagining, yet if the place of break-down becomes the place of break through — if there is a turn around just when it all is about to go into free fall — then this will be wonderful beyond any imagining. We can hardly entertain such terror, such wonder.

The black pain deep in the heart is what everyone knows, but no one will take the chance of trying to live out its contradiction in full, to see it through, to see if there is a far shore it can reach on the other side of where it is now.

When Christ suffered on the Cross, and descended into death and hell, he did this to take on what we have not taken on and seen through; he came to take it on in full and see it through to the end. Thus, he came not just to take up, or assume, our old suffering, but to challenge it to move beyond its primordial position, and take one last terrible and wonderful chance. By being wounded by our old suffering, Christ’s new suffering wounds it: the seed dies into the ground, but it sends gushes of water and tendrils of fire into that ground, awakening, enlivening, sparking, its own hidden nascent seed. His dying wounds our deadness, his hellishness wounds our hell. We are called out to fight ‘on the rim of the well’, as Lorca calls it, we are called out to fight on the edge of the abyss, one last time, and for keeps. It will be keeps for us and thus it will be keeps for our passionate mission to the world and humanity. Suddenly, at the very moment when it is about to go over the edge, at the eleventh hour when it is all over bar the shouting, Christ comes, and intervenes, and it is a whole new situation, because at the last breath it is suddenly all to play for. Suddenly, there is a second chance, deeper and greater than the first which was missed. Only Christ reaches this ultimate in us, and offers his ultimate to it, to alter the dynamic, the odds, the balance of tensions, of the game being played for final perdition or final coming through. We cannot go above this old black pain; we cannot go around it; we can only go through it, and this is what Christ’s challenge, Christ’s hand in friendship, reaching down from the Cross into our pit of death and our furnace of hell, offers.

We will wound him, but in this very fashion, he will wound us, to redeem our wound.

The great becomes deep, so that the deep can become great.

Only Christ earns the right to ask us to change in the deep place: because he suffers on the Cross the stark fact we cannot change. He pays the cost for us that is so acute in suffering and so heavy in weight. But, by paying for our inability to change, he can give to us in the place where we are broken and stuck that which will enable us to change. Yet, to receive this, we will have to take the chance of our heart being broken one more time, for keeps.

Should we respond and follow through on Christ’s offering and challenge, in the throes of this process we will lose all secular and religious assurances, securities, handrails. The apparatus of religion collapses: if Christ could cry to God, ‘why have you forsaken me?’, then the ascetical desert and the worshipping temple have ceased to be of any use. This is the place where only Christ and one’s own abyss count. Here, we experience God as impotent, unable to do anything, or as absent, unconcerned, safe, secure and enjoying himself in a better place. Here, we regard God with contempt, scream and rage and blaspheme at God, and fear God’s retribution for our presumption. Most religious people lie about this place because it destroys all piety. Instead, they resort to the good boy or good girl stance, breaking ranks with the desperation in all human hearts, to posture as God’s loyal children. The monk who threw excrement all over the walls of his cell was showing more honesty, sincerity, integrity, than those who pretend that the deep death and deep hell is not in them, or if it was once, now everything is cleaned up because of their conversion to Christ. This is a lie, plain and simple: such people are trying to deceive others because they are trying to deceive themselves. God is not deceived, because God sees the unfathomable heart in a way no human being can. Christ comes to this place because he knows how bad it is for us, and that to open our badness to him, we must make him its scapegoat. Of course we have to put our desperation on him, to find out if he is for real, and is up to taking us on, at our most impossible to help. The hand that feeds has to be bitten.

This dark night is not only the sharing of Christ’s suffering of our death and hell, it is the suffering of our death and hell. It is our deadened and hellish abyss we have to remain in, to let Christ bring God’s ‘abyss of wisdom’ into it.

What holds us here?

Christ’s presence in the deep place is God’s last and most significant revelation to the human heart, because it makes God’s last and most fearful and wonderful promise. It vows God to the human predicament radically, and promises if we don’t come through, God won’t come through. If we end in death and hell, God will end in death and hell with us.

Thus it also makes clear he came through for us, that we will come through.

Christ restores our faith in the heart, to the last extremity the heart can reach. We believe in, and trust, his heart because his heart believes in, and trusts, our heart.

We will, finally and forever, fulfil God’s will that the human heart be the representative and engine of the divine heart in the world.

But this end time is not yet, and Christians have always mistakenly wanted to rush it, out of cowardice, impatience, lack of strength. Even Christ did not know when it would end. Before the end, it gets tough, it gets dreadful, it gets unbearable, it gets unendurable.

Thus, it must be concluded that there are really three wounds that constitute the fullness of the Daemonic.

[i] Shedding the shallows;

[ii] Re-owning and re-entering the deeps;

[iii] Risking it all, suffering it all, one last ultimate time, because Christ did, and Christ challenges and wounds us with his faith that we can go where he went, into death and hell, by doing what he did, making a sacrifice. But when this last fight on the rim of the well, this last fight on the edge of the abyss, really bites and grips, then our passion is in its profoundest suspense, in its most dramatic intensity. It knows this is it. Time has run out.

Here the heart really endangers itself to and wrestles with whether it is worth having a heart, or whether the heart should finally be put to rest, its bleeding, sweating, and tears, given up on. This process in which we let the heart rise to the second chance is humanity’s last hurrah, it is humanity’s last sigh. This is a rim where all the options are running out, this is an edge where all the moves are being exhausted. The options on the rim, the moves on the edge, are few but very powerful.

This is the last journey.
This is the last battle.
This is the last suffering.
This is the last struggle.

It generates terrible despair, and a strange, inarticulate hope.

It is the last, most fearful and most wonderful, wounding by the Daemonic. We are going to bear the unbearable, we are going to endure the unendurable, again, and for the last time.