Saturday, March 27, 2010

In Christ, with Christ, and through Christ "we are more than conquerors"

For some reason I have heard people say a lot recently that "God never gives you more than you can handle." Understandably, the response of many to this assertion, which is often made with great certainity, is fear because, especially today, we always have a lot. A lot of us have so much that we worry on a daily basis that our limit will be exceeded. As a result, we think if one more thing happens, especially if it is something bad, like our car breaking down, a child or a spouse having medical problems, coming down with something ourselves, some budget-busting thing emerges, we get laid off, our limit will be exceeded. You know what? Maybe this is true. Exceeding our limit creates an opening for Christ, by the power His Spirit, to make up for what we lack.

When we think that there is some limit imposed on God, even if it is God self-imposing a limit, beyond which our life just stops until we get caught up, we are fooling ourselves and setting ourselves up to then say, when we have decided that we've had enough, "Well, God gave me more than I can handle. I'm outta here." Frankly, dear friends this is childishness. It is dangerous. It is important to note that, in terms of casusality, God doesn't work like that. This is one of those instances in which a little theology is eminently practical. Most importantly, thinking this way causes you to miss much of what God is doing in your life and to see for yourself how God works.

The only passage in the New Testament I know of that could possibly be used to justify the assertion that God will not give us more than we can bear is 1 Corinthians 10:13, which reads: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." So, we are talking about temptation, not bad things, things beyond your control, like cars, health, accidents, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. None of these are punishments from God, those who insist they are divine punishments are as childish, maybe more so, than people who impose imaginary limits on reality.

The Temptation of St. Anthony, by Félicien Rops (1878)

When I am tempted I am faced with a choice, to do something that seems attractive, or to do what is truly right and good, which is to act not only in accordance with reason, but to act in harmony with what I truly desire. Hence, I have some power in the given situation. This is exactly what St. Paul is discussing in the whole passage from 1 Corithians 10, which runs from verse six through verse thirteen. He is writing to Gentile Christians who were formerly pagans and who were not only tempted to return, but in some cases had actually returned, to pagan practices, like temple prostitution, etc. There is a prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours that enjoins us to resist temptation to the shedding of our blood. After all, don't you think some of the early Christian martyrs were sorely tempted to make the token sacrifice to an idol in order to spare their lives? For them the way out God provided was being eaten by a wild beast in a coliseum. You see, dying is not the worse thing that can happen to any of us.

What does God give us? God gives us Jesus Christ. Christ conquered the world. He even vanquished death. The take away is that because in Christ we have everything there is nothing we cannot face or with which we are unable to deal, I mean NOTHING! St. Paul makes this point over and again throughout his letters. I particularly like this passage:

"Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

'For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.'

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord"
(Romans 8:35-39- underlining emphasis mine).

Christianity is not a folk religion. God is never more present to us than when we struggle, than when we're down. This is how resurrection becomes something experiential and not just something we wish for, not really believing it. Being on the verge of Holy Week is an opportune time to both reflect on and see how the Paschal Mystery plays out in our individual lives and in our life together as Church. Look at it this way, some day you will die. Dying is a limit, a horizon beyond which you cannot see. Because of Christ you will be resurrected. In this way God exceeds your limit. It doesn't work that differently right now, while you are alive. Following Christ is a daily dying to self. Only by dying to myself daily do I see, not only how God brings life from death through Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, but I see how God brings me from death to new life through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

3 comments:

  1. As you well know, I am not a theologian nor do I do well at putting things into words. Yet, what you wrote comes so closely to what I finally concluded in regards to suffering that I felt moved to share with you the answers I found. Especially as I hit you hard with all the questions and neglected to tell you how it all resolved. My conclusions- Our personal sufferings have the same causes and purposes as our joys. They result from being human beings living in this world. It is up to us, the individual, to choose what we do with them. God is always there, both during the good times and the rough ones and has offered us both sets of experiences.

    When I reached a point where I could put the "I" aside, to die to myself (not literally...in my case, I better err on being too specific), I found God waiting for me. It was and always had been a matter of choosing to see beyond the immediate pain. For this pain was purely centered on self, was selfish, focused purely on my own experience and how those experiences affect me. [At times being self centered is probably understandable and probably healthy…if we ignore the pain from our hand in the fire we neglect to take it out.]

    I don’t think I am explaining any of this very well. I hope somehow I put this well enough that you understand. Thank you for continuing to offer me guide posts for my personal growth and conintuing to offer me inspiration.

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  2. Thanks, Sara. Experience is the best teacher. I don't know anybody who consults a work of theology when going through a difficult times. The Scriptures? Yes. Karl Rahner, et. al. Hardly!

    For me that choice can only be made in light of the fact of Christ, what He did and what He continues to do. Without this affirmation, I have to admit, for me it would be pretty pointless.

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