May 5, 2012

I preach Christ crucified

I recently met a lovely and wise couple.  They offered me generous hospitality, shared their story, and gave me encouragement on my path.  This couple has carefully studied the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and those of the Buddha.  They have found life-altering sustenance from their recognition that the underlying wisdom messages of both men are fundamentally the same.  I would put it like this:  Truth is Truth wherever you find it.  I honor that this is where they have sought and found.

Many deeply spiritual, honest seekers find fulfillment in the recognition that God's creation is infused with ultimate Truth:
 The heavens declare the glory of God! - Psalm 19 
Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. - Romans 1:20
Where there is truth or beauty or goodness or love, there is God, for "God is love" (1 John 4:8).  In the natural world, in a loving heart, in church and synagogue and temple and mosque, where truth and love abide, God abides.  A lot of people are content with that and breathe a relieved sigh affirming that it is enough.

God, however, said it is not enough.

There is ever and always the problem of suffering.  The heavens declare the glory of God -- and the heavens wreck havoc with wind and storm, hurricane, tornado, lightening.  The earth brings forth its shoots (Isaiah 61:11) and every living creature (Genesis 1) -- and the earth brings forth fire and earthquake, tsunami and flood.  The harvest yields food and healing herbs -- and poison.  Animals walk beside us as companions -- and they kill and are killed.  The human heart loves -- and the human heart hates.  We die.  We decay.  "[A]ll are from the dust, and all turn to dust again" (Ecclesiastes 3:20).

There is no wisdom teaching, however wise, to answer the psalmist's cry, "How long, O Lord?" (Psalm 13).  Philosophy, a gift to the rational mind, is no balm for a broken heart.

Here is the genius of Paul's grasp of the Gospel.  In 1 Corinthians, he rhetorically asks, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Corinthians 1:20).

Jesus and the Buddha appear to concur in their wisdom teaching.  To wit:
Jesus: Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.
Buddha: With the relinquishing of all thought and egotism, the enlightened one is liberated through not clinging.
Dying to live, they agree, is the path to fulfillment.  The difference comes down to the cross.
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)   
Do we hear what Paul is saying?  "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified."  

As we've discussed here before, crucifixion was the ultimate failure.  It was horrible, crushing death by torture at the hands of the all-powerful state.  Of what consolation are words of wisdom, however true, in the shadow of crucifixion?

Let us be honest.  When our hearts are broken, when my heart is broken, words, however well-meant, however true, do little to heal.  I need your compassion, your "suffering with" me.  There are no words or teachings or arguments or rituals or practices that speak to the deep suffering of the world and the heart of woman and man.  There is only the cross.

To the world, it is a stumbling block and foolishness.  To Paul, it is the only thing

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

In contrast to the teachings of Buddhism, which suppose that "suffering can be overcome through human activity, simply by removing the cause of suffering [and a]ttaining and perfecting dispassion," Christianity affirms that human suffering, and indeed the brokenness in all of creation, is the result not of attachment, but of dis-attachmentThe Christian story, as a continuation of the Jewish story, assures us that it is in becoming rightly rejoined in love with the Creator God that all creation -- including suffering woman and man -- is restored and made new.

This is why the crucified Messiah matters above all else.  In him, that which has been dis-attached -- sinful humanity -- is perfectly united with that from which it, we, have become separated, that is, God.  And it is that, Him, the God-Man who, in his body hung upon a tree, is attached to all the suffering that sin has wrought on earth, and, through that attachment, reclaims creation for its purpose:  God's kingdom come on earth as in heaven, humanity bearing God's image --  suffering love, crucified and risen.

1 comment:

  1. I humbly admit that my understanding of Buddhism is limited, and I intend no disrespect. Please e-mail or message me with any correctives. My ultimate point is that the Crucified Messiah is and must be the focal point of history and of our lives, my life. Be blessed.