Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy, and Virtue and Vice, Fourth Century, #40-50
The role and meaning of free will plays a dominant role in these paragraphs. God, we are told, has the wisdom to discern our weaknesses and the might to save us. Yet, he will not do so unless we desire it. In short, to be saved our will must be in line with God’s will. Conversely, to save us despite our sin and against our will would be tyranny.
He could not save man, whose will was in the grip of sin, in a tyrannical fashion.
Our own free will, therefore, has a major role in our salvation. By willingly accepting suffering, Christ models for us how to use our will in the way it was intended in order to experience meaningful, everlasting joy.
Paradoxically, his suffering and death ultimately show his might, rather than his weakness.
And this is the paradox of salvation in Christianity. It was through Christ’s suffering and death that we gained a “life that is by nature eternal and of a state of dispassion that is immutable.”
Without Christ, we are caught in the vicious cycle of trying to escape pain through “self-medication:” keeping busy, drinking, pampering ourselves, becoming “workaholics,” losing ourselves in unhealthy relationships, etc. Like addicts self-medicating with drugs, we find ourselves still empty and in pain through meaningless, material pleasures. We often keep increasing our “pleasure dosage,” thus increasing the void and pain.
For in our desire to escape pain we seek refuge in pleasure, and so try to bring relief to our nature, hard pressed as it is by the torment of pain. But through trying in this way to blunt pain with pleasure, we but increase our sum of debts, for we cannot enjoy pleasure that does not lead to pain and suffering.
To free us from this bondage, Christ did the opposite. He willingly embraced suffering which ultimately led to resurrection and eternal joy.
He submitted deliberately to the or mutation. which comes through sin – that is, for the destruction of pleasure and of the tyranny of sin committed in pursuit of pleasure, and the lordship of the painful death consequent upon sin.
Christ was able to experience suffering because he had accepted to be born in the flesh, as man. This is the source of our hope as humans. By choosing pain as a man, he made it possible for us to also break the pleasure-pain syndrome and direct our lives to meaningful and eternal pleasure.
For the dominion of pleasure and pain clearly applies to what is passible in human nature.
Why did Christ embrace so much suffering to bring about our salvation? In his haste to find a shortcut to pleasure when he wanted it, where he wanted it and on his own terms, Adam experienced pain as punishment for his sin. In his case, this was a well-deserved punishment. Christ’s sufferings, on the contrary, were not the consequences of sin. They were freely chosen and, hence, destroyed the pleasure-pain syndrome and broke the cycle that held us captive.
With Christ, our lives are more than the avoidance of pain at all costs; more than what we can see, touch and feel.
By assuming human nature, God “bestowed on human nature a new or second form of generation leading us through suffering