Benedict XVI wrote in his book, Jesus of Nazareth,
“The idea that God allowed the forgiveness of guilt, the healing of man from within, to cost him the death of his Son has come to seem quite alien to us today….. Militating against this, on one side, is the trivialization of evil in which we take refuge despite the fact that at the very same time we treat the horrors of human history, especially of the most recent human history, as an irrefutable pretext for denying the existence of a good God…”
I couldn’t help but think of this today as I was talking with a couple of very good friends of mine about the source of salvation for humankind and indeed for each individual human person. In what must have been a very clumsy manner on my part, I tried to articulate that all human beings are saved by Jesus Christ and him alone, and that without the grace won for us by him by his death and resurrection, no one can be saved. Additionally, it is through the Church alone, which in fact is the Body of Christ, that the saving grace of Jesus is now dispensed to all men and women, and thus it is one’s relationship to the Church which provides the manner and means by which salvation in obtained. Finally, I tried to say that one does not necessarily have to be a full member of the Church to be saved, if by no fault of one’s own such membership is not realized, for those men and women who sincerely seek the truth and follow it can be saved.
Perhaps Benedict has said it much better that I was able.
Salvation, as we know, results from the forgiveness of our sins, the removal of our guilt, by the giving of God’s Son over to death for our sake. To be related to the Lord Jesus in his death and resurrection, to be a member of his body which is the Church, brings each of us as individuals into the life of grace which is a life lived in obedience to the will of God. As Benedict said, the idea that someone would sacrifice himself for the sake of someone else in this manner is a rather alien thing today, for we are so caught up in our personal experiences that we find it hard to understand how important it is to be identified with a body of people, with a community, with the Church. Instead, to protect ourselves (since we often do not have the protection of the community in our quest for individual experience and faith) we resort to the “trivialization” of evil one hand, and the denial of a good God on the other.
Isn’t this true? Do we not often deny the potency of evil, its proximity to us in our lives, the guilt that it conveys and then couple that with a denial that a good God exists when the effects of evil are seen and felt?
When we do this, the only real options we have are despair or the making of ourselves into individual gods. We despair that the world can be a place of love and justice and we set ourselves up as the definers of truth, i.e., we cut ourselves off from our identities as members of the Body of Christ and we then deny God’s benevolence, his justice and his love.
Just as Jesus was completely identified with his Father and the Father’s will, for he and the Father were two persons sharing in one common divine nature as one God, so too we are more and more to become identified with Jesus and his Body the Church and his will. Just as the Father raised Jesus from the dead, so too, by the grace of Jesus’ sacrifice and through our relationship with him and the Church which is his Mystical Body, we will be raised up to life eternal.
We dare not trivialize evil, because Jesus gave his life to defeat it, nor dare we deny the reality of a good God who removes our guilt, for He gave his very Son to save us.