Kathleen Troost-Cramer, Ph.D.
Dr. Kathleen Troost-Cramer, O.P. is a Catholic revert and Lay Dominican novice who has taught theology and religious studies at the high school level, and has been a college adjunct instructor in religion and biblical studies. She obtained her MA in Biblical Studies from Providence College and her Ph.D. in the same field from Boston University School of Theology. At present, Kathleen teaches Scripture courses online for Notre Dame University and for Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is a member of the Civil Air Patrol and has published two books on Fort Adams in Newport, RI. Kathleen is available for lectures and presentations for churches, schools, and organizations. While Kathleen is proud to proclaim her Dominican identity, her blog reflects her own thoughts and does not officially speak for the Order of Preachers.
Posted in Uncategorized on July 10, 2016
I recently had a delightful conversation with a wonderful woman of the Protestant tradition. Although our discussion wasn’t focused on faith, it ended up turning in that direction – how could it not, with her dedicated faith and my Ph.D. in biblical studies? She told me that she had been raised as a Catholic, but in her adulthood became Protestant because she had come to believe that the Catholic Church was, in her words, “not Bible-based, not Christ-based.” This is a common perception among our Protestant brothers and sisters – and unfortunately a not-unfounded one, since it is still the case today that Catholics “in the pews” are largely ignorant of the Scriptures and choose to focus more on Mass attendance. This is changing; but the change is a bit slow.
As our talk was winding down, my new friend approached the subject of Mary, another common point of contention between Protestants and Catholics. One of the things she said was that “Mary was a sinner.”
Now at this point I had a ton of things to say in respectful response; but as we were both pressed for time I simply said “Well, what we think about Mary depends completely on what we think about Christ,” and had to leave it at that and hope for a future opportunity to chat more about this interesting claim.
Because it is actually a great point to bring up. After all, the Catholic Church itself teaches two things:
- Human nature is fallen and is not only subject to sin, but is guaranteed to sin.
- Mary, mother of Jesus, was entirely human. She was not divine; nor did she possess two natures, human and divine, and does her Son.
One would think, logically, that it would follow from these premises that Mary, as strictly human, would indeed be “a sinner,” as my Protestant friend stated. Is the Catholic Church’s teaching on Mary’s sinlessness therefore illogical, inconsistent, hypocritical? Are we cherry-picking?
It’s a question well worth addressing, and I’ve thought about it a great deal since this conversation. I’d like to share my thoughts and conclusions here.
1. We know that Jesus Christ is the divine Presence, the Word of God incarnate. John 1:14 (my favorite verse in all of Scripture) tells us this. In fact, one of the major themes of John’s Gospel – if not the major theme – is the presentation of Jesus as the Temple, the Dwelling of the Glory (another word for the divine Presence).
In ancient Israel, the Glory was connected to the people and the land. Since the temple sat upon the land, and elements of the land, such as water, wine, grain, and grass-fed animals were used in its worship, the state of the land affected the purity of the temple. If the people failed, for whatever reason, to satisfactorily purge their ritual or moral impurities, the pollution of those impurities would build up within the land, creating a kind of invisible “waxy buildup” of impurity. This would then transfer to the temple, polluting the very dwelling of God. Indeed, this was the purpose of the Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) rituals: to cleanse the sanctuary and the land of impurities that had not been properly atoned for over the past year. Only in this way could the Presence of God be expected to continue dwelling among Israel – otherwise, the Presence would depart.
The Prophet Ezekiel spells this out for us. From his place of exile in Babylon in the 6th century B.C., Ezekiel is granted a vision of the “utterly detestable things” occurring in the temple in Jerusalem – idolatry, abandonment of the God of Israel for the worship of pagan gods, their images set up throughout the temple and painted on its walls (Ez. 8:1-16). God tells the prophet that these things “will drive me far from my sanctuary” (8:6); and indeed that is precisely what happens. In Ez. 9:3; 10:3-4, 18-20; 11:22-23, we read of the gradual departure of the Glory – the divine Presence of God – out of the Holy of Holies, away from the temple. The pollution of sin caused the Glory to withdraw. God’s Presence, utterly pure, cannot abide within an impure dwelling.
Now, taking this Scripture, we can apply it to the Person of Christ in the following way:
a. If Christ if the divine Glory/Presence (Jn. 1:1, 14); and
b. if the Glory/Presence cannot dwell where there is impurity caused by human sin (Ezekiel passages cited above); then it follows that
c. Christ, as the Glory/Presence, cannot dwell where there is impurity cause by sin.
So far, so logical. Now on to point 2.
2. If Christ cannot abide in an impure dwelling, as we have established through Scripture, then how could He abide within the body of a sinner? If Christ is the Glory/Presence, it would make no sense for the womb in which He developed to be polluted by sin. Holiness cannot dwell with impurity. Scripture itself establishes this. The Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14) would, according to God’s own Word and the precedent established by God’s dealings with His covenant people Israel, need a totally pure vessel in which to dwell. Therefore:
a. If Christ is the divine Glory/Presence, and
b. if the Glory/Presence must dwell in absolute purity, in a dwelling unpolluted by sin, then it follows that
c. Christ would need a vessel unpolluted by sin in which to take on human flesh.
The only logical thing that we can say, therefore, is that the mother of Christ, being the dwelling in which the divine Glory/Presence/Word dwells while taking human flesh, is a dwelling unpolluted by sin. Therefore, Mary had to have been sinless.
3. The original Greek in which the New Testament was written bears this out. In Koine Greek, the Greek in which the Gospels were originally composed, there is a verb form called the perfect tense. Now bear with me; this isn’t a grammar lesson but understanding the original language is important for our discussion here. The perfect tense in Koine Greek is used when referring to a present state of being that’s the result of a past event. For example, if I were to ask “What is the state of the prisoner,” and the jailer would reply “The prisoner is free,” that would mean that the prisoner’s status is now free, as a result of having been set free by a past action of reprieve, parole, etc.
Let’s take a look at Lk. 1:28, when the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the mother of the Messiah. Gabriel says, “Hail, highly favored (or “full of grace”)!” The phrase translated into English as “highly favored” or “full of grace” is in the perfect tense – meaning that Mary’s being full of grace is the result of a past action or event. The sense is that Mary has been “filled with grace” or “favored” by some action in the past. In the context of the announcement of her motherhood of the Messiah, what could this mean but a past action of God in preparing Mary as a pure vessel, unpolluted by sin, to house the divine Glory/Presence within her?
Mary’s sinlessness was not due to herself, or to anything within her own nature or abilities. It was strictly an act of God’s grace, sometimes called the “anticipated merits” of the atoning death of Mary’s own divine Son.
So we see how everything the Catholic Church says about Mary has everything to do with the nature and identity of Christ.
Interestingly, many Protestants and Catholics alike aren’t aware that even some fathers of the Protestant Reformation believed and taught that Mary was sinless:
Martin Luther: “God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins, for she has conceived and borne the Lord Jesus.” (D. Martin Luthers Werke, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 61 vols., (Weimar: Verlag Hermann Böhlaus Nochfolger, 1883-1983), 52:39.) “Mother Mary, like us, was born in sin of sinful parents, but the Holy Spirit covered her, sanctified and purified her so that this child was born of flesh and blood, but not with sinful flesh and blood. The Holy Spirit permitted the Virgin Mary to remain a true, natural human being of flesh and blood, just as we. However, he warded off sin from her flesh and blood so that she became the mother of a pure child, not poisoned by sin as we are. For in that moment when she conceived, she was a holy mother filled with the Holy Spirit and her fruit is a holy pure fruit, at once God and truly man, in one person.” (Luther (1996), p. 291). (“Luther’s Marian Theology,” Wikipedia.com, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luther%27s_Marian_theology#cite_note-17.)
Ulrich Zwingli also believed that Mary had to have been sinless in order for Christ to dwell within her, and that this was due entirely to an action of God in Christ. See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davearmstrong/2015/11/zwinglis-belief-in-marys-sinlessness-2.html.
If Mary housed the divine Glory/Presence, then she is appropriately called the “Ark of the Covenant” and the “tabernacle.” If we believe that Christ was just another prophet, or a great teacher like Plato or Socrates, then sure, we can believe that Mary was polluted by sin. But if we believe that Christ is the Word, Glory, and Presence of God, then it makes no sense for us, holding this conviction, to say that Mary was a sinner.
Did she need God’s grace? Yes! Of course she did. Her preservation from sin was a mighty favor of God. So we see that Mary’s sinlessness redounds to God’s power and glory, not to her own.
The nature of Jesus Christ demands that His mother be kept from the pollution of sin so that He, the Glory/Presence of God, can dwell within her.
My Ph.D. dissertation, Jesus as Means and Locus of Worship in the Fourth Gospel, is now available online at Open BU. It’s also on ProQuest, for those who can access that database.
The massacre in Orlando is an unconscionable act, evidence of the demonic motivations of its perpetrator and the satanic inspiration of the ideology to which he subscribed.
This inhuman slaughter is also being shamefully used.
Remains of the dead hadn’t even been removed from the building before politicians began screaming about “gun violence”, and how the “gun lobby” needs to be taken down.
Politicians and media alike instantly labeled the massacre as an “anti-gay” crime, although to CNN’s credit they did attend to the fact that the murderer, Omar Mateen (let’s not say “shooter”; that term can apply to those who shoot targets to train to defend their own lives and the lives of their families) had ties to Islamic extremism. CNN also reported that Mateen had called 911 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS.
However, CNN was quick and emphatic to state – repeatedly – that there was absolutely no evidence that Mateen was directly affiliated with ISIS.
It’s hard to know where to start here.
Let’s work backwards.
If someone expresses allegiance to ISIS, they are affiliated with ISIS. That’s the only thing a person has to do in order to “affiliate” with ISIS: agree with that group’s ideology. But the Obama administration, the media, and the liberal left in general will never admit to this, because it challenges Obama’s narrative that ISIS “does not represent an existential threat to the United States.” The Orlando and San Bernardino massacres were both one-offs, isolated incidents. “Lone wolves.”
As long as they don’t carry ISIS membership cards they must not be official ISIS members, right?
It’s the ideology of ISIS, however, that is responsible for the Orlando tragedy. It’s not firearms. Just ask the Pink Pistols, an international LGBTQ organization that advocates not only the right to own firearms, but the right to carry concealed weapons, so that LGBTQ persons can defend their lives against attacks exactly like the one in Orlando. If a Pink Pistol had been in Pulse that night, you can bet the loss of life would have been a lot lower.
But perhaps the most insidious result of this mass murder is the toll it will take on anyone and everyone who disagrees with the gay lifestyle.
It’s already hard enough to express anything but enthusiastic endorsement of every single sexual behavior possible to the human imagination. We’re already at the point where attempting to engage in a rational, civil dialogue about the inadvisability of redefining marriage or accepting transgenderism labels people as haters. There have already been calls in some circles to officially define the Catholic Church and any other faith tradition that refuses to cave to the dominant cultural paradigm on such issues as hate groups. Public verbal disagreement is labeled as hate speech. We’ve already seen business owners and employees of some companies, or of state or local governments, lose their livelihoods because they insist upon defining marriage as being, by nature, between one man and one woman. We’ve already seen schools punished by the federal government for refusing to allow biological men into restrooms with little girls.
Imagine how it’s going to get now, because of Orlando.
I don’t have a crystal ball – and being Catholic, I couldn’t use one anyway – but allow me to make a few predictions.
Prediction 1: Religion will be added to background checks for purchasing firearms – even, possibly, for purchasing ammo. If a background check shows that the applicant belongs – or has ever belonged – to a faith tradition that objects to the LGBTQ lifestyle, that person will not be allowed to purchase a firearm for their defense and the defense of their families. Not even if an ISIS-inspired “lone wolf” beats down their doors.
Prediction 2: The media and the political left will make sure that ISIS is shunted out of the picture, and that the nation believes that the Orlando massacre was caused by anti-gay sentiment within right-wing culture. That means that anyone expressing any ideas that run counter to the liberal left narrative will come under increased scrutiny. This is a favorite tactic of the left: distract the public’s attention away from the actual culprit and re-direct attention to a scapegoat, which is always a group that holds an ideology that the left would love to silence forever. So in the coming days, expect to see blame for Orlando cast on anyone and any faith or belief system that disagrees with gay marriage and transgenderism, instead of on the real guilty party, the real enemy that the left refuses to name – Islamism.
Islamists hate gay people. Enough to kill them. ISIS has been killing gay persons the whole time they’ve been cutting their swath of bloodshed throughout the Middle East. Liberal progressivism cannot – or will not – acknowledge that anyone who disagrees with the LGBTQ lifestyle is any different than ISIS, because liberal progressivism can’t or won’t see the difference between emotions and actions. Liberal progressives don’t accept that disagreeing with certain actions does not indicate hatred of persons. Liberal progressives insist on “love me, love my lifestyle.” There is simply no concept within liberal progressivism that anyone could possibly disagree with behavior without hating the person performing the behavior. Therefore, in the liberal progressive worldview, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and any others who disagree with gay marriage and transgenderism are exactly the same as Omar Mateen, and given the chance would commit the same crime he committed.
It is a foundational principle of logic that a conclusion is only valid if all premises are sound. So let’s break this down into the Logic 101 “chalkboard” version.
Premise 1: Disapproving of certain behavior equals hating the person committing the disapproved behavior.
Premise 2: People of certain faith traditions disapprove of LGBTQ behaviors, such as gay marriage and allowing biological men into restrooms with little girls, and won’t sanction those behaviors in their faith communities.
Conclusion: Therefore, people of certain faith traditions hate LGBTQ people.
Anyone with the tiniest fraction of a sense of logic can see that the conclusion is not valid. Why? Because Premise 1 is not sound. It does not follow that disapproving of particular behaviors equals hatred of those who perform those behaviors.
Parents disapprove of their children’s behavior All. The. Time. Yet unless the parents are psychopaths, they don’t kill their children. They (usually) don’t even throw them out of the house. When a child breaks a house rule, that child is disciplined and taught the right way to behave. That does not indicate that the parent hates the child. We might say the same thing about genuine friendship: a friend (a true friend, as opposed to a “drinking buddy” or the like) will tell you when you’re going off the rails. A friend will express concern about your behavior. Why? Because the friend hates you? Of course not.
In this regard, ironically, the ideology of ISIS isn’t far off from the ideology of the liberal left – both espouse a worldview in which disagreement with behavior equals hatred of the person doing the behavior. ISIS can’t separate Islam’s forbidding of the LGBTQ lifestyle from enacting violence against LGBTQ persons themselves. Liberal progressives insist that Catholics and others who disagree with gay marriage hate gay people, and therefore insist that Catholics et. al. will become violent towards LGBTQ persons.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear: Homosexual acts are morally wrong. Unjust discrimination and violence against LGBTQ persons are also morally wrong. Respect the person while not condoning the behavior. It’s actually very, very simple.
Unless you’re promoting an agenda that depends on shifting blame from the truly guilty party to the group/s you’ve always wanted to silence.
The left will use the Orlando mass murder to silence and punish those who had nothing to do with it: Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Evangelical Christians, non-extremist Muslims, all of whom refuse to acknowledge that marriage can be between two men or two women (or whatever else one feels like marrying). The Holy See has condemned this mass murder, but that won’t matter, because liberal progressive ideology won’t accept that any belief system could legitimately state that it was wrong to murder these people and yet still insist that they not be allowed to marry anyone of their own sex.
Meanwhile, ISIS’s evil will remain unchecked, because the left will continue to insist that ISIS isn’t the problem.
“Catholic Leaders Urge Prayer after Horrific Orlando Shooting,” Catholic News Agency
“Pope Francis Decries Deadly Massacre,” Vatican Radio
“Pope Horrified by Deadly Attack in Orlando,” Catholic News Agency
Posted in Uncategorized on March 6, 2016
I wrote a review of The Witch on Catholic365.com. Read it here.
Posted in Uncategorized on December 21, 2015
Christmas is no longer a Christian holiday.
If you follow Facebook or news on cultural happenings, however, you’ve known this for some time. Christians stole Christmas from the pagans, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, Jesus has nothing at all to do with Christmas, and therefore everyone has a right to this holiday except Christians. Zombie “nativity” scenes are therefore more appropriate than traditional Jesus nativities at this time of year.
There are a few problems with this though, not least of which is the very word Christmas. No one can argue against the linguistic fact that the word Christmas is a compound word, combining the two words Christ’s Mass. Sure, mid-winter celebrations were observed long before the advent of Christianity. But recent evidence points to Christian selection of December 25 as the date on which to celebrate the Incarnation of God’s Word stemming from Judaism rather than paganism. In fact, the Roman Mithras cult may well have stolen December 25 from Christians (why is it that it’s always Christians doing the stealing, and no one ever considers that it might go in the opposite direction?…).
In a nutshell, the new scholarly research goes like this: Because Christ’s purpose in entering the world was to die on the cross to atone for the world’s sin, a tradition developed very early on that the date of Christ’s death coincided with the anniversary of his conception. Another early tradition was that Christ had died on or near a Passover that had occurred on a March 25. Since this event was believed to occur on the anniversary of his conception, his conception was also observed on March 25 (and still is to this day, as the Feast/Solemnity of the Annunciation).
Now – count forward nine months from the date of Christ’s conception on March 25. You’ll find that you arrive at December 25. See how that works?
Not to mention that Christmas, the celebration of the Light entering the world (Jn. 1:14), roughly coincides with the observation of Chanukah, the “Festival of Dedication” that recalls the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple to Jewish worship after it had been compromised by the incorporation of Greek pagan worship into its rites. Since John’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the true Temple, it’s most appropriate that his birth be observed at the time of a festival about the restoration of the Temple’s holiness.
But really, there are so many fun things to do at this time of year that I don’t mind sharing. Atheists are even claiming this joyful season for themselves, as a time with its origins in Santa Claus (who of course has nothing to do with the historical Christian bishop, St. Nicholas of Myra), replete with beautiful lights and decorations, presents galore, sleigh/hay rides, and of course, PARTIES. And you know what? That’s all fine. I actually have no problem with people of any faith or no faith enjoying the wonderful things this otherwise dark and cold time of year has to offer. Why, if an atheist participates in the neighborhood lighting competition and his/her house is truly the best on the block, I’ll even give it my vote.
In this spirit, I thought I would help atheists by providing a list of seasonal songs that would be appropriate for those of no religion to sing. This list includes songs that would be totally inappropriate, as well as an “iffy” category.
Frosty the Snowman: A snowman comes to life when a magical hat is placed on him. Nothing religious here. (In fact, evangelicals may well object to the magic reference!)
Jingle Bells: This one is just about winter. No problem for atheists.
Jingle Bell Rock: Like its predecessor and namesake “Jingle Bells”, this one is just about winter fun.
Let It Snow: Again, just about the weather, this time with some fireside romance thrown in. Lovely!
Baby It’s Cold Outside: Romance in a winter nor’easter, certain to be a winner among folks who don’t share religious objections to casual sex. Nothing to do with Christ’s Mass here.
Santa Baby: Despite the reference to Santa Claus, who is actually based on a Christian saint, this song is all about “give me presents, expensive ones and lots of them,” which is one of the things atheists claim this season is really all about. Not an insurmountable obstacle.
Sleigh Ride: Ah, the warmth of human companionship and the promise of hot cocoa after an old-fashioned sleigh ride through “a wint’ry fairy land”. One of my faves!
Winter Wonderland: Now you might think this belongs in the “Perfectly Fine” category above; but in fact there are scattered references to religion peppered throughout this song. For example, the lyric “In the meadow we can build a snowman/And pretend that he is Parson Brown.” As is common knowledge, parson refers to a Christian Protestant minister. Now if atheists wish to substitute something like “Justice Brown” or “Mister Brown” that would be fine; however we must still deal with lyrics such as “In the meadow we can build a snowman/And pretend that he’s a circus clown/We’ll have lots of fun with Mister Snowman/Until the other kiddies knock him down.” This line includes the gender-specific masculine nouns man and mister, as well as the masculine pronouns he and him. Perhaps the lyric “gender-unspecific snow construct” could be substituted, along with the new, convenient “pronouns” “ze” or “xyr”. However, the violence exhibited by children at the end of this line remains an issue and must be viewed as unacceptable. Whatever they are using to knock down this snow construct has to be banned immediately, and the children themselves must be medicated and given a safe space in which their feelings are known and respected by all.
The Christmas Song: This one is otherwise known as “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”. Not too much objectionable for atheists here (if we change the title to “Chestnuts”), until we come to the end with the words “Although it’s been said many times, many ways/Merry Christmas to you.” Now, as discussed above, Christmas means Christ’s Mass, so a legitimate atheist should object to using this term. Perhaps something like “Happy Winter to you” could be substituted. However, the line “And so I’m offering this simple phrase/To kids from one to 92” poses a problem. Ageism is present. What about people over the age of 92? Do they not deserve to be wished a happy holiday season? Discrimination. Also, what about babies under the age of one? (If, indeed, this age group qualifies as persons at all.)
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Christ’s Mass reference embedded in the verse “There’ll be scary ghost stories/And tales of the glories/Of Chrsistmases long, long ago.” What do you think the “glories of past Christmases” refers to? The glory of the Christ Child, of course! Also, atheists might object to the ghost reference, since this evokes the spirit world and implies the existence of the human soul. However, the reference to “gay happy meetings” is sure to please those who support marriage equality.
Deck the Halls: This one’s less iffy, but the reference to “the ancient Yuletide carol” might gall some atheists, as “Yule” is of course the name for the winter celebration observed by pagans/Wiccans and therefore has religious connotations. At the same time, “Yuletide” has come to be a common way to refer to the time of year, so in this case personal discretion prevails. As with “Most Wonderful Time”, the reference to “gay apparel” can be seen as a progressive and tolerant message (even though when these songs were written, gay meant “happy”. Who really cares about how things originated anyway?).
Mary Did You Know: Obvious. In particular, the line “Your baby boy/Will someday rule the nations” smacks of nationalism/imperialism.
The Holly and the Ivy: Believe it or not, after the first and last verses it’s all about Jesus. Every single verse between the first and last contains the line “And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ”, using the holly tree to describe Jesus’ mission in the world and identity as the world’s Savior. Now, if atheists want to chop the middle and just sing the first and last verses, this could potentially move to the “Perfectly Fine” category above.
Here We Come a-Wassailing: The lyric “God bless you and send you a happy New Year”. ‘Nuff said.
Good King Wenceslas: A Christian king-saint helps the poor because his faith in Christ requires that he help the poor. Hmm.
Up On the Housetop: Now you might be surprised to find this one in the “Absolutely Not” category; but do you really think an atheist would be okay with singing about “Good Saint Nick?” Come on.
Really Anything That Contains the Word Christmas, Because It Actually Means “Christ’s Mass” and Atheists and Non-Christians Really Shouldn’t Be Saying Something They Don’t Believe In. (Yes, This Includes “Rudolph, The Red-nosed Reindeer”, “Pretty Paper”, “Silver Bells”, and “Happy Holiday”.)
In closing, I wish everyone, of all faiths and of no faith, a very merry winter holiday season.
If you can find appropriate songs, that is.
 William J. Tighe, “Calculating Christmas: The Story Behind December 25,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity (12/2003). The Fellowship of St. James, 2015: accessed 12/21/2015, http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v#continue.
Image in the public domain, at https://strawberryindigo.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/a-christmas-gift-in-public-domain.jpg?w=1200
Posted in Uncategorized on November 28, 2015
Check out my recent talk at the Diocese of Hartford (CT) Faith & Formation Congress on Nov. 7, 2015 on my brand new YouTube channel!
Posted in Uncategorized on November 23, 2015
I recently saw a movie called “Do You Believe?” The plot essentially addressed human suffering and the question “Where is God when innocent people suffer and life falls apart?”
At the beginning of the movie, a Protestant minister of indeterminate denomination is sitting in his car when he notices a man carrying a life-sized cross down the street. The cross-carrying man approaches the minister and asks if the minister believes in the power of the Cross of Christ. This gets the minister thinking, and he decides to deliver his next Sunday sermon on the matter.
At this point, I was very excited and intrigued. I thought, “It’s high time a Christian film addressed the problem of human suffering in the light of a good and loving God.” I eagerly waited to see how this would unfold over the course of the film.
So the Sunday arrived for the delivery of the minister’s sermon. I expected to hear something about how the Cross is a sign that God walks with us in suffering, that He loves us through our suffering, that suffering can be redemptive when joined to the suffering of Christ.
Alas, I was disappointed. The point of the sermon was essentially that when someone embraces the Cross of Christ, his or her suffering comes to an end. Christ suffered so we won’t have to.
This was borne out by the remainder of the film, which covered the stories of several down-and-out characters. The minister and his wife suffer the grief of not being able to have children. They take a single, pregnant woman under their wing. There are also a mother and daughter who had been rendered homeless by the death of the husband and father of the family; they meet up with a very devout man who offers them a place to stay. He also happens to be dying of a terminal illness. Well what do you know – at the end of the film, everyone gets what they want. The pregnant woman dies in childbirth, leaving her baby to the minister and his wife. The mother and daughter find good people willing to help them find work and a place to live, leading the little girl to proclaim “See Mommy? God really does love us!”
I can’t emphasize enough how utterly damaging this kind of thing is to real Christian belief. The moral of the story is that God loves people who get stuff. It’s the Gospel of Prosperity run wild. The end of our suffering is proof of God’s love? The suggestion is that God doesn’t love us while we suffer, then changes His mind and loves us when our suffering is all done. Getting what we want is proof that God loves us. That kind of capriciousness is characteristic of pagan deities, but not of the Christian God.
A film, sermon, book, or whatever that claims to examine the meaning of the Cross of Christ must acknowledge that human suffering is redemptive when it is intentionally made a sharing in Christ’s own suffering. Participation in the Cross doesn’t let us off the hook for suffering; it gives us the strength to endure the suffering this crooked world inflicts on us. We suffer with Christ; we don’t get out of suffering because He suffered. But it’s to be expected that a film made by evangelicals, whose atonement theology holds that Christ is a substitute, would present the idea that Christ suffered so we won’t have to; therefore embracing the Cross ultimately means not suffering at all. The Catholic view of participation in Christ’s sufferings is radically different.