The Love Note and its Certificate of Authenticity
God is the indissoluble marriage of power and love - absolute and perfect. God's power made paradise for us. God's love for us makes paradise sweet. Power begets respect but love begets love. God is a generous philanthropist. Never underestimate the generosity of God. When God created Adam and Eve, God gave them the gift of life, the gift of paradise and the gift of rationality. He gave them the three gifts simultaneously. When fueled by the truth, our rationality steers us in the right direction. When the fuel of truth is fouled by illusion, our rationality leads us astray.
After God created Adam and Eve, we became embroiled in a struggle between the serpent and God. We are the collateral damage - the civilian casualties. God and the serpent are fighting over God's love for us. Jealous of God's love for us, the serpent is trying to extinguish it. God is resisting the serpent's efforts. God refuses to let the serpent poke a hole in his heart and drain it of his love for us.
To achieve his foul purpose, the serpent uses us as his proxy. We are his pawns. He tempts us to sin, thinking that the scope of God's love does not include sinners. Fortunately for us, it does. The serpent's thinking is flawed. The dial that controls God's love for us is in God's hands not ours. Moreover, it is set to the highest degree and is locked in place. Our sin is powerless to move it. Yet, the serpent relentlessly tries.
God does not squash the serpent and end the struggle because the struggle is apocalyptic. The struggle serves God's purpose. In the struggle, the nature of God is revealed to us. God wants us to know that the bonfire of love that burns for us in his most sacred heart is inextinguishable. His love for us is mysteriously intransigent, inexplicably persistent and radically stubborn (Isaiah 55:8-9) (Psalm 8:4-8). He wants us to know that he is head over heals in love with us. Why? Knowing that God loves us makes a difference - it makes all of the difference in the world. "What a paradise it is for a soul when the heart knows itself to be so loved by God." (St. Faustina - Notebook VI, 1756). Whom shall we fear? Of whom shall we be afraid (Psalm 27)? Will our almighty lover ever let us down? Will he ever disappoint? His love for us is real. Reality is reliable. Illusion is not. We can depend on the reality of his love for us. His love for us is the rock on which the wise build their house. His love for us is the lifeline that God throws to us who are tossed overboard in the stormy sea after our ship is sunk. We have a lifeline onto which we can grab hold (Matthew 14:30-31). This is the good news of great joy.
His love for us is the sweetness of paradise. The sweetness of paradise is the engine that pulls us to its entrance. It is one of two engines that generates the gravity of salvation. That paradise is sweet is the truth that fuels our rationality. Rational creatures seek the sweetness of paradise. It is contrary to their self-interest to do otherwise. It is crazy to do otherwise.
The serpent, however, did not waste any time in trying to achieve his foul purpose. He launched his attack on God's love for us by employing newly-minted humanity to do his dirty work for him. Surely, the serpent reasoned, if he could induce Adam and Eve to opt out of paradise, their ingratitude would extinguish the bonfire of love that burns for them in the most sacred heart of God. Surely, the scope of God's love does not include ingrates.
So the serpent fouled the fuel of truth with an illusion. He conjured up an illusion that distorted our perception of reality (Isaiah 5:20). The serpent's illusion sugarcoated the sourness of godlessness (Isaiah 5:20).. The sugarcoating was the false testimony that we would become gods without God in the valley of tears (Genesis 3:5). God, however, testified that, without him, we would die (Genesis 3:3).
Hence, the conflicting testimony created an unwelcome controversy that was thrust into the laps of Adam and Eve. Newly minted humanity had never encountered testimonial conflict. This was their first time. They were confused. As rational creatures, they knew that the testimony of both God and the serpent could not be true. Yet, their only experience was with reality. They were neophytes with regard to illusion. This was their first encounter with illusion. Until the serpent, nobody had ever lied to them.
So, to resolve the controversy, Adam and Eve decided to conduct an investigation. Into the valley of tears, they embarked on a fact finding mission.
How did God view their attempt to resolve the conflict in the testimony? Did Adam and Eve's fact finding mission offend God?
Supremely confident in the liberating power of the truth, God let them conduct their own investigation. He did not stand in the way. He did not stop them. Passing through the valley of tears without God is not a pleasant experience. Many and merciless are the crosses that nail themselves to us as we pass through the valley of tears including the worst of crosses, death. The valley of tears sucks. Even though an expedition of exploration into the valley of tears was contrary to their self-interest, God was unwilling to turn paradise into a prison, himself into a warden and them into prisoners to keep them in paradise. A cage is still a cage no matter how gilded. Nor did he drag them back to paradise against their wills while they kicked and screamed like recalcitrant children. He let their exercise of free will play out. God knew that in the course of their investigation they would learn the truth and the truth would make them free (John 8:32). They would learn the truth the hard way. Instead of accepting God's word, they would would figure out the truth for themselves.
God wants to fuel our rationality with the truth. He wants to free us of the serpent's illusion. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Therefore, God changed the timetable of his gift giving for the children of Adam and Eve. Instead of simultaneous delivery as was the case with Adam and Eve, he instituted sequential delivery of his gifts for their children. He inserted a delay. He gives us the gifts of life and rationality but delays the delivery of the gift of paradise. During the delay, we experience the sourness of godlessness for ourselves. What better way to persuade us that the fire is hot than by letting us put our fingers in the flames? God's pedagogy is severe. The delay he prescribes is harsh medicine. He prescribes the medicine because the medicine is effective. God lets us stew in the valley of tears as pickles stew in a barrel of brine. Letting us stew in the valley of tears defangs the serpent. It drains the serpent's lie of its power to deceive. We do not become gods without God in the valley of tears (Genesis 3:5). The serpent bullshitted us. Surprise! God told us the truth. By stewing, we learn that we were fooled. Moreover, by stewing we decrease to near zero the likelihood that we will opt out of paradise after the gift of paradise is delivered to us. When the gift of paradise is delivered to us, we will keep it. We will not fumble the ball as Lucifer did, as the gaggle of angels who follow Lucifer did, as Eve did, as Adam did and as the prodigal son did. The prodigal son will never go back to the pig sty. And neither will we. Learning the truth by stewing in it like pickles in a barrel of brine makes us know better. It smartens us up. It educates us. It strengthens our grip on the gift of paradise. It stops us from fumbling the ball.
The crosses that nail themselves to us as we pass through the valley of tears are the sourness of godlessness. The sourness of godlessness is the engine that pushes us to its exit. It is one of two engines that generates the gravity of salvation. That godlessness is sour is the truth that fuels our rationality. Rational creatures flee the sourness of godlessness. It is contrary to their self-interest to do otherwise. It is crazy to do otherwise.
Unfortunately, the medicine that God prescribes to shatter the illusion that sugarcoats the valley of tears has a significant adverse side effect. It has a downside - a drawback. The crosses that nail themselves to us as we pass through the valley of tears preoccupy us. They monopolize our focus. Our focus is upon our dire predicament. Our focus is upon our problems instead of on their solution. In our travail, we forget the sweetness of paradise. God becomes a stranger to us.
God has his work cut out for him to repair the world broken by the serpent's foul quest to extinguish God's love for us. He needs to shatter the illusion that sugarcoats the sourness of godlessness. We saw above that God uses the truth to shatters this illusion. But God work is not done by just shattering the illusion. He needs to re-introduce us to the sweetness of paradise and perhaps, in his mercy, to mitigate the bitterness of our passage through the valley of tears, that is, provide us with a solution to the problem of suffering. It wont be easy. How will God accomplish these things?
To reintroduce the sweetness of paradise to the world, God sent us a love note. That is right, a love note. God did not send us a rule book. He had already done that (Exodus 19-20). He did not send us instructions on how to unite our suffering with his. He sent us instructions on how to unite our love with his. He preached sense not nonsense. He preached the gospel of rationality not the gospel of irrationality. His appeal is to our rationality. He fuels our rationality with the truth.
The love note proceeded straight from the most sacred heart of God. What genre of literature is the Word of God? The Word of God is a love note! Have you read it? The love note that God sent us was not the typical love note that is exchanged on St. Valentine's day. It was not a trite cliché written in cold ink on dead paper. It was most unusual. The love note lived and breathed and entered our world more than two thousand years ago in the form of a baby at Bethlehem. Christmas is about the love note. Christmas is all about the love note. The love note is waiting for you. The Church holds the love note in trust for you for delivery to you when you desire to know the identity of God. Sooner or later you will want an answer to the question, "Who is God?". The answer is the love note. The love note is the rock upon which the wise build their understanding of God. It is the foundation of Christianity. The love note is written into the very fabric of life itself. It is hardwired into the machine.
To accurately represent the hierarchy of the relationship between creator and creature, the Son of God ought to have entered the world at Christmas on a level high above us - much higher. However, He did not. He entered the world on the same level as us. He did not claim superiority to us but equality with us. He became one of us - an equal to us in our humanity - a partner with us in our suffering. God rubbed elbows with us. They say God pitched His tent with us. His entrance into our world was inauspicious. The Son of God came not in power. The Son of God came not in wealth. The Son of God came not in glory. The Son of God came in poverty and weakness. Love took flesh in a manger inconspicuously in the boondocks of time and space. The love note entered the valley of tears (Psalm 23:4) as humbly as the mustard seed - the least of all seeds (Matthew 13:31-32). Amongst the many and merciless crosses that crucify us as we pass through the valley of tears, the seed of divinity was planted. We planted him into the toxic soil of the Crucifixion with the same insouciance as the farmer who plows manure into the soil. The toxic soil of crucifixion is a sterile matrix - hostile in the extreme. In it, nothing grows. Nothing. So when the flower of the Resurrection sprouted and grew from the toxic soil of the Crucifixion, we beheld a miracle. God, in his mercy, had begun to remediate the toxicity of the soil. The catalyst that made the miracle possible was love. The seed of divinity irrigated itself with love. Divinity began to grow in the valley of tears. The love note had begun to change the world - to sanctify it - to restore that which was lost. When grown, the seed of divinity will become "the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof." (Matthew 13:31-32). The children of Adam and Eve are the birds of the air. God is our nest.
It is important, therefore, to know whether the love note is genuine or counterfeit - real or fake? Are you sure or unsure of its authenticity? Is there any way to transform your uncertainty into certainty - your doubt into faith?
To eliminate his doubts about Jesus resurrected, the apostle Thomas demanded tangible evidence of the wounds of Jesus (John 20:24-31). He was a rational creature who wanted to rest his belief on evidence not speculation. He was hard to persuade. Like Thomas, we are hard to persuade as well. We scoff at the idea that the almighty God would send us, his creatures, a love note. It sounds preposterous. What manner of macho divinity sends out love notes? Is our God a sissy? Surely, the God who fashioned us out of the mud with his hands did not put himself into the hands of the mud to profess his love to us? Having experienced the many crosses that nail themselves to us as we make our way through the valley of tears, we ridicule the notion that our God is a tender God who loves us dearly. Wouldn't a tender God who loves us dearly eliminate our crosses instead of letting them torment us? Isn't love and divinity an oxymoron? Surely the sourness of our passage through the valley of tears tells us that our God more resembles a sadistic misanthrope than a beneficient philanthropist! We laugh contemptuously at the naive simpletons who present such a far-fetched notion to us. Since the serpent sugarcoated the sourness of godlessness with the false testimony that we would become gods without God in the valley of tears (Genesis 3:5), we have developed the defense mechanism of skepticism. We wont play the fool again.
God is well aware of our defense mechanism. He knows that our shields are up. God understands that, like Thomas, we are rational creatures who prefer to rest our beliefs on evidence rather than speculation. The appeal, therefore, is to our rationality and the only fuel fit for our rationality is the truth (John 8:32). When fueled by the truth, our rationality steers us in the right direction. When the fuel of truth is fouled by illusion, our rationality leads us astray.
Therefore, to convince us that the love note is genuine, God attached to it a certificate of authenticity to verify its genuineness.. God guaranteed the love note. God set his seal upon it. The certificate of authenticity is the pillow of truth that God slipped under our heads on which we comfortably rest our belief in the love note.
What does the seal of God look like? How did God guarantee the love note? What is its certificate of authenticity?
Death marks the dividing line between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. The Crucifixion occupies the space before death. The Resurrection occupies the space after death. The narrative of salvation weaves its way through his bloody wounds to tie the Crucifixion and the Resurrection together into a conversation. The conversation between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection is the greatest conversation that ever took place between the children of Adam and Eve and their God. Yet, it was a simple conversation. In the conversation, we asked our God a question and our God gave us his answer. Is there anything simpler than the beautiful, symbiotic dance between question and answer? The Crucifixion was the harsh question that we shouted at Jesus with lash, thorns, nails and spear. We tortured and killed him. He suffered and died. "Who are you?" We asked him "Identify yourself!" We asked him. The Resurrection was the gentle answer that Jesus whispered to us in response to our harsh question. He did not answer us in kind. He changed the tone of the conversation. He did not stay dead and he did not stop loving us. He emerged from the dead still alive and still in love with us. "I am your almighty lover" was his answer.
In the conversation between the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the identity of God was revealed to us. We learn the answer to the question, "Who is God?". In the conversation between the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the autobiography of God was written. Jesus painted God's self-portrait. He gave us a high fidelity representation of the reality of God. In a glorious burst of epiphany, the truths that emerged from the conversation between the Crucifixion and Resurrection illuminated the darkness of our understanding of God. Listen first to what the Son of God said about himself in the conversation before you listen to what others have said about him elsewhere. God poured more and better theology into the conversation between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection than into the heads of every apologist, theologian, Doctor of the Church, apostle, monk, abbot, mystic, priest, monsignor, bishop, Cardinal, Pope, hermit and saint who has ever lived or will ever live. The conversation between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection is the Magna Carta that God gave the children of Adam and Eve to safeguard the peasantry of the Church from the tyranny of the aristocracy of the Church. When the aristocracy of the Church deviate from the truths that emerged from the conversation, the peasantry stand up, point to the conversation and cry foul.
To convince us of the genuineness of the love note, the Son of God let us impale him on a cross like a worm on a hook. If the love note were counterfeit, his love for us would have faded as we tortured him and would have died when we killed him. But it did not. His love for us survived the evil we did to him. The evil we did to him did not extinguish the bonfire of love that burns for us in his most sacred heart or reduce its intensity by even the slightest degree. That Jesus emerged from the dead still alive is the proof that the love note came from God. Nobody emerges from dead. He did. That Jesus emerged from the dead still in love with us is the proof that our conception of divinity as power is incomplete. Divinity is also love - a mysteriously intransigent, inexplicably persistent and radically stubborn love Isaiah 55:8-9 Psalm 8:4-8
The seal that God imposed on the love note was the Sign of the Cross. The Sign of the Cross is the love note's certificate of authenticity. When we make the sign of the Cross, each of our gestures points to his bloody wounds. First, we point to the bloody wounds on his head, then to the bloody wounds on his feet, then to each of his hands and last we steeple our hands to form the tip of the spear that pierced his side. Witness the truth by watching the traffic through his bloody wounds. Buckets of blood poured from the wounds that our evil opened in his body. Yet, not a drop - not a drop - of his love for us followed his blood through the wounds out of his body. His most sacred heart stayed filled to the brim with love for us. His bloody wounds pierce his body and pierce the veil between heaven and earth. They are the telescope through which we catch a glimpse of heaven from here on earth. When we look through the telescope of his bloody wounds from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection, we see that our God is the indissoluble marriage of power and love for us - absolute and perfect.
We have seen how God shatters the illusion that sugarcoats the sourness of godlessness. We have seen how God reacquainted us with the sweetness of paradise. The sourness of godlessness and the sweetness of paradise are pulling and pushing us in the right direction. The truth is appealing to our rationality. But is this the extent of God's gifts? Did he bring anything more tangible for us than the truth? Did he bring us anything practical? Did he bring anything with him for us that would mitigate the harshness of his pedagogy? Did he bring any "grease" to lubricate the wheels of our passage through the valley of tears? Did he bring with him a strategy to navigate our way through the many and merciless crosses that nail themselves to us as we make our way through the valley of tears?
As was said, our predicament in the valley of tears is dire. We are in trouble. We need help. Our brutal encounters with the crosses that nail themselves to us as we pass through the valley of tears tend to transmogrify us into the most miserable and hideous of loveless beasts. They strip us of the resemblance we bear to God. As stricken beasts, we howl painfully uttering a wild cacophony of sighs, mourning and weeping from the valley of tears (Salve Regina). The din of our suffering, however, did not go unnoticed. It left our lips and reached God's ear. It did not reach the ear of a heartless sadist. It reached the ear of a sympathetic philanthropist. The din broke God's heart. Our suffering (not our sin) moved God with compassion.
To address the problem of suffering, God the Father proposed that heaven mount a philanthropic mission of mercy to earth. God the Son agreed to execute it. The Father gave the Son two assignments:
- transport from heaven to earth the solution to the problem of suffering, and
- demonstrate that the solution works by using it himself.
The transportation of the solution from heaven to earth was easy. Demonstrating that the solution works - not as easy. One of the requirements for the demonstration to succeed was that the Son of God take flesh, suffer and die. No taking flesh, no suffering and no dying then no demonstration and the solution to the problem of suffering would stay unproven - a mere suggestion - like God's suggestion to eat not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden.
The love note was not sent to make our life on earth harder but to make it easier. The love note transported the "grease" that lubricates the wheels of our passage through the valley of tears. The "grease" that the love note transported was the solution to the problem of suffering. So confident in the solution to the problem of suffering was the Son of God that he took flesh and let us impale him on the Cross like a worm on a hook to demonstrate to us that the solution works. He donned the jetpack and flew to show us that we too can fly. What a crazy daredevil this Jesus was!
God's solution to the problem of suffering, however, is different than our solution. God measures victory and defeat differently than we measure it. God keeps score on a scoreboard that is different than our scoreboard. We pray to God to eliminate the crosses that nail themselves to us as we pass through the valley of tears. We do not want to be the grist that goes through the mill - the meat that goes through the grinder. We want to dodge our crosses. We want God to transform the valley of tears into a kinder, gentler, more hospitable place for godless people to live. God, however, has other ideas (Isaiah 55: 8-9). The ship of godlessness is sinking. God does not want to save the ship. God wants to save the passengers. God wants to transform godless people into people of God. God wants us to fight the fight, run the course and finish the race (2 Timothy 4:7). God does not want to eliminate our crosses for us. God wants us to pick them up and carry them (Matthew 16:24). There is a difference of opinions. God's prevails.
How is it possible to pick up and carry our crosses?
Jesus hung from his Cross to teach us how to hang from our crosses. When you hang as Jesus hung, cling as Jesus clung, love as Jesus loved. Hold tight and refuse to let go of love, suffering's invincible foe.
Love kicks suffering's ass.
Love turns us into superman. Love enables us to pick up and carry our crosses. By loving we maintain the resemblance we bear to God. The greater the love, the greater is our resemblance to God. Love deifies us.
God wants us to grab hold of the life preserver of love, cling to it, hold tight and refuse to let go - to cling to it with the iron grip of a drowning man tossed overboard into the stormy sea after his ship is sunk. However, beasts are ruled by instinct. Our instinct instructs us to let love slip through our fingers when crosses nail themselves to us. We struggle mightily against grabbing hold of the life preserver of love. We rebel against our own salvation. We would rather drown than rescue ourselves.
Survival, however, requires that we deny ourselves. Survival requires that we disregard the instructions that our animal instinct is sending to us. Survival requires that we act contrary to our animal instinct. When we let our crosses strip us of love, they strip us of any resemblance that we bear to God. This is defeat. The victory is in denying ourselves. The victory is in resistance. The victory is in defiance. The victory is in refusing. The victory is in telling our crosses to go f#@% themselves. The victory is in grabbing the life preserver of love, clinging to it, holding tight and refusing to let go.
The struggle between the serpent and God reached its apogee in the conversation between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. That torturing and killing the Son of God while he was human, alive, tender, vulnerable and our guest upon the earth did not pierce a hole in God's most sacred heart and drain it of his love for us tells us in no uncertain, wishy-washy terms that nothing can or will.
The sweetness of paradise dilutes the sourness of godlessness in the same manner that the sweetness of sugar cubes dilutes the sourness of a cup of coffee.
If his survival and the survival of his love for us are not sufficient proof of the genuineness of the love note, putting your fingers in his wounds and your hand in his side as Thomas did will not be proof enough!
The love note and its certificate of authenticity ought to be read and re-read again and again. They ought to be kept in your pocket and referred to often. They are the source of our hope. They are the good news of great joy.