Thursday, April 05, 2007

Life and the Cross

In discussing the transformative nature of prayer, Hans Urs von Balthasar discusses "the great danger of ironing out the immense drama which lies between the 'world's end' and 'heaven's beginning' and rendering it...flat and 'harmless'."

It seems to me that this is one of the decisively unique aspects of von Balthasar's theology. I have not found in any other theologian such a profound appreciation for the significance of Holy Saturday -- both in the life of Christ and, by extension, in the life of the Christian.

It seems to me that most Christians would be happy to skip directly from Palm Sunday to Easter, with the Cross as little more than a support that props up the bridge between these two triumphs. Good Friday (even the name says this) is something experienced by Christ, not by his followers. He died in our place, so we live the triumphant life. He died, so we don't have to.

But notice: we're going to die.

Our typical de facto theology doesn't match up well with experience -- certainly not in the long run and usually not in the short run either.

And this is what von Balthasar calls us to notice. The Christian life involves death. The servant is not greater than the master. We can't get to Easter any other way than through the Cross. And so we should expect to experience darkness, even the darkness and God forsakeness of the Cross. It's a sobering thought.

Paul says, "if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him." Look at the verb tenses. We have died. We will live.

It seems to me that the whole Christian life is lived between Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. Easter exists for us only in faith.


David said...

It seems to me that the whole Christian life is lived between Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. Easter exists for us only in faith.

What a great statement! You said in so few words what many have tried to say in lengthy sermons.

Chris Sagsveen said...

Great Post!

Lee said...

It seems to me that the whole Christian life is lived between Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday. Easter exists for us only in faith.

I think it's very valuable to emphasize this aspect of Christian experience, especially in light of "prosperity gospels" and the like. But I'm not sure I can get completely on board with this statement as it stands. Isn't there liberation from sin even now? I realize there's always a tension between the "already" and "not yet" but this seems like it collapses everything into "not yet." Hasn't the church always regarded baptism as baptism into Christ's death and his resurrection and the overcoming (complete only after death, to be sure) of the demonic powers that held us in thrall?

Andy said...


I'm not sure I can completely stand behind that statement myself. Sometimes I get carried away in the days leading up to Good Friday.

Still, is there liberation from sin now? What's our evidence? I read an article by Gerhard Forde once that completely called into question any claims of moral improvement. If I can find it, I'll post an excerpt for discussion.

I do think we live with Christ now ("our life is hidden with Christ in God"), but then so did the disciples on Maundy Thursday (though perhaps in a lesser way for them). I don't want to eliminate or deny the "already" aspects of salvation.

I could perhaps defend my statement by saying that a resurrection which exists only in faith nevertheless truly exists, and certainly there is no salvation the doesn't exist solely in faith.

On the whole, your criticism is very well founded, particularly from an Easter Monday perspective.

Anonymous said...

The question I think is not about death and resurrection, but one about sanctification. I am a third use of the law Lutheran. I believe that even in this time between the times, we make manifest the new life in Christ Jesus. Forde absolutely doesn't believe in sanctification... but sanctification isn't about "moral improvement." Sanctification is about living in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I am a student of David Yeago's... and therefore I do believe (as I have been convinced by Dr. Yeago) that we are given the power to through the Holy Spirit to walk in newness of life.

And yet, I can at the same time agree with you on the comment quoted by david and lee.


Andy said...

It's curious. As I understand it, Forde was also against the third use of the Law on the grounds that the Gospel rules out any call to "try harder" which is implied by using the Law as a guide to Christian living.

At first reading ("On Being a Theologian of the Cross") I took him to mean that whatever changes are made are completely "automatic" apart from command. But his stance on sanctification is practically defeatist (though I might cynically say that it tends to correspond well to observed reality).

Personally, I am a believer (in practice if not in theology) in continual "improvement" (moral or otherwise) of the Christian, to the point of almost being able to accept the Catholic teaching of infused grace. It really seems to me that I can see God tinkering in my life and steering me in a certain direction. What it means for sanctification I can't say, mostly because the discussion about sanctification is so fully of theological baggage that you can hardly talk about it at all.

But, yes, the work of the Holy Spirit.... It's there, something to be pondered. But I'm not sure what it means to say we're "given walk in newness of life." Does it mean I'll succeed sometimes in matters of discipleship where I would have failed by my own powers? How is that distinguishable from the hit and miss "goodness" of any person?

Brian said...

But if there is any goodness present, whether in a Christian or a believer of some other faith, then Christ must be present. We can do NO good apart from him.

For us, the case is just that we are aware where the goodness comes from. Wherever goodness is, we must give priority to Christ, so that we may point to the source. There is a great quote of Luther posted in the narthex of the congregation I serve which says that this life is not righteous but growth in righteousness.

We don't do it on our own, it is Christ at work in us. When we engage in the struggle of the covenant, empowered and nurtured in its virtues (charity, hope, faith), we are indeed made to be holy... although not completely.


Andy said...


I'm glad you brought up non-Christians, because that's probably the biggest stumbling block for me in thinking about sanctification. I just can't reconcile myself to any idea that Christians have a power of goodness that sets them above non-Christians. The evidence against it is too solid.

But I like the way you've described it. I can embrace a view like that.