Monday, December 29, 2008

Judas, God, and Hell

For those furiously revising and revisiting Judas traditions in the wake of the discovery and continued study of the Gospel of Judas, it might do some good to read Borges' short story, "Three Versions of Judas." It is, as usual, labyrinthine in presentation, provocative, and amazing! The story, using basically just the canonical Gospels and some heresiological reports, revises the relationship between Jesus, God, and Judas.

It suggests that Judas seems unnecessary. For a teacher who performs public miracles in the day and has a large following, it should not be difficult to find him. Therefore, Judas' betrayal seems superfluous. It seems to exist only for the purpose of damning Judas. Yet it is a superfluity that signals that something else is going on in the story, something subterranean.

The Word, when it was made flesh, passed from ubiquity to space, from eternity to history, from limitless satisfaction to change and death; in order to correspond to such a sacrifice, it was necessary that one man, in representation of all men, make a sacrifice of condign nature. Judas Iscariot was that man. Judas, alone among the apostles, sensed the secret divinity and terrible intent of Jesus. The Word had been lowered to mortal condition; Judas, a disciple of the Word, could lower himself to become an informer (the worst crime in all infamy) and reside amidst the perpetual fires of hell.

Judas, therefore, reflects Jesus, Jesus' descent. He is Jesus' counterpart, in some way. While the Word came into the world and the world knew him not, Judas is the only person to sense Jesus' divine nature. He betrays not out of greed, but out of asceticism. He does not mortify his body as commonplace ascetics do; he mortifies his soul:

He renounced honor, morality, peace and the kingdom of heaven, just as others, less heroically, renounce pleasure.

He premeditates the worst sin, the sin that lacks any taint of morality or any positive traits: betrayal of trust.

There is another thing to consider: if God became man in the fullest sense, God must be capable of sin. Sinlessness and humanity cannot coincide. To err is human, to speak. Moreover, to LIMIT God-as-man's suffering to a mere afternoon on a cross to save all humans is blasphemy. It seems too tiny of a price for the salvation of all.

Where is all of this leading? Mortification of the spirit is greater than mortification of the body. The world knew the Word not, but Judas knew him. Judas' betrayal earns him eternal suffering. To say that God suffered a mere afternoon is NOT ENOUGH. In short, to save the world eternally, God must suffer eternally.

The famous text, "For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of the dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:2-3) is, for many, a future vision of the Saviour at the moment of his death; for others (for example, for Hans Lassen Martensen), a refutation of the beauty which vulgar opinion attributes to Christ; for Runeberg, the punctual prophesy not of a moment but of the whole atrocious future, in time and in eternity, of the Word made flesh. God made Himself totally a man but a man to the point of infamy, a man to teh point of reprobation and the abyss. To save us, He could have chosen any of the destinies which make up the complex web of history; He could have been Alexander or Pythagoras or Rurik or Jesus; He chose the vilest destiny of all: He was Judas.

To revile one's flesh on the cross was not enough. To become Jesus was not low enough. To save humanity, God mortified his spirit, and now and forever dwells in the torments of hell as Judas.

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