The Christian faith, properly understood, is not a faith in Jesus Christ, but the faith of Jesus Christ. This faith is the willingness to act on the basis of trust that the submission of the Self to the greater good, the sacrifice of the Self for the well-being of others, the extension of one’s Self for the growth of other people, that is Love, is the highest purpose of life and that it is connected to a greater order in the universe than what is readily perceptible at this basic level of carbon-based biological existence. It is the willingness to act on the basis of the trust that deep in the laws of the universe, the math works out in the end if one lives this way. That it is not the squandering of one’s life, but the fulfilling of one’s eternal purpose, disconnected from the temptations of the Ego in the here and now, the illusion that the Self must be elevated in order to survive.
What the Christ taught, and moreover lived, was this humility–“and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
We are called to place our faith in this example, in the hopeful imitation of this divine person, who embodied all of the traits we would ascribe to godliness. All we must do is take up our own Crosses and follow in his path.
But we must first approach the Cross in order to take it up. Good Friday invites us to approach the Cross in all earnestness, to look upon it and contemplate its significance in our own individual journey of purification and deification. What we see when we look upon the Cross first is the Christ’s body draped across its beams, his pierced side, the crown of thorns upon his head. If we stop there, we might miss the point. If we stop there, if we merely marvel at his sacrifice, we might indeed be completely astray in our understanding of why he is there.
Instead, we must imagine ourselves in his place. What kind of heart would I have to have to put myself there? What kind of intentions would need to emanate from my soul to voluntarily go up myself, to endure all of that pain, to feel that separation from everyone and everything, to endure betrayal by my friends, to wonder at the last moment if I had made a massive mistake that I couldn’t undo, and in all of that, find the grace to forgive my executioners and the cheering masses?
It is difficult to imagine that I would do the same. I would want to do the same, but would I? If I’m truly honest with myself, I don’t think I would. But I want my soul converted into the type of soul that would. This is what Kierkegaard understood as the Christian vocation–that is, the call to become Christian. This is what Orthodox Christianity means by theosis or divinization, the process of the Man becoming Divine by following the way of the Cross.
But as I make my approach to the Cross, I wonder, “if I did the same thing, would I really gain as much as Christ did?” If I could be so remembered, then it would be easy, wouldn’t it? My Ego clings to the allure of the lasting memory. Yet when Christ made this sacrifice, he had no such guarantee, no precedent. Only faith. This is the faith of Christ.
Consequently, there is no clear and literal instruction about how this ultimate act of self-effacement is supposed to play out in each of our individual lives. We are not necessarily called to a literal physical death as the sacrifice, though that may be the case for some. But death is not the worst fate, depending on who you are. And so the example must be taken viscerally. What is there in my life that if I were asked to give it all up for the sake of other people, that the request would make me recoil? This is where the Christian faith must take me. This is where the process of becoming Christian leads.
It is terrifying. The horrific, violent, bloody symbol of the Cross is the only proper representation of the faith of Christ, because the process of becoming Christian is a painful, lifelong endeavor that is never completed. It is a difficult process of stripping away every remaining low desire until only that which is Holy is wanted. This means the complete and total death of the Self and the Ego.
With St Paul, may we ever meditate “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”