The revelation that the divine could be subject to existence’s bitter root, to help the human bear it–indeed, the revelation that this bitter root is a risk God takes, subjecting himself and us to it, and thus is a test for God as well as for us–is not only offensive but senseless to any Hindu, or Muslim, for whom God is far Above existential strife and woe and trouble. This is succinctly captured in Yann Martel’s novel, ‘Life of Pi’, where a Hindu boy in India first hears the story of Jesus, and is shocked:
“That a God should put up with adversity, I could understand. The Gods of Hinduism face their fair share of thieves, bullies, kidnappers and usurpers. What is the Ramayana but the account of one long, bad day for Rama?
Adversity, yes. Reversal of fortune, yes. Treachery, yes. But humiliation? Death? I couldn’t imagine Lord Krishna consenting to be stripped naked, whipped, mocked, dragged through the streets and, to top it off, crucified — and at the hands of mere humans, to boot. I’d never heard of a Hindu God dying. Brahman revealed did not go for death. Devils and monsters did, as did mortals, by the thousands and millions — that’s what they were there for. Matter, too, fell away. But divinity should not be blighted by death. It’s wrong. The world soul cannot die.. It was wrong of this Christian God to let his avatar die. That is tantamount to letting a part of Himself die. For if the Son is to die, it cannot be fake. If God on the Cross is God shamming a human tragedy, it turns the Passion of Christ into the Farce of Christ. The death of the Son must be real.. But once a dead God, always a dead God, even resurrected. The Son must have the taste of death forever in His mouth. The Trinity must be tainted by it: there must be a certain stench at the right hand of God the Father. The horror must be real. Why would God wish that upon Himself? Why not leave death to the mortals? Why make dirty what is beautiful, spoil what is perfect? Love. That was the answer.”
The power granted by the Cross is to love without restriction.
Divine suffering does not begin with the sacrifice made by Christ: it begins with a wound God opens in his heart to create mankind, but through Christ, he accepts the final, deepest reach and extent of this wound. For in Christ, God enters our woundedness and shares it radically and irrevocably, for ever and ever, without end. The ‘unknown God’ of the Greeks and the ‘hidden God’ of the Jews is the real father. This father consents, should Christ’s suffering on the Cross fail to bring us through in the deep place, for his depth to become as deathly and hellish as our depth.
This is prefigured and foreseen in the Psalms. In Psalm 55, David pleads with God to be released from the struggling and suffering, the strife and drama, of passion: “My heart is pained within me… and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me and horror hath overwhelmed me. And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove. For then would I fly away and be at rest. Lo then would I wander far off… I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest… For I have seen violence and strife in the city, day and night they go about it.. mischief and sorrow are in the midst of it. Wickedness is in the midst thereof. Deceit and guile depart not from the streets.” Yet, it is this same fearful David who comes to the understanding of the real majesty of God: God’s heroism of love. For David, pondering his own inhabitation of death and hell by virtue of his own failures of passion, is given to anticipate the Cross of Christ. Thus he utters, if we make our final resting place in death and hell, then God will rest there with us: if our heart ends in death and hell, then in a real sense, God’s heart will forever more contain death and hell.
We are wounded in heart for the sake of God’s heart; but God is wounded in heart for the sake of our heart. Christ makes good on God’s primordial and final promise: to be with us all the way, no matter what.
Thus if we don’t come through, God will not come through: his depth will forever contain the scar that disfigures us because the whole project of heart he risked with us has come to ruin in us.
Christ was not passive on the Cross, but from the very depth of its suffering, he enacted what is ultimate in passion. He promised paradise to the repentant thief who courageously and honestly acknowledged his failure of heart and wept over it, showing that the broken hearted are restored to God; he won forgiveness for humanity who “know not what they do” in repudiating all heart, human as well as divine, and he did this by bearing the consequence and paying the cost of their refusal, showing that the greater heart can carry and pay for the lesser heart; but even more awful and awesome than these deeds of passion’s suffering love, he emptied himself and abandoned himself to us in our deepest tragedy of heart when he cried with us to the mysterious father, ‘why have you forsaken me?’ It does not diminish these words that they were uttered by David in the Psalms [22,1], for anyone who imagines that in this final extremity of passion it is possible simply to parrot someone else’s words, for whatever supposed good reason, is not even glimpsing Christ’s final act of heart, which is really the final act of the father’s heart given to humanity through him. When he joined us, wound to wound, he bound God to our fate in the depths of heart, and by this sacrificial deed, bound us to God’s fate in the depths of heart. In Christ, the father who wounded us primordially is wounded by us, and he and we are bound together in the depth. If his heart fails in our depths, then the depths of his heart will forever be what is deepest in our heart: our death and our hell will be his. If we are damned, he will be damned. In the Old Testament, God makes us aware of the high stakes he, and we in conjunction with him, are playing for in this high risk game, for he announces: “I set before you this day blessing and curse” [Deuteronomy, 11, 26]; “I call upon heaven and earth to witness.. I set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life so you and your descendents may live” [Deuteronomy, 30, 19]. If the blessing and curse God set before us comes finally to a curse, then God is cursed with us. Christ is innocently cursed for our sake, making this curse what secures the blessing for us and for God.
It is as St Isaac of Syria asserted: the Cross is ‘the judgement on judgement’, the defeat of both sin and moral condemnation of sin.
Being a gambler, God will take it to the wire. The redemption of the risk, the coming through the suffering, the proving of the test, the fulfilling of the promise, only comes at the last gasp, at the very last and dying second of the eleventh hour. At this last gasp, Christ’s death wins the victory for all passionate, suffering mankind. He came to prove, by his own undergoing of everything deep that defeats human passion, undermining its true burning and extinguishing that in death and hell, that with God’s passion suffering with human passion’s suffering, everything changes. Suddenly, just when it seemed on its last legs, it is a new ball game.
Christ took passion to the utter, absolute extremity, to its deepest abyss and farthest outreach, for both God and for us. He came to prove, by his own undergoing of passion’s struggle and suffering in the depth, love is deeper than death, love is deeper than hell.
Christ passed through the defeat of life in death, which alone secures the victory of the life only found in death; Christ passed through the defeat of heaven in hell, which alone can secure the victory of the heaven only found in hell.
We cannot know if our passion is for life or death, we cannot know if our passion is for heaven or hell. As St Paul puts it [Romans, 8, 25]: “We must be content to hope that we will be saved.. we must hope to be saved since we are not saved yet.. it is something we must wait for with patience.”
But if we go into the place only Christ ever went, the extreme place in the passion shared by God and us, we will begin to receive the power he had through his crucifixion: the new Holy Spirit he said he would send, but he had to go for it to come, will start to manifest in us. This is the power won on the Cross, entrusted to us, by our Cross.
This is the power to accept, to leap, to stand, to burn, to give away, to make sacrifice.
This is the power to die as a seed that fertilises the ground of all existence.
This is the power to reverse the ringing words written in Arabic on the walls of the Alhambra: “wa la ghalib illa Allah”– no conqueror but God. Now they differ. Now they declare: other than God, only Christ has conquered. Christ has conquered for God, but really he has conquered for us. This new power is the power to forgive, to bear the brother’s failure as one’s own, in suffering love, so that suffering love will never cease from what has to be borne and what has to be done, if passion is to complete its calling, and come to the point where it can declare, ‘it is finished’, it is ‘accomplished.’ Then can it be at peace, and rest.
William Blake speaks of the new love revealed in Christ:
Love seeketh not itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a heaven in hell’s despair.
Can I see another’s woe,
and not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
Redemption is not of the individual, which is impossible in the Judaism that paved the way for Christ’s coming. Rather, redemption is of all of us in our togetherness, as totally inter-related. The way we wound each other is embraced, and transformed, by a different wound, the wound of the Passion of Christ. This universal redemption is what the long march toward the Messianic understanding actually consists of: it is only together we sin, it is only together we can be redeemed.
In Christ’s Cross, the anger of God that repeatedly calls the world to account, requiring the examination of its heart motive and challenging it to basic change of heart action, becomes the very fulcrum of the tenderness, mercy, and forgiveness which alters the demand for justice into something more profound: a bearing of each other, that whatever we inflict on one another, still we will all come through together.
This is why we are all called to the same Cross as Christ. He tells us to take up our Cross: what was done to him, both by God and by the world, will happen to us [Luke, 21, 12; Luke, 21, 16]: “they will drag you before princes”; “even your friends will desert you”; “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” But this is so that, like Christ, in making the deepest and greatest give away and sacrifice, we can release the power of that new love which alone redeems and resurrects the way of heart passion in the world. The cup of ‘bitter wine’ is the give away and sacrifice God established as the foundation of the world, the redeeming and resurrection of passion. This power will not be manifest in us if we refuse the cup Christ drank to its dregs.
He did it to show us we can do it. It is in this sense he is ‘the first born of many.’
This is also why it is Christ who proves finally beyond any doubt that we are loved by God and nothing can separate us from God’s love. St Paul is speaking of the mystery of what Christ’s Cross accomplishes when he claims: “Neither death or life, no angel, no prince, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, not any power, or height or depth, nor any created thing, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ our Lord” [Romans, 8, 38-39].
Because Christ came through, we will come through.
We will come through because that in God which comes through our loss of heart will, by this, regain heart for us. His heart will become ours. The joining of wound to wound is not simply a reconciling= it is a mystery of the depth. It is the gateless gate. It is the door that opens a way through humanity’s ancient, tear stained, bitterness scorched, despair gouged, wailing wall.
When we have crashed against this wall, and Christ has taken us through its door which is the eye of the needle, then and only then will what we have suffered and struggled to believe in the heart about its passion be vindicated as existentially and spiritually true. Then and only then will we not need to believe because we will know. We will know, in our heart, the heart of God the father.
Christ’s deed is universal–it does not belong to Christians but to the whole
world–because it addresses the place in passion where everything gambled on in the venture of heart that God created for us is null and void, yet can be refound and reborn= the worst place can become the best place, the place of turn around. This is the joy born out of great sorrow.
This, in its full working out and working through, is fearful and wonderful beyond words.
We are all the child of God, the lamb of God, slain before the world began [Revelation,13,8]. At the end we will know why it had to be so and how joyous it is that it is so.
Without Christ’s Passion, love fails.
Without the conjoint passion of God in humanity and humanity in God,
so-called Christian love does not exist. It has no reality, it does nothing, it changes nothing, it flees the crunch.
Without the conjoint passion of God in humanity and humanity in God, there is no sacrifice, and no descent into death and hell, to retrieve the lost in the worst place of loss, by plumbing the worst and planting the best in the worst, to redeem the worst by transfiguring it into the best.