My 30 years of work as a therapist before becoming a pastor is still used to inform much of my theology, including that which relates to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. For example, I often found that people who were afflicted with higher than normal levels of depression or anxiety were often stuck in some kind of a grief reaction they had not been able to break free of on their own.
Grief, as we know, follows any death. It follows any loss but never more so than our loss of expectations. Such losses are highly traumatic and stressful. And they take us on a journey into such emotions as anger and guilt. Notice I say into. Whether we make it through these emotions or not depends on how we manage our grief. And whether or not we can accept our own anger and our own guilt. When we cannot accept these emotions, we do not accept the loss itself at the deepest level needed to move forward. We become stuck. We enter our own tomb, as it were.
Anecdotally, I would often find persons stuck after a major loss in life with emotions of anger that never seemed to find an end point. More often than not, these were individuals who could not accept their guilt and so needed anger to continue as a defense. Blaming another is often a defense against having to accept our own painful guilt. Ongoing anger seems to these persons less painful, and more acceptable, than facing one’s own guilt.
I’ve found that others get just as stuck with emotions of guilt that also never seem to end. More often these were individuals who could not accept their anger and so need guilt to continue as a defense against having to accept painful anger. Ongoing guilt seems to these persons more acceptable than to face one’s own anger.
Grief is like a tomb we have to spend some time in after a death or loss. Resurrection is a break-through that happens providing we don’t get stuck forever inside the tomb of our own anger or guilt.
The orthodox Christian theology of Christ’s crucifixion contends that we are forgiven because God has forgiven us, and that other sinners are also forgiven as well. The cross is all about God’s forgiving them or us. Christ died for them. Christ died for us. Right?
Pardon my unorthodoxy, but I’m not so sure that is right.
As therapist and pastor over the years, I’ve known some very devout Christians who accepted that God forgave their enemies, but they could not bring themselves to do so. They were still angry and had not been able to forgive even those whom Christ had forgiven. “God may be able to forgive them, but I can’t seem to,” they might say. And I’ve known just as many Christians who accepted that God forgave them, but they could not yet forgive themselves. They still felt guilty even after Christ had died “for” them. “God may be able to forgive me, but I can’t seem to do so.”
Ever known anyone like that among other Christians? Ever felt that way yourself? Ever noticed how we can all become entombed by death and grief? How we can all get stuck in anger that doesn’t forgive “them” or else guilt that doesn’t forgive “us?”
As mentioned in prior posts, Jesus made it a point when saying that he would be crucified and buried but then resurrected that we who would follow him must take up our own cross. Lose our own lives for his sake. Try reading Mark 8:31-37. Notice that Jesus says nothing about dying for us but everything about dying with us on the cross.
There’s a big difference!
I find it cringe-worthy to hear Christian believers emphasize what Christ has done for our enemies, or for ourselves, that we can’t bear doing for them or for ourselves. Why do I cringe? Because that is so foreign to the Gospel Jesus himself proclaimed in which we, too, must participate in loving and forgiving our enemy. Or loving and forgiving ourselves. Jesus ain’t going to do it for us. He’s only going to do it with us.
Or else what?
Or else we get stuck inside our own tomb of anger and guilt. And our own stone doesn’t get rolled away and we don’t find Easter’s resurrection joy in our own lives quite like it happened for Jesus himself on that new morning of the 3rd day.
The British hymnist, Thomas Shepherd, left the Anglican Priesthood to pastor Nottingham’s independent, non-comformist Castle Hill Meeting House back in the year 1694. He took with him this hymn he had penned one year earlier. Its words suggest to me that it’s not enough to believe Jesus took care of it all for us. He forgave or forgives so we don’t have to? Nope. It doesn’t work that way. Shepherd’s hymn carries this important message that suggests our path to resurrection travels through not the grief of Christ’s crucifixion but also our own.
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone
And there’s a cross for me.
We will leave the tomb and be resurrected with Christ because we have first been crucified with Christ. And when from our own cross we lose all our own anger and guilt, forgiving our own enemies and ourselves. May it be so today that we may have the happiest Easter tomorrow.