Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lent Day 19: The Thin Line Between Hope and Depair

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

On the Catholic news front, let me remind y'all that the conclave is about to begin, so keep that College of Cardinals in your prayers!

Next, I want to close this 3rd Sunday of Lent by reflecting for a few moments on the thin line between belief and doubt, between hope and despair. It's a little heavier than my typical Coffee Talk, so maybe you wanna grab some decaf while you journey with me before you head to bed. Warning: I'm thinking as I'm writing, so this is going to be like "Coffee Talk: Uncut."

It's been a week filled with close-to-home tragedy, and I've heard many people saying things like, "This is too much," "Why should someone so good have to die?" and "Where was God in all of this?" I've had many people telling me that they are ready to hear some good news.

There's a part of me that says, "I know with certainty where God is in all of this. There's God, offering his only Son on the Cross, pouring himself out in love for us, taking on all of our sinfulness on himself, and making some meaning of the 'senseless' suffering of the innocents here on earth." I can say, "This is Lent, and Lent is not the end of the story. Good Friday gives way to Easter, and in Jesus we see that death no longer has any victory. Those who suffered and died in Christ will also rise with him in life eternal."

And then, in the midst of all of the reassurance of faith, I can also cry out to God in pain, anguish, and confusion, and sincerely say, "WHY?"

Because the truth is that the line between faith and unbelief is rather tenuous. The difference between hope and despair is not clearly delineated. Belief and unbelief, hope and despair coexist in each one of us, if we are really honest.

This is when I have to look again to Jesus, not in a superficial "Jesus was a happy-go-lucky superhero or peace-loving hippy" sort of way, but a deep look into the meaning of the life of Jesus, the significance of his suffering and death, and the ways that, in the fullness of his humanity, Jesus himself shows us the coexistence of belief and unbelief, and hope and despair. Let me explain.

When Jesus asks his Father to "Let this cup pass from me," and cried out to him from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?", there are some who suggest that it wasn't too big a deal, because he knew the end of the story, so to speak. Jesus was God, after all, so he must have just been saying that stuff, right? And the so-called 'descent into hell' is made by most people to just be his glorious jig down to the netherworld, waving his Easter banner and announcing to everybody that the strife was o'er.

But Jesus was not only true God, but also (and equally) true man. In his humanity, he experienced everything that we experience, except for sin. So with the exception of anything that was an offense to God the Father (with whom he was intimately united in the Trinitarian Godhead), Jesus experienced all other parts of the human experience. What he experienced, he could sum up, reverse, redeem. And the sin and death, which he also took on himself (He became sin who knew no sin), no longer have any power over us.

So when Jesus asked the Father to let this cup pass from him, I would suggest that this is because he was really a human who did not want to suffer. Couldn't there be another way? But still, not my will, but yours be done, he said. He willed to accept the suffering, but he didn't want it.

And on the cross, crying out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?", I would suggest that Jesus really experienced this feeling of abandonment, even by God the Father. This is a feeling that we have all known, and it is not sinful. It is part of the human experience. And Jesus, in his humanity, took this on himself to redeem it.

Lastly, when Jesus descended into hell, we need to first recall that Jesus really died. He was dead. He was not pretending to be dead. Jesus truly died. If he did not die, what significance would the Resurrection have? If he had not died, death could not have been conquered. And so, when we consider his descent into hell, the place of the dead, we can again believe that Jesus really went to the place of the dead, the place of separation from God the Father. Was Jesus completely separated from God the Father? No, this is impossible, as he was still true God. But, as true man, we can accept that Jesus truly descended into the depths of human hopelessness.

What can we take away from this? I believe that we can see Jesus in ourselves, and ourselves in Jesus. I believe that we can see that we need not fear the thin line between hope and despair, because in our own depths of pain and human hopelessness, we can know that Jesus went there, too.

But he didn't end there. And our greatest hope is that, through him, in him, and with him, neither will we. This is the Good News for which we are all longing, as we journey through this valley of tears.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and be assured of my prayers.

Peace and all good,

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