BY DRASKO DIZDAR
Why did Jesus have to die? I am often asked this question by both teachers and students in Catholic schools – especially around this time of year (Eastertide).
Another question they often ask is: How can you believe in God when there is so much suffering and evil in the world?
To many of them evil and suffering are as good as ‘proof’ that there is no God – or at least that the Christian God can’t be true.
The fact that these questions are such a puzzle to them may be among the main reasons why most now identify themselves as either ‘unsure’ (read: ‘agnostic’) or atheist among them – as demonstrated by findings from surveys conducted under the Enhancing Catholic Identity Leuven Study.
If we can’t engage the questions of suffering and the reason for Christ’s death in a meaningful way and offer ‘an account of the hope that is in us’ (1Peter 3:15) then the ‘new evangelization’ is over before it starts.
The traditional answers that ‘Jesus died to save us from sin’ and that ‘suffering is a mystery’ are true; but they are also far too glib; and they beg the question – their premise is as questionable as their claim. In any event, they fail to give a meaningful and convincing response in our times and context.
The only convincing way to engage in these questions is to do so from within our own experience of the One who enables us to undergo the kind of transformation that turns our own suffering into hope and a burgeoning capacity to love.
In other words, if I speak to you about suffering apart from my own experience of it, I am wasting my time and yours; and if I speak of Christ’s death as though it wasn’t first and foremost about him loving me, then I haven’t yet heard the ‘good news’ with which I’m supposedly (re)evangelizing you.
Paul was a powerful messenger of the good news about Jesus precisely because he not only had ‘blood on his hands’ and was ‘the least and weakest’ of men, but he knew it, and said so.
If as a church we are serious about the new evangelization then we have to begin with the One who stands among us not as our vengeful or just or even benevolent Judge but as our healing and reconciling love.
Why do I believe in the resurrection? Because the story as told in the gospels is not something we are capable of inventing. The innocent victim of our betrayal (by Judas), denial (by Peter), abandonment (by the other ten) and even violent persecution (by Paul), comes to us not as our provisional and conditional forgiveness – much less our just condemnation – but as our Peace, breathing his own Spirit of reconciling love into us (cf. John 20:19-22).
This is so far off our moral and spiritual grid that we simply could not have made it up – and still find difficult to believe, much less understand and live by.
What Christ’s death and resurrection ‘saves’ me from is the tightening circle of self-loathing shame and guilt by which I participate in a world held together by blaming someone else for the mess we constantly and repeatedly find ourselves in.
What his decision to join me in suffering what I find meaningless does is to show me how being loved in my suffering can transform that suffering into something meaningful: it can become compassion, it can make me loving, it can set me free from the suffocating circle of shame and guilt that fuels the very suffering we visit upon each other and so upon ourselves.
In a world of suffering and evil how can I not believe in the One who loves me enough to join me in my suffering to the extent that he becomes the victim of my violence, treachery, denial and rejection in order to return to me, not as my Judge but as the One who bestows my true self upon me in the person of his own True Self, his very Spirit and Breath reviving my corpse?
It is precisely because there is evil and suffering in the world that I believe that ‘God’ can only be what Jesus is.
Dr Drasko Dizdar is a member of the Emmaus monastic community, and a theologian with the Tasmanian Catholic Education Office.
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