Sunday, April 24, 2016

Infinitely costly

A few weeks ago, on Passion Sunday, it came to me in a flash that all of God's generosity, his gift of the "blessings of this life," is infinitely costly. It seemed to me somehow that even the beauty of a sunrise or the goodness of food comes to me through the death of Jesus Christ. Although God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, nonetheless there seems to be a sense in which these natural blessings have had to be "bought back" for us by the death of Christ. Hence, while in one sense it costs God nothing to pour out the rain upon the just and the unjust, to give us every good gift and every perfect gift, because God is the creator of all these good things, yet in another sense, due to the sin of mankind and the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, we now enjoy these things only as a gift for which Jesus had to give everything. So it is not only the forgiveness of our sins--the "means of grace and the hope of glory"--that we have through the blood of Christ, but literally everything. Every good thing. 

Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be made rich. (II Corinthians 8:9)

In a more analytical state of mind, I asked myself to justify this apparent insight. I am still not sure that I have gotten to the bottom of it, and it's probably the sort of thing one can never get to the bottom of. However, I think I have gotten this far: If Jesus had not died, mankind could not have been redeemed. If men are not redeemed, they ultimately lose everything--that is, in the long run. The damned in hell no longer experience the goodness of God at all as goodness, only as fire and judgement. No light, no beauty of nature, no cups of cold water, no kindness of friends. C.S. Lewis hypothesized that in a sense the damnation of the damned works retroactively to take away from them (in a sense) the goodness that they enjoyed on earth. It is not as though they can stay themselves, in hell, upon the memories of better times and beauties, as people in this world who are going through trials and persecution can do. So therefore, it seems, in order for me to appreciate and truly have the blessings of this life, in the long run (which is to say, in eternity) I must be reconciled to God. And I can be reconciled to God only through the death of Christ. Perhaps this is what underlies the sense that even the goodness of a cup of cold water, as finally affirmed in the ultimate beatitude of a human being, comes to him through the death of Christ.

But why, one might ask, is it not enough to think of Christ's death as giving us the forgiveness of sins? Why all this other jiggery-pokery trying to relate the death of Christ to cups of cold water and beautiful sunsets?

My best shot at an answer is just this: We ourselves don't really understand well enough the significance of sin, especially our own. We compartmentalize it. We say, "Yes, I did that sin, but that was a long time ago, and it's over now, and I don't have to think about it anymore." Don't misunderstand me: The Bible encourages us to confess our sins and then to stop beating ourselves up over them. But there is a shallower idea that sin is this isolated thing, that it has no cosmic repercussions. Yet the very doctrine of the fall of man falsifies that idea. The sin in the Garden of Eden caused human physical death. That's a pretty cosmic repercussion. It changed the very relationship of man to nature, so that man now has to fear the beasts rather than having dominion over them. St. Paul says that the whole creation groans and travails in pain waiting for our redemption. So Scripture supports a very cosmic view of the effects of sin. What I'm reaching for here is a connection between our own, personal sin and our "losing" the natural goods. If there is such a connection, then we might be able to see the theological effects of the death of Christ as in some sense standing outside of time (though of course Christ's death occurred at a particular point in space and time) and being one of the means by which the blessings and beauties come to us. God makes all things, today, because he makes all things new, in the end. And he makes all things new only because Jesus died. No cross, no redemption.

Of course, no doubt much of this is muddled, because whenever one deals with such matters of time and eternity one is bound to be somewhat muddled. But I don't think it's completely muddled. The beauty of the spring outside my window right now cost Jesus his life.

That could be a sad reflection, but somehow, it isn't. It gives new meaning to the gratitude we should have toward Our Lord. His love is infinite, and he gives us all things. Through his poverty we are made rich.

He that spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

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