Jesus paves our path to salvation

By  Vivian Ligo, Catholic Register Special
  • February 7, 2008

{mosimage}Lent is both a question and an answer. It is the Christian’s way of asking the fundamental human question of why there is evil if God is good. But in the asking the answer is found.

The enigma of evil has always plagued humanity from the very start. In fact, the two creation accounts in the book of Genesis are not so much the story of how humanity and the world came to be as attempts to reconcile the existence of evil and the belief in the goodness of God. Seven times Genesis 1:1-2:3 repeats that God saw that it was good. Only after the second Creation account (Genesis 2:4-25) is there a reckoning of how evil came to be (Genesis 3:1-14). The message is that definitely evil does not come from God. God is good and God comes to save us.

In the Creed, we declare that we are saved because Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended to the dead and on the third day, He rose again. In these succinct affirmations, evil is overcome by Jesus’ redemptive suffering, death and resurrection. We commemorate this mystery of our faith during the season of Lent.

We know this truth all too well but knowing by acting on it is quite a different matter. When Jesus summons us to take up our cross and follow Him (Mark 8:34), He in fact invites us to fully inhabit this truth and to live it as if it were really the case that from the beginning is Good and that this Good, as incarnated in Him, has conquered all evil — past, present and still to come.

What is our cross? It is usually someone we love who causes us so much grief, anxiety, pain and suffering. This person can be a son or daughter in trouble, an alcoholic spouse, a sick parent, a difficult friend or even our own failing and imperfect self. Though we love, we also in due course discover how limited our loving is, how intertwined it is with our faults and our sins, how it never comes out pure and strong. In loving, we also encounter in each other anger, guilt, fear, despair, dishonesty, insincerity, hurt, failure to understand or to forgive, and even rage. Can we trust that our puny love can outlast the fatality of evil that we experience personally and also see all around us, in our failing institutions, our own communities and the world at large?

Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow Him because He has paved the way toward salvation. The original via crucis is an event in which the absolute Good suffered betrayal, false accusation, denial, fear of reprisal, blindness to truth, mockery, torture and violence meant for criminals. Crucified in Golgotha as a blasphemer, Jesus literally took upon Himself the sins of the world. According to Mark, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Couched in this lament are the questions that rage in us when we suffer evil: Why me? Where are you God? How can there be God if there is so much evil? Jesus’ dying was furthermore a descent to the dead, to the farthest point of being separated from God so that, being raised from the dead, He may contain all — even the ugly and the despicable — and bring it all to God.

We too come upon this darkness when we take up our own cross. We too are crucified when, reaching the limits of our own loving and overcome by how insurmountable can be the evil in those we love and ourselves, we choose to stay nevertheless. We choose to stay because to relinquish the cross would be unfaithfulness and we would have allowed evil to run its course unabated. Jesus’ prayer to His Abba becomes our own. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And in the abyss of abandonment, where all thoughts fail, all words falter, all manner of conceiving divine providence come to a dead end, we, nevertheless, hand everything over to God.

Jesus’ prayer in Luke, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46), becomes our prayer as well. It is here, when we fully embody Jesus’ prayers, that we come to know personally and existentially the question of evil and God’s answer in Jesus. But, uncanny as it may seem, this juncture is also where atheism becomes a possibility because we can either despair and say “God is nowhere,” or in fact, in faith, we can proclaim that “God is now here.” Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, exults that because Jesus has emptied Himself, God has exalted Him “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2: 10-11).

This insight into the mystery of redemption that we glean when we personally and existentially inhabit the truth of our faith has far-reaching implications for the life of the church and for the world that is full of unmitigated violence and suffering. During this season of Lent, may we continue to reflect on it. We may yet draw from this insight concrete courses of action for the sake of those we love and the world that continually yearns for a Saviour.

(Ligo teaches theology at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto.)

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