Tuesday, September 25, 2007

On abandonment by God

~by Hans Urs von Balthasar (via Chris Blosser)
The Swiss theologian may not have had Mother Teresa in mind when he wrote this, but I couldn't help but think of the recent media flap spurred by Time magazine and disgruntled atheist Christopher Hitchens:
Active faith means following Jesus; but Jesus' mission leads him on a course from heaven deeper and deeper into the world of sinners, until finally on the Cross he assumes, in their stead, their experience of distance from God, even of abandonment by God, and thus of the very loss of that lucid security promised to the "proven" faithful. This paradox must be borne; and from the Christian point of view the juxtaposition of temporal moments -- of hours, days, years -- exists not least for the purpose of rendering possible the sequence of these seemingly incompatible Christian life experiences.

Paul experienced and formulated this paradox. He knows two things: that even amid all his sorrows (which can reach to the point of "despairing of life") God "comforts" him, and that his, Paul's, "sufferings in Christ" redound to the consolation and inner strengthening of the Church (2 Corinthians 1: 4-7). One can sense the many varied nuances possible here. A person can experience extreme affliction outwardly and at the same time be inwardly "comforted," that is, know that he is living fully within God's will: many martyrs knew this. It can also happen that a person experiences darkness in the depths of his being -- is submerged in God's "testing" -- and in his darkness radiates light to others, though he himself does not feel or realize it at all. . . .

It is God who arranges the "theological states" of the believer, plunging him at one time into the deep waters of the Cross where he is not allowed to experience any consolation, and then into the grace given by resurrection of a hope which brings with it the certainty that it does not deceive. No one is able or permitted to fit these "theological states" into a system that can be manipulated and surveyed to any extent by man. Their every aspect, even when they seemingly contradict one another, is christological and therefore left to God's disposition. [pp. 37-38]

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The law of renunciation can become very difficult for the individual in times when genuine ecclesial life finds feeble expression and numerous sects offer the enticement of immediate "experiences." But no one who experiences this difficulty should think that the mystic, with his apparently immediate experiences of divine things, has an easier life. For every true mysticism, however rich it may be in visions and other experiences of God, is subject at least as strictly to the law of the Cross -- that is, of non-experience -- as is the existence of someone apparently forgotten in the desert of secular daily life. Perhaps the mystic has to pass through dry periods that are even more severe. Where this is not the case, where we are offered acquirable techniques to attain a mysticism without bitterness and the humiliations of the Cross, we can be certain that it is not authentically Christian and has no Christian signficance.

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