I just happened to pick up a talk by Fr. Tom Hopko this morning for my morning prayer reflection, and was amazed at its resonance with yesterday’s re-post! I’ve quoted parts of it in this Blog before, but I think it’s worth revisiting. Here’s an excerpt of it:
The Cross reveals who God is and why we say God is love, and therefore reveals what love is. Now, that’s also very important for us today, because not only does everybody talk about God, but more often than not they speak of the true God only by coincidence. Some of those TV preachers, when they say “God,” I don’t know what god they’re talking about, but it ain’t the one we contemplate, hanging on the Cross.
Who doesn’t want to love? Everybody wants to love. You see it on the stop sign: “Make love, not war,” “All you need is love.” Everyone will tell you they’re for love. Dr. Ruth is for love. I mean, who’s not for love? Who would be not for love, at least rhetorically? Who would get up and say, “I’m for hate; I’m for death”? No one. But the problem is: What is love? That’s the question. If I’m for love, what is love? If I’m for God who is love, who is that God who is love, and therefore what is love? If I find and fulfill myself as in the image and likeness of God who is love. Thomas Merton who was a famous monk said, “To know that we are made in the image and likeness of God who is love is enough knowledge to last us endless eternities.” You don’t need any more information. That’s enough. If you go on a need-to-know basis, that’s all you need to know: that we’re made in the image and likeness of God, who is love. But what you also need to know is that the love is realized and manifested and actualized and shown for what it is on the wood of the Cross and nowhere else. Ultimately, definitively, absolutely, that’s where it’s shown for what it is.
God tells us that he loves us and loves us and loves us to the end, and our whole life is defined by his love for us. The content of our life is his love for us. That we can never escape his love for us. That even hell will be the futile attempt to even try to escape his love for us, because he chases us even into hell. He takes the hell on himself on the Cross, becoming sin, becoming curse, becoming dead—for us, not for himself. He didn’t need that. For us. So he tells us that we are loved, and that’s the foundational metaphysical reality for sane existence. We are insane if we do not know in our gut that we are loved, and we are loved by God. By God! And there’s nothing that we can do that will stop the love of God for us. That’s what the Cross tells us.
The Cross tells us that this world, inasmuch as it’s fallen, is stinking, rotten, evil. That’s what it tells us. That the world isn’t nice—exactly. That the world hates light, hates love, hates truth, hates justice, and that all becomes incarnate in the presence of Jesus the Messiah, they say he’s a Samaritan and has a devil and they’ve got to get rid of him. It’s not nice.
God doesn’t deny all that. He doesn’t look down and say, “Oh, you’re really nice.” He doesn’t. He says, “You’re all sinners, rotten, and there’s no, not one righteous, no, not one, but I love you anyway. And to prove that I love you anyway, I take all your rot on myself.” And that’s what love is. Love is to identify with the one who’s really bad, really evil.
One of the things that we’re going to talk about is: if we’re going to imitate God in that, we have to admit the evil that’s around. Some people have a very hard time admitting evil around, in themselves and in other people, and in other people as well as themselves, especially their family members. Other people are only too happy to admit evil around, in everybody! Sometimes even themselves: “I’m a sinner!” All right, that’s part of it. But the admission has to be there.
But then the Cross says, “You must admit it. You must say: ‘It is no good. It is not God’s way. Things are not right. There is evil. There is the devil. There is sin. There is death.” And these things have to be faced. They can’t be cosmetized over, stuck in a corner. People get sick. People have cancer. People die. Airplanes crash. People blow them up. People get thrown out of their countries. People get victimized by other people. They get victimized by the sin of their parents. They get victimized by all kinds of stuff, and all that is real. And God on the Cross faces all that and says it’s real.
And when he faces it and says it’s real, he weeps over it. He grieves over it. He is appalled by it. But he is not victimized or paralyzed by it, and he doesn’t let it poison him. So no matter how bad it is—and it’s as bad as you can get, especially if you’re crucifying the Son of glory—and according to St. Paul, any sin crucifies again the Lord of glory, because that’s why he came… So it’s as bad as it can get, but being however bad it can get, he says, “You’re forgiven.”
“Like it or not, you’re forgiven.” Proud people don’t like to be forgiven. In fact, proud people would rather burn in hell and think they deserve it than to hear, “You’re forgiven.” “Me, forgiven? For what?” But the forgiveness is there, and, more than the forgiveness, is the identification, the bearing of the burden of the sin of the other, without acting in an evil way in return. This is what the Word of the Cross tells us.