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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Why Orlando Was A Tragedy

[Calling the Orlando shooting a tragedy] is a misuse of the term, one that enables our evasions of political reality. It is exactly the opposite of “tragedy” in its classical sense. In his Poetics, Aristotle says that an action is “tragic” when it unfolds in a way that causes the protagonist to suffer, not by happenstance, but in accord with an intrinsic logic. The suffering of the tragic protagonist is fitting. The upshot is catharsis, a release of strong feeling that restores emotional equilibrium. An event is classically “tragic,” then, when suffering is meaningful. We resonate to suffering cathartically when we sense its meaning—and sense that we are implicated in it. 
But when we apply “tragedy” to mass murder, our sense of the word is exactly the opposite of Aristotle’s.
Thus asserts R. Reno, of First Things. Sadly, Reno is exactly wrong. Not in his reference to Aristotle. Tragedy does, indeed, refer to the protagonist's suffering in accordance with intrinsic logic. Rather, he is wrong to refuse the Orlando shooting the title of "tragedy."

Now, the ancient Greeks would agree with Reno. Since Aristotle's confreres had no particular issue with homosexuality, they would see a homosexual wreaking violence upon other homosexuals as senseless, illogical - certainly not a tragedy. Rather, this would be a crime or an act of war.  But Christians cannot agree with the pagan Greeks on this.

Christians recognize that homosexual activity is a sin against God. Now, if we were blinkered, malformed Christians who looked only at the gravity of the sin against God, we would be tempted to agree with the independent Baptist preachers who insist that the suffering and death of the homosexuals in the Pulse was completely just and logical. We would, if we were so spiritually immature, see this as real Aristotelian tragedy: both shooter and victims reaped in their bodies the spiritual violence they had attempted, through their sins, to inflict on God. Cold justice has been served. The pagan necessities are satiated.

But, of course, Christians are not permitted to look only at the gravity of any man's sins against God. Christians are required to look also at how the debt incurred by sin, the debt of suffering and death, is paid. The heart of the Christian message lies not in man's debt, but man's redemption: Christ, an innocent man, paid for our sins; an innocent man suffered and died for sins He had no part in.

For the pagan, for the spiritually immature, this makes no sense. The Greeks did not believe in the all-encompassing love of God. To a society that did not recognize love, the story has no logical coherence. It is a meaningless, pointless death. Thus, as Paul notes, the pagan Greeks saw the Gospel - the innocent Christ Who suffered and died for everyone else's sins - as a folly, not a tragedy.

This is where Christians differ from the pagan Greeks. For the Christian, the Gospel is most certainly a tragedy, because we view it not through the cold logic of the pagan Greek retributive universe, but through the eyes of divine Love. The Cross follows the logic of Love, not the logic of retribution. Thus did the Cross transform the Greek understanding of tragedy into the Christian understanding.

If the Gospel teaches us anything, it teaches us the divine, as opposed to the human, meaning of tragedy. It tells us the complete story: what sin really is, why we deserve to suffer, how Christ took what we deserve onto Himself, leaving us with only the bare dregs of suffering to endure. Once we have Christian eyes, we see that the injustice of history, the illogic of human suffering, lies not in the fact that we suffer and die, but rather in the failure of the world - even the natural world - to recognize the debt Christ's suffering has already paid.

Christ's suffering follows the logic of love. A mother gladly suffers for her child, the beloved suffers for the loved one. The lover takes the punishment so that the beloved does not suffer at all. So, according to the pagans, once Christ paid our debt, we should, according to human eyes, suffer no more. If we follow human understanding, Joel Osteen is right - we should have only a Gospel of Prosperity. According to human understanding, if Christ' suffering really does pay for all, then any suffering we experience is truly meaningless, meaningless in a way that was literally impossible before the Cross. We suffer for a debt that has been paid? How absurd!

Before the Cross, suffering was not absurd. We could honestly see that we deserved our suffering and death. Thus, if the Pulse had happened before the Cross had happened, the Pulse would be a true tragedy: we gain our comeuppance.

But, after the Cross, after the payment is made, our suffering makes no sense, unless... unless...

The only way our suffering has any intrinsic logic, any tragic element, is if our suffering shares in His suffering. Our suffering only has meaning if we suffer for love of Him.  He was innocent, yet He took on our suffering because of His abiding love for us. His suffering made us innocent.

Because He has made us innocent, we can now suffer as only the innocent suffer, as only the Truly Innocent One suffered, and we can now do it as He did it - we can accept our suffering only out of our pure love for the Beloved. Because Christ wiped out our sins, our suffering now can truly conform us to Christ, transform us into Christ. Only when our suffering is united with the suffering of the Cross, only then does our suffering attain truly tragic status again.

Our suffering is not tragic because of the pagan logic of a cold justice, but rather it becomes tragic through the fiery logic of our burning love for God, and more important, His fiery love for us. Our love is a love He taught us, our endurance is now an endurance He taught us, Our love, our willingness to endure suffering, truly becomes a pale, flickering imitation of the God Who is Fire.

We deserved to suffer because we have each fallen short of the glory of God. Christ removed our guilt, and with it, our suffering. And, now that He has made us innocent, we once more gladly shoulder for Him the suffering He gladly shouldered for us, so that we may imitate Him Who loved us.

Once the Cross is in place, our suffering only becomes unjust, it only becomes non-tragic, it only becomes illogical, if it is separated apart from the Cross. Our suffering and death only lacks logic insofar as it fails to recognize or acknowledge that Christ has already paid our debt. It only lacks meaning if it is not endured for love of God.

After the Cross, suffering only fails to share in tragedy insofar as suffering fails to share in the Cross. And it is only in THIS sense that we can refuse to call the Pulse shooting a tragedy. If we refuse to call the shooting a tragedy, we must necessarily assume the people who suffered and died there did not do so in Christ, that they suffered apart from the Cross, that they had no union with Christ whatsoever. To refuse the title "tragedy" to this scene of carnage and death, we must hold these suffering and these dead to be a people unreedemable, condemned to hell.

And thus do we see both First Things' and R. Reno are actually preaching a message indistinguishable from the independent Baptist preachers who chortle over the shootings and revel in the thought that victims and shooter alike burn in hell. Unless we know with mathematical certainty that they are all truly consigned to hell - which no man can know - such revelry is the complete antithesis of the Christian life and worldview. We cannot, in Christian charity, even think such a thing. Christ died for all, for them as well as for us. He may have drawn some or all of them to Himself in ways unknown to the small, shrunken, wizened person, the tremendously finite individual who is me. I have not the mind of Christ. All I know is that it is entirely possible for prostitutes and tax collectors to enter the Kingdom of Heaven before me.

What happened in Orlando was not an attack on our society, for the activities at the Pulse is not what anyone wants society to be. We do not want our society to sin against God. A homosexual gunning down dozens of homosexuals is a sin against God. A Muslim slaughtering victims while he called upon ISIS and Allah so that he might be redeemed by the human slaughter may thinks he commits a redemptive act, but what he commits is evil.

At the Pulse, we saw a non-Christian offering human sacrifice, as all non-Christians eventually do, for all men desperately wish to imitate the Man who sacrificed Himself for men. Even those who openly reject the Cross secretly desire it, even the man who inflicted the slaughter might, despite his most grievous sin and only through the love of Christ, might yet have been saved. And, if he be saved from hell, it is not because of the tremendous evil he committed, but despite of it, not because of the evil he inflicted, but because of the faint, dim image of the Good he, in his twisted understanding, blindly, desperately wanted to do.

Do not hesitate to call Orlando a tragedy, for it was.
It was a tragedy for every soul involved, victims, perpetrator and spectators.
May God have mercy on all our souls.

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