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Abandoning a Painless World

I swore I would never be a sinner…
Until I held your sin.

– The Indigo Girls
Tom Wright argues that, within Mark's Gospel, Jesus rejected two extremes: violent revolution and quietist retreat. Jesus took the third option, that of taking the projected evil of the world and drawing it onto himself. This had always been God's purpose for Israel. As Israel's Messiah Jesus took on the pain of Israel, which in turn was also the pain of the world. By doing so he healed the pain and vanquished the evil. Mark then calls the church to abandon both imperialistic dreams and passive nonviolence to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Therefore, as Wright notes elsewhere, the victory of Jesus over evil is not simply a fait accompli but is a victory waiting to be implemented through his followers.
And it is precisely by drawing the pain of others onto ourselves that we accomplish this victory. Christianity is not called to present quick-fixes or heavy-hitting solutions. Christianity is not a 12-step program. Not that there isn't a place for any and all of these at various times – it's just that we shouldn't say that those things are what Christianity has to offer. The Christian solution is found in the embrace of helplessness. The Christian is to be a person who journeys in love relationships with the suffering, sharing in their sufferings, entering into their desperation and joining in their groanings. Yet the miraculous thing is that by doing this, by embracing the helpless and becoming helpless with them, the victory won by the crucified Christ bursts into the contemporary context. Of course as soon as we try to package this – and use this simply as a means to the final end – we lose it. To do so is to miss the point. The ends cannot be divorced from the means, it is on the cross that evil is defeated, not after. The resurrection is simply the first proof and outworking of that victory.
The church needs to abandon a lot of her programs, her plans and her pragmatism. Instead of engaging in these things she should be moving to the margins, embracing the helplessness, the weakness and the limitations of suffering love. Instead of seeking to create a painless world the church should be drawing the pain of the world onto herself. Instead of seeking to obliterate the sufferings of others, Christians should be seeking to draw the sufferings of others onto themselves. Instead of seeking to overpower all evil the church should be seeking to draw the evil of the world onto herself. This is what it means to follow Jesus. This is the logic of the cross that is (as Paul says) foolishness to the wise and a stumbling block to the people of God.

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  1. Never have i heard this said in the church. Why haven’t I heard this said before!!!! It pisses me off that the evangelical, contemporary church is preaching victory and alleviating suffering when we are supposed to suffer. “In this world you will have trouble….” Suffering brings growth, suffering brings new life. No, I don’t like it but it is a necessary part of my life–of every human being’s life. I should laugh here because the suffering I’ve experienced living in middle class North American culture is a drop in the bucket compared with the suffering of my sister of brother on the streets of any city, not to mention my brothers and sisters in third world countries. God forgive me my arrogance. God forgive me when I don’t accept the pain of others onto myself but try to find the easy way out!