On occasion I have written on topics that seem to scandalize readers, or certainly cause difficulty for many. Some of those topics have been my treatment of the wrath of God; the radical forgiveness of everyone for everything; the commonality of our life and our salvation; and most recently my posting on giving thanks always for all things (there are others as well). I am not a purposeful contrarian – I do not write in order to create any sensation. But I have an inherent instinct about the path of salvation and the part played by skandalon (a cause of stumbling).
Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame (Romans 9:33).
I believe that the first and great skandalon is Pascha itself: Christ’s death on the Cross, His descent into Hades, and His resurrection. Indeed St. Paul describes Christ crucified as a skandalon (1 Cor. 1:23). What haunts my thoughts is the question, “How are these things a “stumbling block” for us. Why do we so easily track our way through Christian doctrine finding our own moral failings as the only “stumble” within our life. It is as though the Christian faith has been “tamed,” brought into a religious system and lost all scandal. I suspect that this phenomenon (even among the Orthodox) to be the conversion of Christianity into a religion – a pious activity that saves none.
Pascha runs utterly contrary to this world: from death comes Life. But this “principle” of Pascha is manifest in many other ways: we lose so that we might gain; we forgive that we might be forgiven; we love those who hate us; we give thanks where no thanks would be expected, etc.
It is this “contrarian” nature of Pascha that forms is skandalon. The “Jews” would not have found Christ crucifixion to be a stumbling-block, nor the Greeks found his crucifixion to be “foolishness,” were they not contrary to all that these great cultural stalwarts expected. Pascha is not the work of man, but of God.
By the same token, the way of the Cross, is the way of Pascha, the way of “contradiction” so far as the wisdom and rationality of this world are concerned. It is the rationality of the Kingdom of God.
Without this contrary element, this skandalon, Christianity may be noble or kind, but it falls short of the kingdom. Our faith must not be only about doctrines concerning Christ and what He has done for us (which easily becomes reduced to mere religion). Our faith must be a way of living that is itself a manifestation of the Cross of Christ – a contradiction to the world and an affirmation of the Kingdom of God.
Thus it is that I find myself drawn to those practical instances in which the Kingdom transports us into this “way of contradiction.” The radical demand that we “forgive everyone for everything” is a manifestation of Pascha, a contradiction of the way of retaliation, a proclamation that something has occurred that destroys all such debts. The same is true in the commandment to love those who hate us – nothing could be more contradictory to that which seems reasonable – but it bears witness to the “reason” of Pascha. To give thanks for all things, will take us to a place of contradiction, a place where the goodness of God is utterly triumphant, despite the deep tragedies that confront our lives.
All such gospel actions bring the skandalon of the Kingdom into true focus within our lives. They are invariably the signs that accompany the saints and the invitation to every believer to embrace the Cross and become a witness of the Kingdom.
No idea, no doctrine, no words can replace such actions – united as they are with the actions of Christ and God’s holy Pascha.
There is another rationality of our faith – but it is largely expressed in ideas and words. It’s struggle is to believe one thing and not another. But as such, it reduces our faith as simply one belief system among a world of competing belief systems. The Pascha of Christ is the end of all belief systems. With His crucifixion all human efforts to explain or understand are brought to an end. Indeed, it is the end of all things. To walk into Christ’s Pascha, is to walk into the great skandalon, the contradiction of religion and the negation of the reason of this world.
I cannot do more than to suggest such points within the gospel and then to walk in them. The contradiction which we find within such points, I believe, is the very call of the gospel – that which caused Apostles to hesitate. But these very points are the points of salvation. They are the gospel birthed yet again into the world.