On the Identity of Dreadfulness and Bliss: A Soteriological Note on the Fate of Love in Time

[In response to a question posted on Facebook concerning "No Progress Without Darkness," on whether or not it is sadistic for God to "hold us under" in proportion to how much He loves us.]

A preface from Rilke as to the ambiguity at hand: "Whoever does not, sometime or other, give his full consent, his full and joyous consent, to the dreadfulness of life, can never take possession of the unutterable abundance and power of our existence; can only walk on its edge, and one day, when the judgment is given, will have been neither alive nor dead. To show the identity of dreadfulness and bliss, these two faces on the same divine head, indeed this one single face, which just presents itself this way or that, according to our distance from it or the state of mind in which we perceive it--: this is the true significance and purpose of the Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus."

First, I concede that any human being who "holds someone under," even if he or she claims to be doing it out of love ("tough love"?), is in fact being sadistic.

You are, charitably, concerned about "someone very close" to you who rejects Catholicism because this is the way God behaves. Here I distinguish.

The fact is that existence in this world is a slaughterhouse for the vast majority of people: from broken and impoverished bodies to broken and impoverished hearts. Any worldview that does not set this fact in the center is worthless for human existence: inhuman ideology.

Catholicism sets it in the center: the crucifix is the focal point. That is Catholicism's central "selling point"; it does not whitewash the pain of the world. 

So, the question is: what is happening in Jesus' agony on the Cross? The answer is: God the Father so loves each human being that He sends His Son into the outer dark of our sinfulness and despair, and this Son, Jesus, absorbs every night that has ever invaded, or will ever invade, the heart of man. In assuming each instant of our hell, our vicimtizations and victimizings, Jesus is literally, not metaphorically, with each of us in our agonies. Love suffers with. And in His co-suffering our hell (indeed He suffers it more than we do), Jesus opens a way to the light for each of us. Because He "loves us to the end," the Resurrection of Jesus (the vindication of the Son by the Father) is an opening for each of us into a life on the other side of suffering, within the loving immutability of the Trinitarian life. 

This absolute mercy of God the Father, carried out by His Son in Their Spirit of missionary love, contains within itself the ineluctable moment of justice. For every victimization, there must be vindication. This is called "the wrath of God." It is love still, but love in the mode of vindicating the powerless. God the Son has no other will than the divine will received from the Father. That will is to save every single human being, while at the same time vindicating the victims.

The need for vindication comes from the fact that every moral evil is introduced into the world by the perverted personal will of a creature, demonic or human. In no instance does the good God enact moral evil. But the good and just and merciful God must contend with moral evil. If He is to have a creation filled with finite persons at all, He is going to have to deal with the fact that imperfect finite freedom is able to sin. (Perfect freedom, on the other hand, is incapable of sin.)

God the Father contends with the fact of moral evil by meeting it with suffering love, the love of His Son, but also by commissioning others with a mission within the universal mission of the Son, to participate in crucified love. 

To carry out this mission, we must be purified. And that requires spiritual training. Hence one reason for "holding us under." This is analogous to what a teacher or a coach does when they, non-sadistically, run their charges through a regimen. When the training is training for missionary love, it must necessarily be extreme, as the mission is extreme.

The second reason for "holding us under" is to give us the gift of solidarity. If we were given the choice, very few of us would take the offer of misery for the sake of greatness, including greatness in love. But God wants good for us greater than our paltry imaginations can conjure. God the Father, being God, will make good on all that He promises will come if we serve limitless love. And, indeed, the dark night is its own reward, in a way, because it IS union with the abandoned Jesus. The Father is giving those He has elected the infinite honor of intimacy with His Son. 

I conclude by noting that the Father takes no pleasure in our pain. But He does takes infinite pleasure in love. And as He IS infinite love, He knows nothing, nothing compares to the glory of love. But it is hard to see all this, and that is why in his epistle Saint James writes: "Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him." He then goes on to affirm, in one of the greatest verses in the Bible, what he, what we, must affirm in the face of the anguish of existence--the affirmation of simple Christian faith, despite the fact that we are hurting though God be sovereign: "Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with Whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." 

Or, as Saint John has it, even more emphatically: "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." Or, again, as Saint John writes later in his first epistle, "God is Love." God is infinite love, love so broad and indefeasible as to contain all the modes and orders of this world's anguish.