March 8, 2017: Freedom of the Cross

~by Louis Templeman

There is a tree that takes center stage in the story of creation. It is called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At this tree, rebellion takes place when human beings claim for themselves the right to decide what is good and what is evil. And, so the Biblical story of mankind begins with a fall from grace, having rebelled against God. Since they were formed in the image of God they were empowered to reinvent themselves; and let go of the image God intended for them.

Years later another creation is formed. The New Testament refers to it as the new creation (2 Corinthians 5: 17). And, here another tree figures prominently. At this second tree, the curse of the first one is removed.

But Christ rescued us . . . when he became a curse in our place. This is because the scriptures say that anyone nailed to a tree is under a curse. Galatians 3: 13.

The tree is the cross of Christ where the mystery of our religion began (I Timothy 3: 16). Sin was destroyed on the cross. Not by the removal of it, but by Jesus taking it upon himself. Evil was overcome by good. Hatred by love. Rebellion with obedience. Violence with meekness. And, falsehood with truth. The cross destroyed sin but not the freedom that produces it.

The freedom that produces sin can become by the power of the Holy Cross the freedom to reject sin. The cross was not just an event in history but is an ongoing active power. The cross that held Jesus aloft between heaven and earth now becomes our highway. Our bridge from earth to heaven. Our prayer should be that as we come to the cross we should be secured to it by the nails of the Holy Spirit so that we would no more break loose from the divine embrace.

This freedom which allows us to embrace the cross also sets up a dangerous vulnerability to turn from it as well. To turn away from the cross that turns us from sin is to return to sin. To turn from the second Adam at the cross is to remake ourselves into the first Adam at the tree in Eden. How do we understand this mystery when our desire to pleasure continuously opposes the way of the cross? Our freedom is this, to choose Adam’s tree, or Jesus’ tree. Our desire for Adam’s is empowered by our insistence that we can determine for ourselves the difference between good and evil.

This gets to the heart of most of our trouble. Pleasure and suffering are inextricably linked to one another. Much of life’s efforts, the majority of consumer dollars, the creativity of advertisers, the persuasion of salesmen, etc., is geared to the idea of separating suffering from pleasure. It cannot be done.

The pleasure of intoxication leads to arrest, loss of money, reputation, health and family. The pleasure of smoking leads to addiction, disapproval, lung and heart disease. The pleasure of unbridled sex leads to broken hearts, mental and moral instability, fatherless children and disease. The pleasure of overeating and sloth leads to obesity and health issues and low self-esteem. It is either the pleasure principle or the way of the cross. Suffering that springs from pleasure is usually toxic and fatal.

There is another pleasure. It flows from suffering, a suffering that is embraced in faith. This suffering gives way to joy in the here and now, and then proceeds on to eternal pleasure. We want joy. It is right that we should use our freedom to pursue joy. We can direct our efforts toward joy in visible things or we can aspire to the enjoyment of God.

For the sake of the joy that was set before him (Jesus) endured the cross. Hebrews 12: 2.

Jesus ushered in a new kind of pleasure, coming not before suffering and thus causing it, rather it embraces suffering in faith and produces joy. It is not limited to purely “spiritual joy”. Every honest and proper pleasure can be found in Christ. Art, music, food, marital love, a job well done. A paycheck. Friendship. Answered prayer. Hearing God’s voice. Worship. Winning a soul to Christ. An act of mercy.

There is a universal kind of suffering that answers to both Adam and Christ. It is the suffering of conscience. Even if it is vague and non-specific. The pain of a guilty conscience is a strong negative motivator.

All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Romans 3: 23.

We can resist the suffering by embracing one of many philosophies:

Atheism (there is no god and no natural law that limits the pleasure principle);

Relativism (the definitions of good and evil are relative or changeable as it fits the individual, the environment or culture);

Hedonism (if it feels good, do it),

etc.

Through Adam’s tree we seek a pleasure that allows us to (or, promises to) let us escape pain. Yet, consistently and ultimately it always leads back to pain and suffering. In Christ’s tree we are attracted to the promise of life that comes through his passion, his suffering, his pain. Our guilt is addressed in Christ’s pain:

The record that stood against us, with its legal demands, he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2: 14.

And,

There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8: 1.

For those in Christ Jesus the universal pain of conscience and dread of eternal judgement is gone. Cleansed. Erased. Heaven becomes both our future and our present. We receive peace now. A peace unavailable anywhere else in the world. And, it is our shining light. In it is peace for today and hope for tomorrow. An advertising company executive once advised a church growth committee for a national European Church, that if they wanted to attract more people, the first thing they should do is get rid of the symbol of the cross. It is too old fashioned and sad. In other words, he was suggesting a dressing up of Adam’s tree and a divinization of pleasure principle. This is certainly attractive, as the advertising expert knew but this has never alleviated the problem of pain and suffering.

Only by freely returning to the cross of Christ who himself bore our infirmities and weaknesses on his cross is there peace. Adam’s tree or Christ’s tree. It is a persistent, nagging question that affects the human condition. The solution is clear and simple to the soul that chooses to trust in God’s mercy, wherein lies true freedom.

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Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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