Good Old Fashioned Suffering

I Once Thought I Would Enjoy a Lifetime of Easy Living. How Good it is that I was Wrong.

Since 9/11 it seems that so much of America has been struggling to regain its lost sense of comfort. Economically (and some would say politically) this has become even more difficult. Many wonder: Will we ever regain our ability to buy maximum quantities of stuff?

So what it we don’t? Now is the prime time for us, as a nation, to relearn the values of hard work, perseverance, community, simplicity, and — dare I say? — suffering. The present crisis can either kill us culturally and morally…. or it can make us stronger. We stand at a crossroads.

The message of the cross is this: Jesus died to pay a debt you could never repay… but to receive that gift you, too, must take up your cross and follow him. Faith was never supposed to be easy. We need God’s help. We need each other. We need to accept that in this life there are no quick fixes, but that’s okay because there are fixes in the end. Whether you , in this body, will live to see that end is beside the point.

Sudden Death

“All death is sudden.” – anonymous

Life is precious. We forget so easily. Many movies, most video games, and all advertisements help us to forget. They tell us that our value is in how we look, in how many points (excitement, pleasure, accomplishment) we score, and in what we own. And most of us believe them most of the time. We act and speak as if scoring points was all that mattered. Whatever it is that you enjoy, do as much of that as possible, because today is the only day that matters.

But tomorrow is already here. Death is knocking at the door. He may have been knocking for a while, but you hadn’t been listening. I know I haven’t. Maybe he’s not here for you yet; you’ve got friends and family in the house, along with some random acquaintances you might not miss. Surely he’ll take one of them. Won’t he?

Hedonism’s response to death: ignore it. 

Is that really an option? Then you have no chance to prepare for what’s next, because you have refused to venture to guess that might be. The “great religions” are great because they have at least made an attempt. 

 (***What follows is a brief survey of my understanding of these religions’ views.  If I have misrepresented your view or need to be more specific, please let me know!)

Maybe there is nothing after death. That is atheists’ response. I respect their insistence on only claiming knowledge of that for which we have evidence. But my soul is incredulous before that great emptiness. There is too much purpose in life for there to be no purpose in death.

Maybe there is more life after death: many lives, the next better or worse, depending on how you behaved in this life. And if you are good enough for enough lives, you will enter Nirvana. Or maybe you will escape into Nothingness. That is the Hindu response, with its Buddhist variation. But my soul is too weary of day after day. Life after life would be too much to bear, unless I were utterly transformed.  Plus, I know my own heart too well. I would never think, feel, love, act rightly enough to “graduate” to the next step… and I’m not sure whether anyone else would either.

Death is the will of God. I must accept it and obey Him. If it is God’s will, I will enter Paradise, so I had be get on His good side. I love the simplicity of Islam’s response. But I ache against the thought of God wanting death.

The Jewish answer is in the form of a story: death is the enemy of God’s work and it has infected His creation because of us (Genesis 3).  We have hope of being reunited with each other and with Him after death (Psalm 23), but such hope is vague and fleeting, so theories abound in Judaism as to just what happens next.  The Tanakh (a.k.a. Old Testament) does not tell us how the story ends.

The New Testament finishes the Jewish story: God used death to return any of us who are willing to life by letting His Son die in our place (John 3).  And not just any death: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27).  God will destroy death itself when all of His dead have been made alive again. “Look!  I will tell you a mystery.  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed….  For when this dying body puts on the undying, the sayings will be fulfilled: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (Isaiah 25:8); ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (Hosea 13:14).  The sting of death is in the weight of our crimes, and the power of our crimes is in God’s law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives to us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; FIV).

That death is neither the end nor my friend may be the only answer that I can live with… whether I deserve to or not.