Friday, March 30, 2018


     There are some events whose full significance a man can never appreciate. Indeed, there are some events a man can barely allow himself to acknowledge. They tend to overwhelm him. He loses control of his responses.

     Quite a lot of ink and pixels have been expended on human atrocities. We’re regularly reminded of the most recent of them: the September 11, 2001 Islam-powered destruction of the World Trade Center and nearly 3000 human lives. We’re almost as regularly reminded of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombing, though those events were instrumental to the ending and winning of a world war. Among atrocities more protracted over time, we have the Holocaust of the Third Reich against European Jewry, Pol Pot’s slaughter of an eighth of Cambodia’s people, and Stalin’s use of an engineered famine to decimate the Ukraine. The further back into history one marches, the more terrible events one can unearth – the great majority of them brought about by conscious decisions and consciously undertaken human actions.

     Any one of the above, contemplated in its full horror, is enough to overwhelm one of decent inclinations. But note the characteristics they share. They were huge, reaping thousands of lives. They were the actions of some men against others. And they were the consequences of hatred and / or a lust for power.

     But not all awfulnesses arise from those geneses.

     Homo sapiens is a bloody-handed creature. Over the quarter-million years we’ve roamed this ball of rock we’ve shed enough blood to refill the oceans several times over. Damned little of that bloodshed could be defended as somehow “necessary.”

     Most of us behave badly toward one another more often than not. It’s not just the killing. We have a lot of ways to mistreat one another. Our propensity for interpersonal violence and deceit is the worst aspect of human nature. However one might choose to rationalize any particular instance of it, we’d be better off as a species if we were shorn of the capacity for it.

     That won’t happen, of course. Man has free will: the ability to choose consciously how to act in any given situation. Man also has individual consciousness: the perception of oneself as distinct and separate from all others. With individuation and free will inevitably comes the capacity for evil.

     There is only one countermeasure. Two thousand years ago, a Man came to provide it to us:

     But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
     Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

     [The Gospel According To Matthew, 22:34-40]

     A simple dictum, is it not? Love the Lord your God, and love those around you as you love yourself! Thank and praise Him who gave you life, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you! How much plainer could the instructions for a good life be?

     Plain or not, mostly we ignore them. A shocking number of persons not only disbelieve in God, but mock the idea of Him and drip contempt on the rest of us for holding fast to it. We persist in treating others as means to our own ends rather than as persons with ends of their own, to which they’re fully entitled. When caught in the act, we immediately seek to rationalize our deeds and exculpate ourselves. We seldom feel sincere contrition for our sins, whether against one another or against Him.

     But as bad as all that is, it’s not the worst of it.

     I’ve had several exchanges with other Christians concerning the Passion of Jesus. The point of contention was whether it was “necessary.” I take the negative position. The idea of “necessity” arises from the passage of time and the finite capacities of men to achieve their aims. Only human beings, who live in time and conceive of goals to be achieved and calamities to be averted, can feel “necessity.” God being omnipotent and supra-temporal, “necessity” does not apply to Him.

     Yet He allowed His Son to suffer and die in the worst fashion the humans of that time could devise. Why?

     Jesus Himself said that His blood would be shed for the remission of sins, so we must accept that it was so. The Jews of classical Judea had a tradition of remission of sins by animal sacrifice – “no remission without the shedding of blood” – which made Christ’s sacrifice of Himself an analogous continuation of Judaic practice. But that doesn’t mean it was “necessary” in any sense that applies to God.

     It was, however, very useful.

     To go willingly to one’s torture and death rather than recant one’s pronouncements indicates a supreme degree of seriousness about what one has said. Think for a moment about the fates of so many Christians remaining in Islam-ridden lands, compelled to face exactly that choice: to stand fast by their beliefs and die, often by torture, or to renounce Christ and accept Islam so they might live. Could Christ have asserted His New Covenant more emphatically by any other method?

     And then there’s the Resurrection. It fulfilled a number of Biblical prophecies, which is impressive enough. Yet above and beyond that, it demonstrated Christ’s authority to proclaim His New Covenant and the remission of Man’s sins. Not only did He “mean it,” it was the Way, the Truth that would govern Man’s affairs until time itself is no more.

     To accept the Resurrection as factual is to be a Christian in all its essentials. It could not be otherwise. That one historical event, the testimony to which was carefully recorded and propagated down the centuries, is ultimately all that matters.

     Today Catholics and most other Christian denominations commemorate the Passion of Jesus Christ. Viewed in isolation from all that preceded and followed, it would seem a horrible event, certainly not one we should call “good.” Yet we do; we call it Good Friday, for that isolation is impossible to maintain. What preceded it was His ministry among men, including His proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the rules for admission. What followed it was His Resurrection, His Ascension, and the Great Commission of the Apostles to “go and teach all nations” what He had taught them.

     When the isolation falls away, the day becomes good indeed. Overwhelmingly so, for none of it was necessary: not His birth as a Man among men, nor His ministry and miracles, nor His Passion and all that followed it.

     “What is Man, that Thou art mindful of him?” What, indeed? For the Son of God to don the flesh; to embrace travel’s hardships; to preach endlessly; to minister to the poor, the lame, the blind, and the devil-stricken; to be scoffed and scorned and plotted against; to be betrayed; to endure ignominy; to suffer horribly and die? Can any man argue that we fallen ones deserved any of those sacrifices?

     Neither was it “necessary,” for God knows no such thing. It was an act of love – the ultimate such act, never to be surpassed.

     That’s what makes it overwhelming.

     May God bless and keep you all.

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