Sunday, November 18, 2012

Making God Bleed

In the movie "Iron Man 2", there's a great scene in which Tony Stark confronts the villain in a prison cell, hoping to understand the villain, his motives, etc. etc.  Amidst the witty dialogue, exposition-setting, and foreshadowing and whatnot, the villain makes an interesting philosophical comment:

Ivan Vanko: If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him.

Most people don't think too much more about that line.  But I am not most people.  I focused on that line the rest of the movie, and still ponder it frequently.  If you could make God bleed, would people lose faith in him?  The movie seemed to make that assertion, and so does out culture.  Take the case of General Petraeus, the most recent of history's laundry list of sex scandals.  A month ago, it seemed as though there was nobody quite like Petraeus, indeed, he was a God-like figure.  Powerful, a clean cut military man who valiantly and charismatically led his troops into battle, now turned chief spy for the U.S.  As far as giants in the power structure of the world go, Petraeus was one of them.  However, his vulnerability and failures as a person are now splayed across international news; the man entrusted with some of the greatest secrets of the world rendered vulnerable and weak by the charms of a woman.  Soap operas can't even compete with this stuff.  If Petraeus was a God-like figure, we now see him bleed, and an entire nation loses their faith in him.

Admit it, no matter what sort of
moral fortitude you possessed,
you were fascinated by this man's
And, strangely enough, isn't this the cycle of human history?  The rise and fall of great men, gods in their own right, until somehow they face their vulnerability.  Achilles had his heel, Caesar had the Roman Senate, Byzantium had Mehmet II, Napoleon had Waterloo, and so on and so forth.  Human civilization is built of great men and falls when these men (literally or metaphorically) bleed.  Even more strangely enough, we enjoy this cycle.  We participate in what Romans called delectatio morosa the Germans call it schadenfreude. It is the delight in the misfortune of others.  Tabloids fly off the shelves and Entertainment Tonight is on air because everyone loves a good scandal.  We love watching Tiger Woods play golf.  But we couldn't get enough of him when his affair was made public.  Do we feel bad for him?  Yes.  Do we want him to suffer?  Probably not.  But boy, are we entertained and invigorated by it.  Indeed, we love the downfall of great men because it show us that great men are, behind all their shimmering splendor, human, and thus not really great.  I would even go as far as saying we, in some dark corner of our soul, crave the downfall of all great men, just so we no longer have to believe in their greatness.

So then, is the villain right?  If you could make God bleed, would people cease to believe in him?

Christianity has an unique place in this discussion.  Namely, because we actually tried it.  While the world looks at the cyclical rise and fall of great men and thinks, "If only we could make God Himself bleed, then he too would fall,"  we were the ones crazy enough to do it.  When a Jewish carpenter made the audacious claim that he was the Son of God and had miraculous credibility to that claim, we crucified him.  We scourged him, made him bleed profusely until he died in one of the most gruesome ways we could imagine, and we sealed him away in a tomb.  We struck a fatal blow upon God and killed him so that we might not have believe in him.  And the most extraordinary thing happened. 

Jesus Christ, the Author of Life, was slain by men, and as the direct fruit of that, Christianity has enraptured the world.  History's greatest certainty, the ebb and flow of power, was turned on its head on Easter morning.  Jesus Christ died and conquered death itself in the Resurrection, and in Heavenly glory, he undermined everything we've ever known about greatness.  Christianity is unlike anything in the world.  Everything in the world is built and sustained on the basis of strength.  Successful institutions, corporations, and nations are built by strong men, for strong men, and through strong men (and/or women, in case you get yourself in a tizzy over such meager distinctions).  Successful things succeed because of the exploitation of their strengths and fail because of the exploitation of their weaknesses, or so the world would say.  Not so for Christianity, which was built upon the spilled blood of the Most Innocent.  It was Jesus Christ's cross, his weakness, and not his strength that laid the foundations for Christendom.  

The Church is not born out of the illusion of man's strength, but out of defeat of his weakness by Christ on the cross.  You see, it was precisely because God bled and died that we have the audacity to believe in him.  Let the Holy Mass be the glittering testimony to this fact; in all of Christianity, there is no more glorious moment than when the Body and Blood of Christ are elevated for all of heaven and earth to see and believe. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ dredged deep in the heart of man and left everyone in every age, from greatest emperor to lowest serf, in utter awe and amazement.  In it, we see greatness eternal, greatness eternal, greatness itself. 

Why do we wish to topple great men and their great things?  Because we know that they are not really great.  No matter how strong the Strong Man is, he will die.  No matter how tall the tallest tower is, or how shiny the shiniest monument is, it will crumble to ruin or lose its splendor.  Great men are not great because even the greatest of men fall and die.  But Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, died and now lives eternally, and it his passage through death into eternal life that makes him, truly and eternally, great.  This is why we believe in a bloodied God, why we can look in confidence and laugh at a flabbergasted world and say "We made God bleed, and because we did so, we believe."

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