These days everybody talks about the all-forgiving and all-affirming Jesus who has, evidently, been stripped of His power and His wisdom. The church in modern times cannot bear the Lord’s full reality, and so has resorted to an idol, familiar to all times, fashioned after the whims and fancies of the world. Thus contemporary church’s Jesus is rather more like an over-indulgent mother who cannot resist spoiling her children than a tough-loving father whose correction makes men better. Some contemporary clerics are calling this Jesus the Jesus of mercy as pitted against the punitive and exacting Father of the universe. (The logic comes from Marcion; but with all due respect to the ancient heretic, his modern followers are not quite as systematic or intelligent as he!) This is also a Jesus, who according to an agnostic friend, is not worth worshiping. He is weak and cowardly. He confronts and challenges nobody. His mercy apparently is not severe because he fears offending every one. And so, on a merely philosophical or ethical level, he doesn’t even qualify to join the ranks of a Socrates who at least had the nerve to try to bring people out of ignorance, error, and wrong and into the light of the truth. If this new Jesus is the authentically uncovered real Jesus, he might just as well have stayed home in Heaven since the church has no real need for Him. If Jesus only affirms and strokes our adolescent manias and addictions, mollycoddles us into believing that so long as we are happy, everything is going to be alright, then we would do better to follow Socrates. The Incarnation is then not merely foolishness to the Greeks but silliness to any sane man. Whether the new Jesus can say I forgive you is debatable, since post-modern Christian religionists mostly don’t believe in sin –at least in their own.
Of course the church that vainly promotes such a Jesus is merely enabling and not conquering the disease of sin. Jesus came precisely to set us right where we were wrong with God. What makes man wrong with God is sin. Thus, according to the traditional teaching of the Church, Jesus endured the injustice that sin foments by allowing its agent to torment His soul only to find itself ultimately powerless and dead. Jesus defeated sin and its agent Satan since in the end they had no power to interrupt His mission and journey for man’s salvation. The struggle and the victory were entirely just. If man desires God he must suffer and die to himself completely. In a simple way, it is nothing more than saying that God’s wisdom, power, and love must rule and govern all life, including human life. This was the Law of Being for Adam, and Christ came to reassert it with the full vigor that its Divine source engenders in the Man. Behold the Man, Pilate cried, without having the least inkling of what he was saying. Christians believe that this activity –this Law of Man’s Being, can be realized perfectly only in Jesus the Man. So the crucifixion is an expression of perfect justice –Divine Justice that is. (That He had to die in the body, as well as in the soul and spirit is a consequence of the Fall. Man’s spiritual vision had been obfuscated and clouded by sin. Christ had to begin the redemptive process externally and visibly before other men’s eyes could be opened inwardly and spiritually to the rot and corruption that originated the process.) So justice prevails as both sin and Satan get exactly what they want and deserve –themselves, which is to say that they are given a fair attempt at capturing human souls, are awarded with limited success, and are ultimately alienated from the God whom they don’t care to be around anyway. On the other side, if men wish to die to themselves and come alive to God, they must become members of the Body of Christ. If this is their desire and they try to live as members of Christ’s Mystical Body, repenting as they sin but opening up to new ways of amendment of life through God’s Grace alone, they shall be justly rewarded. Now, to be sure, the argument is slightly flawed. Perfect justice for imperfect desire should probably mean imperfect justice or reward. So no man deserves or merits salvation. It is a gift. But it is the gift that a perfectly just God gives through His Son who does deserve and merit perfect justice. The point is that God’s justice is shared with men through the life of Jesus Christ. So God knows that in order to offer perfect justice to imperfect sinners, His Son must die the death of the Cross. Sin’s real aim must be perfectly revealed that God’s perfect justice might be shared with the world.
So, the new religion of the menacing herd –whose opinions have possessed the churches, conveniently eliminates one important element of Christ’s all-atoning sacrifice. Christ offers perfect Justice to those alone who repent and believe. Not every one is saved. And some may be saved at one point who, because they forsake the ongoing sanctification that ensures its lasting meaning, lose it in the end. The point is that this Justice of God is a gift. It is freely offered to those who freely choose it. It is never forced upon the unwilling. And here is where mercy comes in. The man who has embraced God’s Justice in Jesus Christ is always merciful. To be merciful is to hope and pray for the conversion of others. Mercy, however, never enables other men’s sins. Mercy never says, Who am I to judge? Mercy so loves sinners that it clearly articulates the truth –it comes to know and hate the sin, in order to love the sinner more deeply, whose conversion she desires and for whose salvation she prays constantly. So Mercy is a virtuous disposition then that never conflates sin and sinners.
There is, at present, no small number of clerics in all the churches –many of them perching on the highest peaks of Christendom, who have imperiled both their souls and the souls of their sheep. Why? They have created confusion in the minds of those who might decide one day to leave their sin and follow after Jesus into the Justice of God’s Kingdom. The confusion has come because they have irresponsibly and carelessly dropped the demands of Christ and his Cross. They have forgotten that because God’s love is just, it demands that the whole human person deny himself, take up his cross and follow His Son. God desires that we should desire His justice in Jesus Christ. That kind of justice demands that we die in His death to rise in His new life. If we want the God who rules the universe to rule our whole lives also, we must accept the governance of this loving justice, die to ourselves, and begin to live in and through Jesus Christ. What could be more fair? So why are the churches passing out exemptions to the rule? Because they have given in to despair. But Christians must remember that anything short of embracing God’s loving justice in Jesus Christ our Lord is cheating. And God knows…the churches are full of thieves. ©wjsmartin