So many people are spiritually thirsty these days. That should come as no surprise; the consumerist wasteland of American society has done a number on contentment, happiness, family life, and local community. Things are reduced to items for consumption—and when we’re not buying iPods and cheaply made off the shelf clothing for the latest fad, we’ve begun shopping the so-called “marketplace of ideas” for answers to the longings of the soul that cannot ever be totally shut off or filled by any material goods.
American religion has failed to supply the need. At churches and worship centers across this nation, especially the giant megachurches, the careful attention to market forces, recruitment philosophies, and tailoring messages to be most appealing to a modern audience have done nothing more than amplify the spiritual emptiness of modernity. And, predictably, after the show lights have dimmed, the smoke faded, and the mirrors broken, people are left wanting. What they want, they do not know, but they want it all the same. Some give up on God, concluding that if He was really all powerful, people wouldn’t be able to get away with some of this charlatan hucksterism in His name. The proliferation of these kinds of “ministries” that prey on people’s essential need for God are proof to them that God does not exist—and if he does, he ought to be ashamed of himself.
But the God that so many people believe in these days is just another lie. The Jesus so many want to believe in—the one that is your buddy, your homeboy, who wants nothing so much as for you to live a peaceful, happy, carefree life—is nothing more than an idol. In fact, the idea of penal substitution—where Christ is sacrificed to appease the affront of sin to an angry God—is nothing more than a return to paganism, where we do what we can to appease an essentially wrathful deity in hope of material blessing. Such a god cannot be said to love anyone—and that is not the God of Christianity. Our God is a loving God—he does all things for each. But the one thing he will not do, out of his deep love and respect for all of us, is control us. He will not take away our passions and compulsions for sin. He desires us to learn to love him through obedience, and we would not learn to be obedient to his will if he replaced our will with his.
This, then, is the Way of the Cross—that we must crucify ourselves, our desires, our wants, our self will, so that He may shine through us and live in us. We have to give up everything that we are—our minds, our bodies, our souls. We are called to give up anything that gets in the way of that—be that our dreams, or our career plans, or, yes, even our families. Even the basic animal desire for sex has to be given over—either to the mutual crucifixion of marriage, or to the monastic life (because, as the Lord told us, some will become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom). In the end, we come out to the good in the trade; in exchange for everything we are, we get to be by grace everything He is by nature. We get eternal communion with the living God, in the presence of whom there is no sickness, sighing, or sorrow. We become the inheritance of His Kingdom, which will have no end.
But the road to get there is long, hard, and yes, even painful. We are selfish beings; we want what we want and we want it now. This can be all the more difficult if what we claim to want is the Love of God, but we want it the easy way. We don’t love him enough back to clean ourselves up a little to be in his presence. His condescension to become a man, to be crucified to defeat the curse of death which has enslaved our race since the Fall—that’s not enough for us. No, we expect him to just accept that we’re flawed and put up with our sins, rather than repenting of them and trying to change our lives, hearts, and minds to try to live a sinless life. We spurn his great gift, by demanding more.
The way of the Cross is a paradox. It is suffering and death in life, and Life and light in death. This is a heavy thing, a great mystery. We cannot understand it, but if we trust in it, without reservation, that is true Faith. We walk the path before us, trusting the one who showed it to us, that it will lead where he says it will. We do that, ultimately, without any theological, philosophic, or rational arguments; not that those things don’t have a place in our spiritual lives, but they are not the primary focus. They are tools to help us along the way, not the Way itself.
My friends, if we truly desire to follow Christ, we would take whatever suffering we meet in this world, and suffer it gladly, because we would rejoice knowing that we were permitted to suffer as did our Master. “The servant is not greater than his Master,” said the Lord; let us remember that, when we think that we are already good enough to eat at His table.