Bishop's Column

Our Wounded World, and the Glorified Wounds of Christ

"I believe in Christ and I confess him," the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in 1881, the year of his death. His faith had not come easily: "My ‘Hosanna’ has passed through a great crucible of doubt."

Dostoevsky’s doubts were spurred by the mysteries of suffering and evil. He understood that our world is deeply wounded – by acts of pride, cruelty, and destruction.

The wounds of this world raise questions for believers and skeptics. Believers must ask why God allows evil and pain. But nonbelievers are left to wonder how suffering can have any ultimate meaning.

Dostoevsky understood that these questions have just one answer: the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The answer to suffering is found by those who, like the Apostle Thomas, encounter the glorified wounds of the risen Lord – and cry out, "My Lord and My God."

The answer they find is not a proposition, but a person – whose sacred scars foreshadow the final healing of all wounds.

Dostoevsky was such a man. He understood the struggle to believe in the face of suffering and injustice, a struggle depicted in his epic novel, "The Brothers Karamazov."

Ivan Karamazov, a young atheist, is torn. Part of his heart longs for Heaven: a Kingdom where all people are reconciled, despite their past sins.

He wants to see "the murdered man rise up and embrace his murderer." He imagines the moment when "the mother and the torturer whose hounds tore her son to pieces embrace each other." In Heaven, he thinks, the wounds of suffering and injustice will simply disappear.

Ivan finds this idea appealing, in part. But this vision of Heaven also trivializes suffering, and violates justice. And that is what Dostoevsky’s atheist "cannot accept."

But we might ask, is this really what heaven is like? "No," was the answer given by Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2007 encyclical, "Spes Salvi."

The pontiff-emeritus said that Dostoevsky’s atheist character Ivan "was right to protest against this kind of heaven and this kind of grace."

In heaven, the evils of the past are redeemed and forgiven. But they do not become insignificant and disappear, as Ivan Karamazov imagined. The Pope put it this way: "Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened."

Heaven is not a place where the wounds of this world vanish without a trace. Christ himself is proof of this: he bears the marks of the Passion, even in his resurrected and glorified body.

But God is infinitely merciful, willing to forgive even the worst transgressions. We see this mercy in Jesus’ cry from the Cross: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!"

Our sins have crucified the Lord, and have done damage to this world. But there is healing for even the deepest wounds of this world, and there is forgiveness for those who have inflicted them.

In Heaven, the scars of earthly suffering and injustice will still exist. But like the wounds of Christ, they will be glorified, and given new meaning. They will inspire joy, not sorrow.

Jesus’ scars signify history’s single darkest moment. Yet the risen Lord shows these marks to the disciples as signs of victory: "Look at my hands and my feet." "Bring your hand and put it into my side."

The Lord says the same thing to us, in our suffering. He invites us to look upon his glorified wounds, and contemplate their meaning - to know that the wounds of this world will someday be healed, and raised up in glory.

Jesus’ glorified wounds are the ultimate answer to pain, suffering and injustice. But they are not the kind of "easy answer" or "cheap grace" we might be looking for.

Our faith is not an anesthetic. It is not a prescription against pain. Even those who firmly believe the Gospel must pass through darkness and difficulty.

But suffering has a purpose, and injustice does not have the final word. The wounds of this world will someday be a source of joy, and a sign of triumph.

This is the message of the risen Christ. This is what Dostoevsky understood, when he came through the "crucible of doubt" and offered his "Hosanna!" This is the message we bring to those who, like Ivan Karamazov, long for Heaven while suffering doubts.

It is the same message brought by the Prophet Isaiah, in his inspired vision of Christ:

"It was our pain that he bore,

our sufferings he endured …

He bore the punishment that makes us whole,

by his wounds we were healed."

This is not a simple, easy answer to the problem of pain. It is mysterious and sometimes difficult.

But it is God’s answer. It is true. And it is the answer our scarred, suffering world urgently needs to hear.

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Bishop Conley

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