Tentatio

struggle, spirituality, absurdity

Tag: death

Paul and the New Atheists

The death of Christopher Hitchens brought out some of the most extreme reactions I have seen in recent memory, and I think the trending on twitter for #godisnotgreat says it all. I won’t link to it because, frankly, I want to pretend it doesn’t exist, but many people decided to share their thoughts on Hitchens roasting in hell, quivering under God’s judgment, and so on. I would say, ‘use your imagination,’ but it won’t take much.

I couldn’t help but feel a sense of empathy for Hitchens’ fans. For many, he was a source of inspiration, someone who helped them navigate the murky and difficult waters of life with eloquence, reason, and that wonderful British wit I always find so fun. That’s not to say I agreed with him on much, and I am not pretending to. Regardless, he was an extraordinary thinker and writer, and he will be missed by millions.

This brings me to Paul, Jesus, the New Testament, and twitter. Social media has become (or always was?) a cesspool for virulent, violent rhetoric focused against those who are perceived as enemies. And because it is never directly to one’s face that these things are said, people can say anything they want without immediate consequence. This is dangerous, as a lack of direct accountability means that our words, in all their power, can become ruthlessly damaging as we also experience a decrease in empathy. In other words, we experience less of what makes us human.

I found myself thinking about Paul and Jesus, in what they wrote and taught (respectively). They encountered plenty of opposition, and both could be very ‘direct’ when confronting their interlocutors. But here’s the catch: These debates were internal. Paul was dealing with Christian Jews, and Jesus was dealing with fellow Palestinian Jews. Yes, Paul lands some zingers, but he was chastising people that, according to him, knew better. Jesus acted as a prophet, in this regard, seeking to alter the people’s expectations of the Kingdom of God. Both were the most direct when rebuking their own.

One striking counter-example is particularly illuminating. Paul finds himself standing in front of the Areopagus in Athens, giving an account of his “foreign divinities” to pagan (in the technical sense) leaders. His tone and manner were very, very different. He was eloquent and relevant, quoting the Greek writers Epimenides of Crete and Aratus. His graciousness in Athens stands in striking contrast to his letter to the Galatian Christians, where he sounds much angrier and meaner.

Why is that significant? The Athenians weren’t followers of Jesus, nor were they Jewish. He had no reason to be corrective or condescending, and instead explained the way he saw the world while also respecting the culture. It seems that we Christians would do well to take this to heart. Our interactions with those outside of our faith will be far more helpful when they are gracious and compassionate. And when dealing with each other, love. Be direct, but love. And maybe don’t take things quite so personally. And call your mother every once in a while.

A Musing on the Resurrection

I read somewhere that you don’t beat the Reaper by living longer. Instead, you beat it by living well. That makes sense, of course, and living life to the fullest is important to me, even though I find I am terrible at it. But while it is both inspiring and good advice, I can’t help but think that there is more to it. I’ve been reading “Surprised by Hope,” by N.T. Wright, and it has me thinking about the whole death/living thing. Actually, I’m kind of amused by how tritely I just wrote that, but oh well.

The way I see it, we can’t defeat the Reaper because it has long been defeated. When Jesus was resurrected from the dead, it was not some hyper-spiritual type of resurrection I think I had inherited from an evangelical heritage. If Jesus’ resurrection was physical, which is the thrust of Wright’s book, then so will mine. After all, Baptismal theology says that I will get what Christ got – resurrection from the dead and a glorified body.

All that to say, the reaper is already defeated. Yeah, I’ll die. So will you. But it will be only temporary. I’m not sure I understand why, but that makes it somewhat easier to live a full life, and live it well.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

A german photographer developed a work of art that focused on death. Specifically, the artist produced photos of people when they knew their health was declining and then after they had died. The work represented a fairly diverse group of people at different ages and gave the observer background information leading up to the person’s death. The photos, one of life and the other of death, looked strikingly similar, and combined with each person’s brief life story, the whole work was quite haunting.

I found myself not particularly enjoying the work, however, and like some profound movie, it stuck with me (and bothered me) for several days. But I could not figure out why. It wasn’t that there were pictures of dead people – Leukemia cured me of any acute fear inherent in death. Nor was it the fact that most of the subjects of the piece died of cancer – I found that kind of amusing because “it’s always cancer.” And no, you aren’t allowed to find that funny unless you have dealt with it – think of it like a club. An exclusive club. Expensive, too – even with insurance.

Anyway, After a few days of mulling it over, I finally came to understand why the exhibit unnerved me to such a degree. The artist sought to celebrate both life and death, especially the latter. I am all for celebrating and cherishing life, but I will never do the same for death.

 

Things were not supposed to be this way. We weren’t meant to die.

 

Regardless of how readers of the Biblical Narrative interpret the beginning of Genesis, the anthropology is universal: our own mortality is a profound corruption. Life was given as a gift, death is the curse of our own doing.

Culture seems to be moving in a way that idolizes death, using descriptions like “a sweet release,” “a turning to peace,” and “rest.” There are even religious cliches that move in the same direction: “going to be with the Lord.”

But we weren’t meant to experience this separation from those close to us; they weren’t meant to die, and neither are we. Death is not a natural part of the human life cycle, but rather it is decidedly un-natural. Treating death as anything else robs our ability to mourn, feel the pain inherent in death and separation, AND experience life to the fullest.

Life is all we have right now, and death is an abrupt end. Seek to live a full life. Don’t fear death, but hate it – because it is a curse.

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