REAL

I have long believed that without pain love is impossible, because real love requires sacrifice.

The love I have for my boys is manifest in my chronic back pain from lifting them up over and over again. It is shown in my recent hearing loss because I choose to hold them when they get hurt. I see it on hands covered in morning filth, a depleted bank account, and the recent massacre of my DVD collection.[1] Love for my boys is shown in the fact that they can hit me, and yell at me, and even say desperately mean things to me, and I will still pick them up after they have hurt themselves or wrap them in my shirt when their skin is cold. Love isn’t a picture on the fridge or pleasant thoughts from time to time. Love must be tangible, for without sacrifice “love” simply does not exist.[2]

The problem with love is that it is a sacrifice of one’s self, and self-sacrifice is a kind of death. It can be a beautiful death.Sometimes we gain inspiration when we watch a sacrificial figure give herself away for the sake of those she loves. But apparently such love is not supreme. When someone dies for another, death is the one fulfilled. In fact—the reason self-sacrifice is so beautiful is because death has such power. We know that the martyr gives all of herself away.

In a world without the real and tangible power of death, what we sacrifice is love in its most raw, complete and beautiful form.

Human beings are experiential. We know what is real not through mere platitudes, but through what we touch and see and endure. What we would actually surrender if our world lacked pain is love—love of our friends, love of our spouses, love of our children, love of strangers, but even more so a real display of the love of God, for a world without suffering has no crosses. In a world without death, we could not know the depths to which this God would subject himself to display, in its fullest detail, the love he has for each human person.[3] The cross is a fully committed act of love, for we live in a world in which we know that hanging to death, body nailed to some beams beside a highway would be horrific. And when this God says, “I love you” he doesn’t hold anything back.

No other philosophy, no other religious tradition has a story that I find as compelling, that gives form to the things I instinctively value or glorifies so many of the mysteries in which life is found.

This is why I am drawn to the Jesus story.  For me, choosing to be a Christian isn’t an easy intellectual step. My movement toward Jesus is a step of desire—because I want to see all the mysteries of this life through the prism of Jesus. The cross speaks to me in a way nothing else does, for there I not only see the kind of God who made our world. On the cross I see God’s character and his aggressively self-giving choices.

Jesus is not a God who is absent from our pain, who sits high on Mount Olympus watching while the world destroys itself. Jesus is the face of the creator God as he enters the horror of it all with healing in his hands and authority in his voice, who dies at the direction of wicked men in order to display in vibrant hues that evil does not have the last word—for of course Jesus’ story does not end with a triumph of evil. Unique in the history of humanity, the early Christians experienced the powerlessness of death following Jesus’ crucifixion uniformly describing, in a variety of compelling ways, a resurrection.

Surveying the landscape of potential deities, Jesus stands as the only place I look and know that when goodness and evil collide, goodness is the one who will rise again. Resurrection means the civilizations we build, the sacrifices we make, the friendships we share are not pastimes aboard a ship destined to sink. Jesus’ resurrection means there is a different path forward. Love is not a flash of light in an otherwise dark world. Despite all other appearances, resurrection insists that the darkness is actually surrounded by light—and the light is growing.

The movement of God—descending into our chaotic world, dying, rising, and making all that was once decaying freshly alive in and through his own risen body—is what one writer called “the Grand Miracle.” It struck me eight years ago, and strikes me again today, as the only possible kind of hope for creatures like ourselves.

Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author ofEverything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing In.www.everythingnew.org

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[1] Don’t ask.

[2] In similar ways, I experience my children loving me most when they choose to do something they do not want to do—saying sorry, helping me clean up, hugging me before they go outside—for my sake.

[3] Christians believe that through his cross, Jesus died in our place and brought about our forgiveness. Christians believe that through the cross, Jesus heals us, shows us the just consequences of sin, restores our humanity, opens the way for us to follow God, and motivates us to live a new life by revealing God’s deep love.

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