Life-creating death

“Love and hatred are not merely subjective feelings, affecting the inward universe of those who experience them, but they are also objective forces, altering the world outside ourselves. By loving or hating another, I cause the other in some measure to become that which I see in him or her. Not for myself alone, but for the lives of all around me, my love is creative, just as my hatred is destructive. And if this is true of my love, it is true to an incomparably greater extent of Christ’s love. The victory of his suffering love upon the Cross does not merely set me an example, showing me what I myself may achieve if by my own efforts I imitate him. Much more than this, his suffering love has a creative effect upon me, transforming my own heart and will, releasing me from bondage, making me whole, rendering it possible for me to love in a way that would lie altogether beyond my powers, had I not first been loved by him. Because in love he has identified himself with me, his victory is my victory. And so Christ’s death upon the Cross is truly, as the Liturgy of St. Basil describes it, a ‘life-creating death.'”

Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1979), p. 82.

We might, as I myself have on other occasions, offer important cautions about what the suffering love of Jesus does and does not imply for our relationships with each other. It certainly doesn’t imply women staying in abusive relationships, to cite one crucial example.

This quotation about the creative, suffering love of Christ, however, points us to a fundamental truth about our own life in Christ. It captures much of what is valid in so-called moral influence theories of the atonement without denying the objective change that the love of Christ has wrought in the world.

I do wonder how our families, neighborhoods, and congregations would be transformed if we were more open to the subtle, profound power of this “life-creating death.” In the power of the Holy Spirit, every celebration of the Eucharist, every work of mercy, and every invocation of the Name of Jesus can open us up to the creative and transformative reality of our Lord’s suffering, victorious love.

Bill Carroll

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