Friday, November 30, 2012

A life extended or made new?

It seems that our preoccupation with health and medicine is consistent with our preoccupation with the extension of mortal life.  We want a healthy life, a happy life, and, if the first two apply, a long life.  Listen to the commercials.  We want a face lift.  We want to get rid of all the wrinkles and we want to eradicate the effects of aging.  We do not yearn for new life but for the same old life -- minus our complaints, of course.

Russell Moore touches on this point.  If it were not that you were forever captive to the cold, perhaps a vampire's life would not be so bad.  If it did not encapsulate death for eternity, perhaps a zombie's life might not be so bad.  The horror of such beings is that death is not freedom but the prolonging of the weakness, the making of the mortal immortal.  Born of a slave culture in which if even death cannot free you, you can never be free, we have beings enslaved to their slavery forever.

Part of the Christian witness is to expose the great lie that extending life is an acceptable substitute for life made new (everlasting life).  Sadly, Christians have trivialized the promise of the Gospel and tended to shape the immortal with the characteristics of the mortal -- to the point where it seems all that is different is the length of it all.  We have taken the promise of life made new and settled instead for an old life made bearable and an old life extended. 

The biblical story of the Fall of humanity is one of a humanity that comes under the sway of death by obeying the appetite. God places a fiery sword around the Garden of Eden, Genesis tells us, so that the primeval humans wouldn’t eat of the Tree of Life and live forever. Why? It’s because God didn’t want to consign humanity to a never-ending existence of this kind of walking death. He sentences us to the curse of death so that, ultimately, we can be redeemed.

The gospel tells us that, apart from Christ, we were walking in the flesh, that is slavishly obeying our biological impulses and appetites without the direction of the Spirit. As such, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). But we weren’t inert. We instead, though dead, “walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2). We were walking dead slaves.

And, in our death, our appetites weren’t silenced but instead drove us along. This walking death, the Apostle Paul writes, was driven along as we “carried out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3).

Moore has it exactly right.  To extend this mortal life, even one cleansed of most of its troubles, is to become the walking dead for eternity.  We do not need this.  We do not really want this.  But we have come to settle for this instead of exploring more fully the promise of the Gospel which makes all things new -- even people.

Moore again:
The gospel doesn’t just extend our lives forever into eternity. That’s what we, left to ourselves, think we want. The rich young ruler asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life, but Jesus points out that he wants to eternalize his present state rather than to be hidden in the life of Jesus himself. That’s a zombie walk, and Jesus loves us too much for that.

Jesus offers instead life, and that abundantly, as we eat of his flesh, drink of his blood, share in his triumph over the accusing slavemaster.

Our devotion to ecology, our blush at the color green, our youth culture, and our quest for the right drug to squeeze a few more years from these mortal bodies -- they all distract us from the reality of our prison and the promise of God which is better than today minus its down side.  It is a sign of our fallen natures that we scoff at the promise of life made new and eternal while bowing at the altar of a today extended to eternity.  How can a world hope for more when even Christians seem willing to settle for that which is so much less?

Don't believe me?  Just listen to a hundred or so sermons trying to decipher the idea of the abundant life Jesus promises to us?  Then try to find a sermon written on Paul's promise of that which is beyond imagination -- which, as Scripture says, eye cannot see, heart cannot desire, and mind cannot conceive.  We have traded in the treasure of an eternal lifetime (now there's an oxymoron -- eternal lifetime) for the cheap imitation of a life well lived, a well lived life a little longer, and an eternity which is basically an extension of the present minus some of the bad stuff.  It is no wonder that such a Gospel does not sell to a world living in the shadow of death.  It is a wonder that so many folks come to church every week to hear about a life which is such a shallow imitation of the promised one.

We need to preach more powerfully and profoundly the promise of what is to come so that we will be less content to settle for a little bit more of what we already have.


Anonymous said...

A wonderful post and prelude to Advent. Thank you, Father!

Anonymous said...

One of the great saints of God pass into glory yesterday morning. She was 98 years old. She had been my friend since I first met her as a college freshman, over 50 years ago, and she has been like a second mother to me.

Her faith was always an inspiration to me. I knew that her life was filled with many difficulties and hardships. She and her husband were both musicians, and that does not lend itself to having much of this world's goods. He was professor of organ at the small college I where I began my education, and she was concert master for the Austin, TX, symphony orchestra. Their life was filled with music, and I was privileged to be in their home many times. He also played the organ (a pump organ) at the small Episcopal Church where they were members, and they were truly people of faith.

She told me once that she had no fear of dying. She had experienced a "near death" episode as a small child, so she knew what to expect. She was fully prepared, and ready to go at any time in her life. I was much inspired by this grand lady, Mrs. Doris Penick.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest