Saturday, May 9, 2009

Christianity and sacrifice

Something that has always bothered me about Christianity is the emphasis on sacrifice. Looking at the life of Christ -- a life we are called to emulate -- it seems like he just didn't have much fun while he was here. He was so overloaded with the cares of the world. He was always going somewhere to escape from the crowd and pray, but it didn't seem like a joyful communion with God most of the time. Maybe it was. There seems to be a lack of joy, though, in the life of Christ.

Then at the end, Jesus became so anguished and prayed three times that "this cup pass away from me. Yet not but I will, but your will be done." We went over this scripture last night at a mini-prayer retreat at church. I don't think Jesus was so worried about the physical suffering and death. As a highly enlightened person, I am sure he was able to tune out of his body and become his spiritual self for most of it -- though not at the very end, on the cross. I thought, what was it that made him so anguished? Was it taking on all the sins and sorrows of the world? That would be plenty to be upset about. Or was he not ready to die at the young age of 33? His ministry lasted just 3 years.

I often wonder if God requires the same level of sacrifice for us as he did for his son. If so, I have not accepted that cup. There's the whole problem of human suffering -- why are so many people so heavy laden? Why do so many people live in parts of the world where violence and suffering are a way of life, where finding the most basic necessities is a huge struggle? Can this all be attributed to human sinfulness when so much suffering seems random?

Does suffering lead directly to spiritual growth? It's clear that there is no obvious or easy answer to this question. I often see a purpose that is possible with certain types of intentional suffering. Every discipline requires personal sacrifice or even pain, whether it is physical fitness, spiritual growth, raising children, or excelling in the arts or science. But this is quite different than the suffering of the innocent all around the world.

The suffering we all have to endure as part of life certainly shapes our spirits, for better or worse. Some people become so much greater because of their wounds. They can become great healers and teachers because of their own painful experience. But others become bitter or turn inward. Another mystery of life.

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