Monday, December 5, 2016
I am dying. . .
The conversation began with the usual polite amenities. "How are you?' The answer to that was not typical or polite but blunt and truthful. "I am dying." At first I thought something had happened -- something which I had not yet heard. A diagnosis. A disease. A timetable. There were none of these. In fact, my friend was relatively healthy. He was old -- which is not a diagnosis or a disease. But his increasing age and the limitations that had come with that age had left him with an unmistakable and undeniable view of his future. He was dying. That was his future. Until that death, no tomorrow could be taken for granted. He was not depressed. He was not in despair. But he was not in denial either. Heaven and earth may pass away but the Word of the Lord endures forever (and in Him I too am given the life that death cannot overcome).
The truth is that most of us are in denial. We act as if death were not a reality or had become normal or perhaps even a friend (at least to the suffering or those whose mental fragility had stolen their memories). We have made our peace with the reality of death. It is shocking to us when we admit death's reality not as friend or benign stage of life but our enemy and God's.
We live in an age in which sin is no longer a problem. We have learned from Genesis what to do with sin. Like Eve of old, we spread it around so that if all are guilty, none is. Like Adam of old, we cover it up and presume that the guilt and shame will disappear. When that does not work, we run and hide. When that does not work, we blame others. And when none of this will suffice, we simply define the behavior as something other than sin. This is an improvement upon Adam and Eve but even then it does not eradicate sin; it simply re-categorizes the sin. It works as long as words mean what we want them to mean and nothing more or less.
Having dealt with sin, we have only death to deal with. Technology offers us the hope (not all that realistic) that a magic pill (potion) or magic machine will postpone death. We have redefined life so that it is only life when we call it life. The unborn are not alive. Soon, neither the aged or infirm. And already we are toying with allowing the individual to define when life is worth living and when it is not (physician assisted suicide). We have chosen to make life what we want it to be. As long as we are healthy, can do what we want, and come to some measure of contentment (happiness), we will postpone death and when any of these things interfere with our life, we will see death as the circle of life now complete. We have adopted the flesh/spirit categories of life in which the body is useful to me but not me and the spirit (whatever that may be or however we may choose to define it) rules over the body in life and is set free in death to join with all the dead and nature itself (illustrated by movie theology from The Lion King to Avatar. So death can only take from us that which we are willing to grant it and bestows upon us the future we desire.
I am dying. That is the voice of the Spirit speaking through us the truth that everything around us would deny. Sin does not require my consent to exist and death is foe whether or not I see it as my enemy. When we see sin for what it is and when we acknowledge death for what it is, that is the work of the Spirit alone. My friend was speaking from the vantage point not of a doctor's prognosis but as a man of faith. I am dying, too. Every night when I lay my head on my pillow I practice for death; sleep is what many have called "the little death." I am not depressed when I say this nor am I reflecting a medical opinion. I am speaking from the vantage point of faith. Were it not for the Spirit who teaches me not only sin and death but of forgiveness and life in Christ, I would be depressed and so would he. When we confess our sin and we admit death as our enemy, we do so as people of faith, guided by the Spirit, and delivered to Him who has power over sin and death.
The Gospel we proclaim does not mask the reality of sin or death but confronts is with the power of God in His incarnate Son. We have no mere helps to a happier or easier or better today to offer -- such aids are temporal and temporary. We proclaim the truth that answers the guilty conscience so that we may be free to live the new life baptism bestows and we proclaim the life that death cannot overcome -- no mere illusion of life and no mere spiritual conception of life but real life with new flesh -- like Jesus.