Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Passion

The Passion
By Lenora Grimaud

Some might wonder, “Is there any real good that can come of suffering? What is the purpose of suffering?” If we are reflective we can see from our own experiences that suffering produces virtue, when accepted. We grow in patience, perseverance, fortitude, courage, strength, discernment, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, etc. But, what good could come from the passion and death of Jesus? How is suffering redemptive? How is death redemptive?

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). To many people, this is foolish, and a waste. They value their own life more than the life of their friends, even if they think their friends will make better use of their life than they would. If they think they are better than their friends, this kind of sacrifice is even more foolish.

Many people, however, are very humble and selfless. They would willingly risk their life to save others—like the helpless and innocent. Very few would risk their life to save a criminal or great sinner—perhaps, none—except for mothers for their children. Many people are also willing to risk their life for a good cause. These are magnanimous souls.

How many people could risk their life—or lay it down—if there was no honor in it; if they had to lay down their reputation and good name as well as their life? Jesus laid down his life, freely, in order to save sinners. He did it for the honor and glory of his Father, as well as to give eternal life to sinners. He also allowed himself to be taken for a criminal and a heretic—not a hero or martyr. Is there any greater act of love than this?

How did this love—this sacrifice of his life—help humanity? How has it saved anyone, let alone sinners? Jesus rose from the dead, proving that he can restore life and give eternal life; proving that he conquered sin and death; proving that he can deliver people from the slavery of sin and transform them into the image of God, by sending them the Holy Spirit. The evidence lies in the thousands of Saints and holy souls that followed after him. It has affected even non-believers. It has even brought about a new evolution of humanity, in spite of all the evil that still exists in the world. The kingdom of God is growing in the hearts of mankind.

Our understanding of what love is, is also growing and deepening. Although they prophesied about the mystery of God’s love, could the prophets have ever been able to conceive of the scope and magnitude of this love? Could they have understood a God who loved his enemies and the enemies of his people—who loved everyone; a God who loved unconditionally; a God who is so merciful, and so powerful that he can change the hearts of his enemies—of the most hardened sinner; a God who was willing to come among them and be with them—be one of them; a God who would lay down his life for them, in flesh and blood?

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross [public execution of a criminal]. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:6-11)

God is love, and the greatest suffering in life comes from the rejection of love—for both, the one who is loved and the one who loves. God has revealed to us, long ago, that even if we are unfaithful, if we abandon him and reject his love, he will always be faithful to us; he will never abandon us, reject us, or stop loving us. He accepts the pain and suffering of our rejection without retaliation—even if we refuse to repent—and continues to love us.

Unrequited love is somewhat flattering to the one who is loved, at first. But, because they do not return the love—or cannot return it—they reject it. When the one who loves, continues to love, it becomes bitter to the one who is loved. They become angry, and then want to destroy the one who loves them. The suffering that results is terrible for both, the one who loves and the one who is loved. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they did not realize what was being offered to them, and the consequences of their rejection. (Mat. 23:37)

God loves us unconditionally, with unrequited love. Our rejection of his love brought about his crucifixion. When the first man and woman sinned, it was a rejection of God’s love, and if God had been flesh and blood, their rejection would have resulted in the passion and death of God upon the tree of life. The crucifixion of Jesus is a reenactment of the effect of sin upon God and humanity. Jesus accepted our rejection knowing what it would lead to—even before his incarnation. It was the Father’s will that his son love unconditionally, with the same unrequited love. Love does not, however, end with the cross—with crucifixion. Jesus rose from the dead, revealing the power of enduring love. The cross is not the last word. The cross is God’s act of mercy. Unrequited love will eventually conquer death and separation, and transform our relationship with God into the union of love, not because of us, but because of God’s unending mercy—his ultimate act of love.

The power of unconditional love was not immediately evident at the time of Jesus’ death. His resurrection revealed it to his disciples. It continues to be revealed throughout the ages, through subsequent disciples who love unconditionally, until the kingdom of God is fully established on earth. “The servant is not greater than the master.” (John 15:20) If they persecuted Jesus, they will also persecute his disciples. All suffering in life, even that of the totally innocent, can be traced back to sin—and to original sin—the rejection of God’s love.

When the love of God enables us to accept suffering and unite it to the suffering of Jesus, we continue to proclaim the Gospel—the Good News—and to manifest the unconditional love of God for humanity. When humans accept the mercy of God—his unconditional love for them—even though they do not deserve it, they enable the power of his resurrection—the power of unconditional love—to be made manifest in the world.

This was the message of the prophet, Hosea. His own relationship with his unfaithful wife became a metaphor for the relationship that God has with his people, as well as the whole human race. It has also served to deepen our understanding of the indisolvability of “marriage,” and the kind of love a married couple should have for one another. There have been many marriages in which one spouse, at some point, stops loving the other, or rejects their love. If the other spouse continues to love, unconditionally, there will probably be much suffering and conflict, for awhile. If they persevere, however, it will eventually win the other over. There may need to be a period of separation (a time-out) to allow for a change of heart before one of them destroys the other.

If they do not get a divorce, there is always hope for a reconciliation and union of love. This is why it is necessary for those who enter into marriage, to make a commitment for life to stay in the marriage. Marriage is a covenant of love and there is no love without sacrifice or suffering. Marriage is in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, in good times and bad. The same is true with our covenant with God. We have to trust in him and in his love for us. God never gives up on us and continually pours out his love and mercy on us.

In the book of Jonah, the message was that God is the creator of everyone, and loves everyone. God has no favorites. The “chosen people” were called for the sake of all nations—to be a light to the nations and direct them to God; to be a spokesman for God to reveal his love to all peoples.
In the book of Job, the message was that suffering is not punishment from God for sin. Suffering comes to good people as well as bad. All behavior has its own consequences—we reap what we sew. Nevertheless, the innocent suffer as well as the guilty, and the evil man prospers as well as the righteous man. When we have turned away from God, suffering can be a gift to turn us back to God. When we are righteous, as Job was, and suffering comes to us, we need to trust in God, accept the suffering and continue to trust that God is with us in the suffering and will bring good from it.

God takes no pleasure in seeing his people suffer. Through one man’s (Adam) sin, all of creation was wounded. All of creation is connected. When one person suffers, the whole of creation suffers. Through one man’s perfect act of love (only God is perfect) the whole of creation is healed and renewed—transformed. God did not come to destroy the world, but to save it. Sin is like the radio-active fall-out from a hydrogen bomb. It affects everything—all life on earth—people, animals, plants, water, air, and earth. God does not send natural disasters. They come from the impurities and imbalance in nature caused by sin. If a whole city repents (Nineveh) and turns to God, the elements of nature are affected, as well. To repent is to be with God—to receive his love and protection. To be separated from God (sin) is to be subject to destruction.

God is not a destroyer. The plagues of Egypt did not come from the hand of God. They were the result of nature rebelling against sin—cause and effect. Suffering is our rebellion against sin, because we were created for union with God. God could have intervened and stopped the plagues if Egypt would have allowed him to (as Jesus calmed the storms at sea). The Hebrews were saved by God because God was with them and they were with God, through obedience. God did not destroy Egypt, he saved the Hebrews.

The human body is always trying to heal itself of its impurities and disease. Nature does the same, through what appears to be natural disasters or interventions of God.

Some holy souls absorb the impurities of others into their own body like one who sucks out the venom of a snake bite in another person. Some nations do the same. They are a sign of the “Cross” for the world. These are the poor and the innocent ones. They become a sacrifice of love, uniting their suffering with Jesus—the sacrificial lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Notes to: “The Passion”
By Lenora Grimaud

Notes: I do not mean to imply that the pain we cause God by our rejection of his love is the same as that experienced by a person who experiences “unrequited romantic love.” Unrequited romantic love is painful to the ego and is not selfless love. This pain is the self-inflicted pain of not getting our own way—getting what we want. The “unrequited love” of God causes God pain, not because our rejection of him hurts him, but because it hurts us. God pursues us with his love like “the hound of heaven,” but he never forces his love upon us. He weeps over us because our rejection leads us toward death. An example of God’s pain of “unrequited love” is the pain of the Father in the parable of “The Prodigal Son,” (Lk.15:11-32) and Jesus, “weeping over Jerusalem” (Lk.13:34-35).

The relationship between a husband and wife is an exclusive relationship. A marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman. They each jealously guard this relationship against false lovers who attempt to break their covenant with each other. Righteous jealousy should not to be confused with the jealousy that comes from our ego, or lower nature. Righteous jealousy is comparable to the zeal of the “Shepherd” who guards and protects his sheep from the thief and the wolf, who comes to steal and to destroy the sheep. (John 10:11-16)

“God is a jealous God!” There can only be one God, who is God over all peoples. The “bride” is a metaphor for the human race—the people of God. The bride is inclusive of all humans. There is only one God, however, who makes a covenant with all humans—beginning with the first man and woman, who represent all humans.

There is no place for false gods in this covenant relationship. There is only one “Shepherd.” God jealously guards his people against thieves and hirelings who try to take his place, but he will not stoop to compete with them. He jealously guards his people because of what will become of them if they become slaves of false gods, and so he will never abandon them. He goes in search of them when they become lost, and never gives up until he rescues them. Jesus came to save the whole world. Not all of the sheep know the voice of the “Shepherd,” or follow him. They are not yet part of the flock. God will not rest until he has all his sheep back.

“And there are other sheep I have that are not of this fold, and these I have to lead as well. They too will listen to my voice, and there will be only one flock, and one shepherd.” (Jn. 10:16)

In a true marriage, there can only be one husband and one wife. Jesus said: “Have you not read that the creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man must leave father and mother, and cling to his wife, and the two become one body? They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.” (Mat. 19:4-6) God took woman from out of man and formed her (Gen. 2:21-24).

He created man and woman for union—to be one, through marriage. This is not so of two women or two men, or of a human with an animal, or of a man and woman outside of marriage, or of an adult and a child. A husband and wife should be a matched pair, like two shoes—the same size and style, but, a left shoe and a right shoe. A marriage should be a perfect fit—a good match.

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