Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Christ's Victory Over Death Doesn't Wait For Us To Die

Trusting Jesus means having no fear to die.
It should also mean having no fear to live.

You may have seen a headline over the summer about a professional golfer who wants to live to age 130. His name is Bryson DeChambeau. He believes that improving medical technology—along with forward-thinking diet and exercise—will make this goal achievable for his generation. DeChambeau is 27. So, he's got a ways to go. He discussed his lofty target in an interview that leaves plenty of questions unanswered.

The Dilemma

First of all, why? Granted, staying alive is the default human ambition. You probably did at least something today under the motivation of not dying, and you feel no need to explain that choice. Nonetheless, if you want to live a good 50 years beyond the average lifespan, that's a philosophical decision. You should have a reason why you want to live to 130 instead of to 80. That brings us to another question.

What does DeChambeau plan to do in those additional 50 years? Yes, he's chosen the one sport that somewhat forgives aging, but even if 80 years of life is not enough living, surely 80 years of golf is more than enough golfing. How is he going to spend his platinum years? Also, what does he want at the end? Does he want to know when he's finally made it there? Let's transition this thought experiment to the life of faith.

The Difference

In his book, A Cross-Shattered Church, Stanley Hauerwas points out that Christians in earlier times wanted to know when they were nearing death. He refers us to the Great Litany of the Episcopal Church, in which the pray-er petitions to be spared "dying suddenly and unprepared." Stan contrasts that idea to the modern desire to die in one's sleep after a day like any other. Short of that luxury, we hope for doctors skilled enough to keep me alive to the point that I don't know I'm dead. We want to be here, and then not, without facing reality in between. That makes sense enough, unless you believe death is not something to fear.

Christians can live without fear of death because we know that in Jesus God made good on his promise from Isaiah 25:8.

He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

By his own death Christ defeated the power of death. So trusting Jesus means having no fear to die, and also having no fear to live. That is, we can live without fear of failing to cheat death. We can reject the scams this world peddles as ways to beat death. Let's consider a couple of these bogus prospects.

1. The Robust Life

This idea says that if you do everything you ever wanted to do and go everywhere you ever wanted to go and own everything you every wanted to hold, then, congratulations—death cannot defeat you, because you've gotten everything you wanted out of life anyway. This idea has plenty of problems.

Firstly, well—read Ecclesiastes. So few of the things we long for get even close to delivering the satisfaction we imagined they could. Secondly, there's always something else. Desire is part of our makeup. Only those who train their desire on righteousness and holiness will be satisfied. For the rest of us, there will always be a next thing that we want. Finally, this approach simply saddles us with a different kind of fear—the fear of not accomplishing everything on the list. What if I have an unexpected expense and then can't afford the Paris trip?

2. Transcendence

We're still reading Shakespeare. While few of us aspire to that level of relevance after death, the world still tempts us in the same way on a smaller scale. If we can just make a name for ourselves in some circle of influence, we'll be remembered—at least for a little while, at least by somebody. The world touts legacy as a sort of immortality. This idea also fails. First of all, any scheme for cheating death that uses immortality metaphorically is a fantasy. And, again, it leaves us fearful. How can I ever be sure that I've done enough, said enough, or achieved enough to be remembered?

The Way

Trusting Jesus means we don't have to play these games, or any others. We don't have to find a way to cheat death because Jesus has already conquered death, and his victory over death doesn't wait for us to die. Jesus frees us to live today. Any attempt on our own to establish meaningfulness in life doesn't really constitute living. Rather, it becomes toil—toiling to find some way to defy the fearfulness of death.

To toil is part of the curse of sin. Jesus not only swallows up death, he also removes the reproach of his people. The curse still mars this world, but we don't have to be slaves to it. The answer to escaping the curse of this world isn't stretching our time in this world to 130 years. Rather, it depends on the One who is making this world new. Jesus liberates us to love God and love others without being fearful to die and without being fearful to live!


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