By Derick Cranston
A sign along the road just north of Wellman reads, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” It is a quote from the Book of Isaiah, and it especially rings true as we enter the height of the autumn season.
The leaves in the trees have exploded into brilliant shades of golden amber, burnt orange and rustic crimson. Pumpkins and squash decorate people’s front stoops and porches. The crops are being harvested and squirrels are hiding away acorns and other produce for the fast-approaching winter. It is a glorious ending to the life that sprung forth from the spring soils of the earth months ago.
Life is cyclic and, as Isaiah points out, the only thing that remains constant in this ever-changing world is the ultimate reality that can only be found in the depths of God’s love and mercy. A minister friend of mine told me about a couple he knew who had a hard time accepting a Christian religion based on suffering and sacrifice. While I do not know the extent of their conversation, I do know that the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross can be an obstacle for some in embracing the Christian faith. “How can you believe in a God who is so vindictive and bloodthirsty that he requires the brutal murder of his son to atone for mankind’s sins?” It is a common response from people struggling with this issue.
I tend to look at it the other way. I do not see a God who needed to sacrifice his son on a cross to satisfy some sort of bloodlust. I see a God who entered into humanity to travel with us through the many difficulties and hardships that life has to offer. Not only did God spend time in our weakened human condition, but he paid the ultimate price in his sacrifice upon the cross.
Our God reveals himself in order to have a personal relationship with us. He is not some far-off deity that created the universe, and then just left it to its own designs. God became man and knows what it feels like to be tired and hungry without a meal to be had. God has felt the shame of the outcast and experienced the depravity of the poor. God shared in our greatest sufferings, and in doing so, sanctified the pain and misery that is inevitable in human life.
Only a God of love and mercy could have done this. My question is then, how can you not believe in a God that loved us so much that he entered into our suffering to experience it for himself, to make it something holy?
Autumn is defined in an online dictionary as “a time in the development of something that follows its most vigorous and successful phase, before its decline.” Autumn is a season of transition, a transition from life into death. It is a passageway from the joy of youthful life to the suffering of old age. But as the colorful brilliance of the autumn season shows us, it is in that suffering and decline that we are at our most glorious state.
St Paul affirmed this when he said, “When I am weak, I am strong.” It is a paradox that is at the heart of the Christian message. It is only in suffering that we see the face of God. It is only in dying that we find new life.
(Derick Cranston is youth minister for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He is going through diaconate formation and can be reached at email@example.com.)