Recently a friend was complaining to me about another friend. That this other friend was too gloomy and pessimistic. That this other friend only saw the negative side of things. “He’s only read the dark parts of the Bible,” he said, and what he prefers to do, this first friend, is to think only about the positive and the uplifting parts, the happy parts. The positive and happy parts of life.
The dark parts of the Bible? Like the crucifixion?
I don’t think we can ignore the darkness in the Bible or the darkness in life, especially not on a day like today, the anniversary of the events of 9/11, because when we do ignore the darkness and the struggle, we ignore Christ, who suffered and died for us, who hung on a cross–who cures the man with the withered hand in the gospel today knowing full well that it and his other actions and the things he’s saying and the things he’s teaching will lead him to be crucified.
“Brothers and sisters,” Paul says, “I rejoice in my sufferings,” for “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body.” Paul wants us “to know”—he doesn’t want to deny it: he wants to advertise it, to emphasize it—he wants us to know “how great a struggle” he’s been having in his ministry, all the tarring and the feathering and the arguing and the struggle, which leads after all to his own death.
The cross isn’t just a cross. There’s a body on it. It’s not a cross, it’s a crucifix, and it defines our lives as it defined the life of Jesus, and we have to face that and acknowledge that.
And rejoice in it. Welcome it. Embrace it.
Because the more we enter into the world the way it is, the more we humble ourselves, the more we admit our own temporariness and sinfulness, the freer we are, of all the materialism and the false promises and all the many things we cling to that don’t make us happy. We have to die to live, and we do live, as Paul does, as Our Lord does.
When we realize that only in God is our soul at rest, only in God is our refuge, in the words of Psalm 62, we find that refuge, we find our rest.
The way up is the way down.
Denial comes at a great cost, in our compassion, in our humility, in our awareness of others and our actions towards others. Denial hurts our psyches and hurts our communities. But in facing the darkness, by entering into the darkness, we find the light, we find the “richness of assured understanding,” the mystery of the great love of God, the enormous treasure, which is not on the surface, is not found in mere pleasure, but is buried, is deep in us, at the bottom of all pain, at bottom of all grief, at the bottom of all our trials. There is where we find the Lord. There is where we find our savior: Christ in us.