Tag Archives: death

Practicing for Death

“At least three times a day, deny yourself some tiny, legitimate pleasure, such as the extra cigarette, the second drink, or the extra lump of sugar, in order to discipline your spirit and keep mastery over yourself for the love of God.

These little “deaths” are so many rehearsals for the final death. Dying is a masterpiece, and to do it well, we must die daily: ‘If any man would come after me, let him…take up his cross daily’ (Luke 9:23).” – Fulton Sheen’s Wartime Prayer Book, via HouseUnseen

I like the idea that we have to practice for death. I touched on it here after reading Pilgrim’s Progress.

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Scattered Thoughts: West Nile, Already and Not Yet, and Death

Two of my favorite lectures ever have concerned the idea of already/not yet or the “overlapping of the ages.”  Basically, before Jesus, the Jews conceived of two ages: the Present Age and the Age to Come, which were two distinct ages separated by the resurrection of the dead.

Once Christ came, died, and was raised, things got confusing.  He had brought the Age to Come (characterized by Life, Glory, Power, etc) into the Present Age, where things like sickness and sin were still happening.  And, he promised that he was the “first fruits” of the resurrection of the dead – that we would follow him.  He had Already brought his kingdom to earth (“The kingdom of heaven is at hand”), but it is Not Yet fully realized (“Thy kingdom come”).  It will be realized when he returns. We live in that in between time – the overlap of the present age and the age to come, where we face sickness, sin, and death, but live with the kingdom power of God, too.

Here’s a diagram:

(This is a woefully inadequate description of a beautiful idea.  If you know of good resources where this is explained better, please list them in the comments.)

Assorted thoughts from the most recent lecture I heard on this topic:

  • This is a good framework for understanding my body’s tension with West Nile: already healed (no antibodies, which means I’m not fighting the virus anymore) and not yet healed (fatigued and in pain).  I can see the grander cosmic already/not yet tension through the smaller lens of my body’s already/not yet tension with West Nile.
  • This lecture was discussing already/not yet to get to an idea that Paul might be read as an apocalyptic author.  The strange thing about reading a New Testament author as compared to a traditional Jewish apocalypse (apocalypse means revelation) is that now God’s apocalypse has come – His revelation is Jesus.
  • The NT often talks about the end being near, and we sometimes struggle with how to interpret that.  Possibly, they were looking at previous history.  All these hundreds and thousands of years, the Jews had been waiting for prophecies to be fulfilled.  With the coming of Jesus, all the promises of the Old Testament were fulfilled.  So, there was nothing left to wait for!  And if there’s nothing left to wait for, you must be at the end.
  • The Corinthians seem to have expected Paul to be a strong, powerful ambassador of the age to come.  But, he says

    But we [we apostles?] have this treasure [the gifts and power that go with the Age to Come, like healing] in jars of clay [our weak selves], to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 [brackets mine]

    He’s essentially saying, “No no no, that’s not the point. It’s better for us to show you that our weak selves, products of the present age, are receiving God’s gifts from the Age to Come.  It’s not our power – it’s all God’s.

  • Let me paste that quote again:

    10 …always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, SO THAT the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, SO THAT the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

James Dunn wrote, “…Only when believers are fully one with Christ in his death will it be possible for them to be fully one with Christ in his resurrection.”

I’m not really sure how to write why those two quotes struck me so.  I’d also just read the passage in Pilgrim’s Progress when Christian passes through the river (death) and emerges, shedding his mortal stuff so that he will be able to enter the Celestial City.  Something about how death is a thing that God uses to sanctify us.  It’s not just that you’ve reached the end of your life and it’s over so we call it Death; it’s a thing.  And, for the Christian, it’s a powerful thing that God uses to make us holy and draw us to him.

And, Paul says he’s always carrying Jesus’s death in his body SO THAT the life of Jesus may be manifested.  I understand this to mean that, because Paul is weak, whatever strength Christ gives him shines forth.  
Later in 2 Corinthians he writes that God said, “…my power is made perfect in weakness.”  That’s a good reminder for me (and others) as I live in the “not yet” reality of weakness and sickness.

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Malaria, Where is Thy Sting?

“This day relenting God hath placed within my hand, a wondrous thing; and God be praised.  At His command,

Seeking His secret deeds with tears and toiling breath, I find thy cunning seeds, O million-murdering Death.

I know this little thing a myriad men will save. O Death, where is thy sting? Thy victory, O Grave?”

– Ronald Ross, 1897 – after discovering that malaria lives in a mosquito’s stomach

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Miracles

I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ Miracles – a philosophical work examining whether miracles (“an interference with Nature by a super-natural power”) are possible.  It was a bit dense to start, but it picked up speed and the whole experience was incredibly worth it.  I especially loved the chapters on the miracles of the incarnation, resurrection, and examining Jesus’ miracles (separated into works of the “Old Creation” – like multiplying loaves – and works of the “New Creation” – like raising Lazarus).  The final appendix discusses prayer, divine intervention, and time, and really helped me think about intercessory prayer (I’ve often struggled with understanding its purpose).

Here are a few neat quotes, violently ripped out of context, that I enjoyed: (the list is limited to the sections I read while I had the means to record quotes and is thus woefully incomplete)

In science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.

Theology offers you a working arrangement, which leaves the scientist free to continue his experiments and the Christian to continue his prayers.

… part of a long and beautiful argument in the chapter called “On Probability.”  If we accept science/nature as absolute, things fall apart on closer inspection (why should nature be logical? etc.)  Lewis, here, makes the point with Chesterton – if we’ll allow one thing that makes no sense (the Christian God), everything else falls into place.

 

Almost the whole of Christian theology could perhaps be deduced from the two facts (a) That men make coarse jokes, and (b) That they feel the dead to be uncanny.  The coarse joke proclaims that we have here an animal which finds its own animality either objectionable or funny.  Unless there had been a quarrel between the spirit and the organism I do not see how this could be: it is the very mark of the two not being ‘at home’ together.  But it is very difficult to imagine such a state of affairs as original–to suppose a creature which from the very first was half shocked and half tickled to death at the mere fact of being the creature it is… Our feeling about death is equally odd…In reality we hate the division which makes possible the conception of either corpse or ghost.

On death:

It [death] is mercy because by willing and humble surrender to it Man undoes his act of rebellion and makes even this depraved and monstrous mode of Death an instance of that higher and mystical Death which is eternally good and a necessary ingredient in the highest life… Our enemy, so welcomed, becomes our servant.

Death is, in fact, what some modern people call ‘ambivalent’.  It is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.

Discussing the bodily resurrection and physical sacraments and a real heaven in the most beautiful passage on it ever (possibly excepting the passages in Narnia that borrow heavily from this one):

There is in our present pilgrim condition plenty of room (more room than most of us like) for abstinence and renunciation and mortifying our natural desires.  But behind all asceticism the thought should be, ‘Who will trust us with the true wealth if we cannot be trusted even with the wealth that perishes?’ Who will trust me with a spiritual body if I cannot control even an earthly body?  These small and perishable bodies we now have were given to us as ponies are given to schoolboys.  We must learn to manage: not that we may some day be free of horses altogether but that some day we may ride bare-back, confident and rejoicing, those greater mounts, those winged, shining and world-shaking horses which perhaps even now expect us with impatient, pawing and snorting in the King’s stables.  Not that the gallop would be of any value unless it were a gallop with the King; but how else – since He has retained His own charger – should we accompany Him?

 

What are your favorite parts?

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“Some Thoughts” on Death

Of all men, we hope most of death [as in, not being the end of all, but a passage to an even more real life]; yet nothing will reconcile us to—well, its unnaturalness. We know that we were not made for it; we know how it crept into our destiny as an intruder; and we know Who has defeated it.

Because Our Lord is risen we know that on one level it is an enemy already disarmed; but because we know that the natural level also is God’s creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance. Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other.

– C.S. Lewis, “Some Thoughts”

 

Posted here so I don’t lose it.

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We Were Dead To Begin With

“Once again, I must ask you to remember that the Marleys were dead, and decaying in their graves.
That one thing you must remember, or nothing that follows will seem wondrous.”
– Gonzo as Charles Dickens in The Muppet Christmas Carol

Our mutual love for The Muppet Christmas Carol greatly contributed to Greg and me getting married.  This great line – whispered by Gonzo for dramatic emphasis – seems especially appropriate for the grander narrative of Christmas.

Gonzo & Rizzo

The Bible tells us that we are born spiritually dead. We, like the Marleys, are decaying in spiritual graves.
In a strange sort of image, we, corpses, often try to “fix” our spiritual problem in any number of ways. But the attempts are as absurd as a corpse putting on perfume!  The corpse is dead, and perfume cannot do anything about that fact.

God sees us trying to fix our dead bodies, and says, “No, my dear one, that won’t work.  You need me to make you alive.”

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. – Ephesians 2:5

This story is the most beautiful one in all of creation, but we chafe at it. It bothers us because it requires us to accept that we are born dead.  (It reminds me of the medical students in the 1800s who refused to wash their hands between examining infected corpses and delivering babies: they refused to accept that a gentleman’s hands could be dirty. Story here.)

We ask, “Why would God make me this way (dead)?  That’s not fair.”  “Why would a good God make creatures that were dead?”

When we really get down to it, I think the heart of the matter is this: we squirm at the fact that, in our dead state, we need God.  We hate the dependence.  We think a “good God” would have made creatures that didn’t need to be saved – that didn’t need Him.

Oh, the pride!! Oh, the haughtiness!!!

Let us humble ourselves and see the truth: rather than puzzling over why we are born spiritually dead, let us recognize that God. could. have. left. us. that. way.

But He didn’t.  He was born a man at Christmas, and died, sinless, at Easter, to make His dear ones alive.

May we exclaim with the reformed Ebeneezer Scrooge: “Oh Jacob Marley, Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”  Praise God, who at Christmas became one of us so that we might be made alive!

Merry Christmas.

(If anyone has an image of Patrick Stewart’s Scrooge rejoicing in his bedroom on Christmas morning, I’d be grateful!)

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Death

“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” – Ezekiel 18:23

“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

“…whosoever comes to me I will never cast out.” – John 6:37

Compared to the holiness of God, Osama bin Laden was no worse a sinner than I am.
I have murdered in my heart. I have separated myself from God. Without the grace of Christ, my justice would be death. He took me, put my sins on Himself, and wiped my slate clean.
The Bible teaches that He would have done the exact same for Osama, had he been willing to accept it.

Thank you, Lord, for Easter and the grace you have freely given.

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