Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Mystery of Redemption

The Christian faith in the resurrection of the body is neither a naive belief in bodily resuscitation nor a synonym for immortality in the Platonic sense. The mystery remains unfathomable, of course, but what minimally can be said is that the "body" that is resurrected has a earthly history and that this history has decisive consequences. This "body" is the locus of mortal man's "personhood," which is, in turn, the locus of his or her relationships, moral actions, and life experience. It is not left behind when the biological body dies. It lives on in the only way that corporeal things can: corporally, incorporated with an Other and others.

As the First Letter of John puts it:
God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
Whoever possesses the Son has life;
whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.
A few verses earlier John asks:
Who indeed is the victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Inasmuch as the Gospel of Christ inverts and conflates the victors and the vanquished, we here touch on the great mystery, a mystery on which Hans Urs von Balthasar reflects, doing what great theologians get paid to do:
The recipient of grace must belong, in some particular way, to the ranks of the "victors" as described in the Book of Revelation if he is to share in the wondrous things God wishes to give him.
The victors in the Book of Revelation are those who have undergone "the great ordeal" -- victims now recognized as victors, but not just literally persecuted victims, but those as well whose lives "in some way have resembled that of Christ." One thinks of the old adage: If it were a crime to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? "There must be a certain wholesome shipwreck of the soul for Christ's sake," wrote the Church Father Origen, "as a prelude to a blessed rescue."

As von Balthasar suggests above, death and the stripping away that precedes it extends the opportunity to undergo the "wholesome shipwreck" to everyone.
All these unmerited goods would remain external, alien and strange to the recipient if he could not discern some link -- however surprising -- with an earthly destiny that he had affirmed or at least endured; his earthly destiny must in some way have resembled that of Christ, whether he was aware of it or not, even if only in the stripping that precedes death. [Theo-Drama, Vol. V, 379-80]
Death is both the dreaded effect of our fallen condition and the opportunity of last resort to participate in the Christological drama which frees us from our fallenness -- our participation in that drama extended by a merciful God to each and every human being by virtue of his mortality. It is, as von Balthasar says, "a case of transforming the mortal world, precisely through the radicality of death, into a world that will not pass away."

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