Then said our good lord, asking: “Art thou well apaid [satisfied] that I suffered for thee?” I said: “Ya good lord, gramercy. Ya, good lord, blessed may thou be.” Then said Jesus, our good lord: “If thou art satisfied, I am satisfied. It is a joy, a bliss, an endless liking to me that ever I suffered my passion for thee. And if I might suffer more, I would suffer more.”
From Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century to Anselm of Canterbury in the eleventh (as well as during the scholastic debates of the medieval period), theologians taught that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the settlement of a “debt” owed to God the Father for the grave disobedience of original sin. Because no mere human being could pay such a debt, it was necessary for the Son of God to become man, suffer, and die in order to atone for the sin of Adam. At the same time, the Savior had to “buy back” humanity from the clutches of Satan with the price of his own blood. By dying on the cross, Christ “paid the debt” of original sin, made complete satisfaction to divine justice, restored humanity to the image and likeness of God, and overcame the power of evil.
Given this deeply-embedded theological context, it is all the more astounding that here, Julian hears Christ ask her, pointedly: “Art thou well apaid?” He is implying that by dying on the cross, in fact he intended to make restitution to sinners for the terrible suffering caused by their own sins! It is obvious from the way Julian stammers repeatedly to say, “Ya, good Lord, gramercy,” that she herself was astounded by Christ’s question. She simply cannot fathom the Lord’s eager concern to know if he has done enough to show her his love. (And he asks this not only of Julian, but of every one of us.)
Even more, Julian hears Christ tell her that if she is satisfied, then he is satisfied—as if he was waiting for her full approval. He even adds that if he could have suffered more, he would have suffered more. From this startling locution, Julian is given profound insight into “the mind of Christ” that she had long desired. In an interior voice, Jesus tells her why he endured his passion and death: to prove his love and compassion for the suffering of human beings.
Yes, sin is a grave offense against the law and the love of God. Yes, it must be atoned for by suffering. But God does not cause that suffering; we bring it on ourselves. According to the natural consequences of actions that are contrary to the divine law of love, every sin against the goodness and justice of God produces a comparable form of suffering. If we lie, we will be lied to. If we cheat, we will be cheated. If we hurt another, we will be hurt ourselves. If we betray, we will be betrayed. If we erupt in anger and violence, we will experience anger and violence. If we “take the sword [we] will perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52). That’s the way the moral universe works.
Far from demanding our suffering, the Father sent his only Son to suffer and die out of compassion for what we have to suffer. The implications of this revelation are mind-boggling: by taking on our flesh and blood, Christ took on our sin and our suffering. He learned what human beings have to endure because of sin. Because “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8), now every physical pain, every emotional upheaval, every spiritual conflict acquires redemptive meaning. Everything may be suffered in union with Christ for our own salvation and that of the whole world. Now we may be confident that everything will be transformed by Christ’s own suffering into his eternal glory.
And for this little pain that we suffer here, we shall have a high, endless knowing in God, which we might never have without that pain. And the harder our pains have been with him on his cross, the more shall our honor be with him in his kingdom.
Are we able to hear Jesus ask us if we are “well apaid”—that is, completely satisfied—by his joyful sacrifice for us? Do we believe that Christ is so deeply compassionate toward our own personal sufferings? Can we accept, as Julian learned to do, that “it is God’s will that we have true delight with him in our salvation, and that we be mightily comforted and strengthened therein?”
As we approach Holy Week, may we walk with Christ to his cross and thank him “mightily” for all he has suffered out of love for us. And may we offer to bear our own crosses out of love for him. Then we shall surely taste his exultant joy on Easter morning.
For we are his bliss, for in us he delights without end, and so shall we in him with his grace. All that he has done for us, and does, and ever shall, was never cost nor charge to him nor might be, but only that he did it in our humanity, beginning at the sweet incarnation, and lasting to the blessed resurrection on Easter morrow.
Please Note: Translations from the Middle English and excerpts above are from my book, An Explorer’s Guide to Julian of Norwich (IVP Academic Press) © Copyright by Veronica Mary Rolf.