Monday, January 29, 2007

Worse than death? V

You have died

Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth I desire other than you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

- Psalm 73.25-26

Death is the last (though not greatest) enemy of humanity and God. The Christian, however, has already died: for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory (Colossians 3.3-4). The worst is over: one has died for all; therefore all have died (2 Corinthians 5.14). Notice that the logic is not that Jesus died for us so that we might not die (strict substitution), but that in him, we have already died. He is our representative. What he did is for us, applies to us, is true for us, indeed is true for 'all': he tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2.9).

But what does it mean that we have died, since we're still breathing? Is this a legal fiction? A pious way of speaking of the end of an old selfish way of life? Or something else? To understand ourselves and our own story aright, it is necessary for this to be situated correctly within God's story as its proper context. And in particular, we need to hear our story being told as part of the story of Christ. Our life is hid with his. The true meaning of our lives will be revealed when he is. The true and full meaning of our death is likewise hidden with Christ. However, since the resurrected Christ is both present and absent, having been seen by many, yet now not seen for a little while, our knowledge of this meaning is also somewhat ambiguous. We are neither in the dark, nor yet confronted irrefutably face to face with it. So while we can say something of what it means to be somehow already dead, we mightn't be able to express it all.

I take it that at the very least, to be already dead with Christ is to be free from fear of the worst, since the worst has already happened to Christ, and already happened to us in Christ. This worst wasn't death itself, but was being abandoned by God, being godforsaken. Whatever we are to make of Jesus' heartwrenching and mysterious cry from the cross - my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?* - that this one was the one that God subsequently raised means that even the experience of godforsakenness is now transformed. No matter how bad things get for the Christian, Christ has been there first and remains with us, as Immanuel, through it now. Whatever our situation, the worst is already over. Christ has suffered the hell of godforsakenness for us.
*Volumes can and have been written on this cry, a quote from Psalm 22. I will not add to those volumes at this point.

Although Christians still suffer an end to life, and many even have horrible and painful experiences as they do so, nonetheless, there is a difference between all these experiences and Jesus' death on the cross. Every Christian passes their final breath under the pattern and so the promise of Christ's experience: vindication from out of shame, new life from out of death.
‘I saw the Lord always before me,
   for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
   moreover my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
   or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
   you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’

- Acts 2.25-28 (Psalm 16.8-11; LXX 15.8-11)
H/T Cyberpastor, who suggested this passage here.

Series: I, II, III, IV, V, VI.


Mandy said...

But what does it mean that we have died, since we're still breathing? Is this a legal fiction? A pious way of speaking of the end of an old selfish way of life?

So true. How easily we forget that our union with Christ is completely transformative - My thoughts kept coming back to Gal 2:20 as I read your post.

'I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.'

John P. said...

I came across a quote by Frederick Buechner today regarding Jesus' cry from the cross and the (as you put it) hell of godforsakenness. Buechner basically said that Jesus was asking God:

"Where the HELL are YOU!"

I am usually not one for placing too much stock in colloquial translation, but there was something profound to me about the "rawness" of that phrasing...

As an aside, in our class on Qoheleth we spent a lot of time on the discussion of finitude. One text we read was the important work by Ernest Becker titled "The Denial of Death." though it is more of a psychoanalytic approach than a theological one...his insights into our culture's inability to cope with death were really helpful. I highly recommend it...

michael jensen said...

I notice euthanasia has been raised (sorry) again in the Aussie media. Do you have new perspectives on this topic since getting sick?

Anonymous said...

Horay for Jesus!
(I hope this post works I haven't been able to do it lately)

byron smith said...

John (and Christian) - thanks for the recommendation (and quote from Buerchner).

Michael (& Christian) - euthanasia. Hmmm, I haven't yet seen the articles (haven't got to the SMH today - chemo day), but I'll have a think. Can't say it's something I've been directly thinking about recently, except insofar as some cancer patients seem quite content to fade away. I hear lots of stories of cancer patients these days (mainly secondhand, but not exclusively).

Mandy - yes, Galatians 2.20 is another important verse in this theme. I meant to include it when I was thinking about it, but forgot when I was writing.

Christian - yes, I've heard that illustration before and think it makes a good point. I'm sure there are problems with it, but it has weight - what happened to him happened to us.

Bilby - Amen, preach it sister!