Friday, March 22, 2013

Conquering Myself Through Christ

If there were no one who said, "I die, but I shall live," no one who said, "I and the Father are one," then there would be no hope for those who suffer mute and devoid of hoping. All suffering would then be senseless, destructive pain that could not be worked on, all grief would be "worldy grief" and would lead to death...
A person's resurrection is no personal privilege for himself alone - even if he is called Jesus of Nazareth. It contains within itself hope for all, for everything - Dorothee Soelle, On This Gallows

I have sworn off the news. Long ago I swore off watching the news. Now I complete the division: no more reading distressing, disturbing, feel-bad stories. Because I don't let go, the ingested information festers, and I begin to feel worse and worse about humanity. I agonize over the injustice and harm people I perceive as innocent have suffered. Of the perpetrators of evil, I think, These people are ruining the world for my children!

Yes, I'm an arrogant sinner. Bear with me.

Earlier this week I finally got to reading the news in the Sunday paper, and I deliberately read stories I should have avoided. I just couldn't believe I was reading about the same horrific sins that repeat and repeat...and repeat. My anger and repulsion and self-righteousness exploded.

That night I dreamed about zombies, zombies everywhere. I floated above their clawing fingers until finally finding refuge in an iron-clad prison with other bedraggled humans. I could see the zombies outside through the bars, but they could not get in. We could not go out. Two young girls were waved into the fancy car of what I knew was a monster, right outside the metal slats. I wanted to wave them in to safety, call them back from a dreadful mistake, open the heavy metal door, but I wouldn't do it for fear of granting entrance to what I abhorred.

I woke up at the edge of that dream in the morning, my wrong side of the bed, and I knew exactly what my brain had done. I hate zombies: I hate the entire idea of that, the imagined look of them, the portrayal of such things and their methods of survival for "entertainment". And my subconscious, fermenting in the pool of my distress, anger and disgust, had given me zombies.

I am an arrogant sinner. I am like Elijah in the cave, crying, I'm the only one. And how did God respond? I have left me seven thousand in Israel. (1 Kings 19)

Before I have justified reading the news by a shaky belief that to ignore it is to ignore that there are people suffering in this world. By reading it, I can at least suffer with the victims, acknowledge their pain. But what do I do with the knowledge of others' suffering? Nothing except to mourn their circumstances, nothing but detest their tormentors and the crime, nothing but feel bad about the perpetual violent inclinations of my race, nothing except align myself with the Pharisee (Luke 18: 9-14) who prayed blindly and falsely, "Thank you, God, that I am not like this publican - a sinner!" That endangers my soul, and it does nothing to improve this world, only increasing the burden of sin by heaping my own upon the pile.

Who does accept the suffering of others, who said, "Cast your cares upon me"? Who was a victim of the violence of this world? Who removes the scourge of sin in the willful act of final sacrifice? Jesus Christ.

Suffering is consecrated to God by faith - not by faith in suffering, but by faith in God.

Only the sufferings of Christ are valuable in the sight of God, who hates evil, and to him they are valuable chiefly as a sign. The death of Jesus on the cross has an infinite meaning and value not because it is a death, but because it is the death of the Son of God. The cross of Christ says nothing of the power of suffering or of death. It speaks only of the power of him who overcame both suffering and death by rising from the grave - Thomas Merton, To Know the Cross

Someone I love dearly told me recently, "If you remove Christ from the cross and hang yourself up there, you're just dead and the rest of us are doomed."

I cannot suffer for others. I cannot remove their pain or "work on" their suffering and bring any good from it. I can only give love and work as a laborer in my Father's harvest, striving to find ways to alleviate others' suffering instead of merely feeling badly for them, and all this requires hope. If I strangle that hope by exposing myself more and more to the knowledge of evil, without acting to reinforce good in this world, what use am I?

So I aim to keep myself from sin and from despair. And let me not pray as the Pharisee but as the Publican, not raising my eyes even to heaven as I plead honestly, "God be merciful to me a sinner."

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