Monday, 6 October 2008

The Two Great Elephants in the Room of My Life

I remember reading something from Rowan Williams talking about the two great mysteries in our lives, the mystery of suffering and the mystery of love. Love is stronger, and the two are not hermetically sealed from each other. My less poetic version is that there are two great elephants in the room of my life, and there is no point in trying to avoid them. Julian of Norwich saw the two elephants as well and spoke of them. (Although she didn't actually mention elephants in her Revelations!) In this regard, Julian of Norwich, in her Thirteenth Revelation, wonders about the origin of sin, and why God did not prevent it in the first place. (She includes in this word 'sin' everything that is not good.) This famous answer comes to her from the Lord:

Sin is necessary, but all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

The two great mysteries are necessary, but the mystery of love prevails. Julian also sees that while the pain caused by sin is real enough, sin itself "has no substance of reality and cannot be known except through the pain it causes." But she continues to wonder, why this sin and pain? It is in response to this questioning that Julian receives for a second time reassurance from the Lord, spoken to her in a most "tenderly" fashion:

It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain, but all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

She finishes:

Through these words I saw an unfathomable mystery hidden in God which he will make clear to us in heaven. Only then shall we truly know why he allowed sin to come and knowing that, we shall rejoice in him for ever.

Something in me recoils at this. I don't want that answer. But there is no other answer, other than to reject the possibility of God, and fall headlong into despair and nihilism. But the answer works on one's soul, and meditation upon the enormity of the Christ event brings a different perspective. Perhaps, in the face of sin and suffering, it seems that we are on the precipice of losing everything. But in the cross and resurrection of the Word made flesh we are given everything, and then more, much more than my imagination can fathom. Hans Urs von Balthasar said it well when he wrote:

The joy of Easter after all is founded on Christ's dereliction on the Cross and his abandonment in hell. For his abandonment was like the final testing of the unity of the Trinity, which as such is the fullness of joy. Not that the joy of the Divine Persons is an idle, self-indulgent kind of joy that they share in while the creature suffers; their joy penetrates deep into all the world's suffering; they share the experience of its misery, but their joy proves deeper than all sense of abandonment. For God's action on behalf of lost humanity is so final that every reproach levelled against the providential ordering of the world is put to silence. In the New Testament we read that joy is able to permeate not only the extremes of suffering and situations like the abandonment of God by God but that it is also to be found in the face of the hardest demands, the most remorseless rebuke, even that most tragic of all divisions (between Jews and Christians, who stand divided before the Cross). [Emphasis added.]

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