Archives For Mercy

On Death’s Specter

May 14, 2012 — 8 Comments

Death is an unpleasant subject. And the knowledge that each of us is destined to face our own, has the potential to overshadow the countless joys this life offers.

Virtually everyone reading this has lost a loved one to death . . . and some reading this may have been informed by doctors that their own days may be limited. If you find yourself counting down in years, months, or weeks, may God strengthen you and pour upon you an overflowing portion of his divine peace. The Scriptures refer to God’s peace in circumstances of great personal trial as a “peace which passes understanding.” And that is precisely what I pray he provides for you.

Those of us who are Christians find ourselves in a bit of a tension. We believe in Jesus’ resurrection, and his promise to raise us to new life as well. So, in that sense death is a defeated “enemy.” It no longer has the final word. In fact, passing through the portal of death actually allows us to enter into the presence of the Lord! Nevertheless, we dread the prospect of dying. Too seldom do people pass peacefully in their sleep.

C.S. Lewis experienced an illness which brought him near to death. Yet he recovered . . . with mixed feelings. Five weeks before his death he wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves:

Tho’ I am by no means unhappy I can’t help feeling it was rather a pity I did revive in July. I mean, having been glided so painlessly up to the Gate it seems hard to have it shut in one’s face and know that the whole process must some day be gone thro’ again, and perhaps far less pleasantly! Poor Lazarus! But God knows best.

The reason we should no longer fear death is because it has no power over those whose sins have been borne by the Messiah. Those who have not experienced this grace may rightfully fear the day of accounting that awaits humanity. Jesus invites all people—even the most sinful and vile people we can imagine—to yield to him and trade their inheritance of death for his righteousness and the gift of eternal life.

That means there is nothing that you have done that is so evil God cannot forgive it. Simply ask him to.

One way this experience of salvation is described in the Bible is as a resurrection. Jesus said to one of his disciples, “I am the resurrection and the life ‘Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’” (John 11:25). Jesus is distinguishing between the two deaths. Physical, where this finite body fails . . . and spiritual death, where those who have ignored God’s mercy spend eternity separated from it.

Another aspect of this transformation is found in the fact that through conversion we die to the power of sin over us, and participate (even in this physical life) in Christ’s resurrected life. (Baptism is a “sign” of this, as the immersion is “burial” and rising from the waters is rebirth.) As Paul of Tarsus assures believers: “For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:8).

C.S. Lewis bluntly put it this way: “Die before you die. There is no chance after that.” (Till We Have Faces).

Which brings us to the peculiar image above. It comes from some classical text and whenever I’ve encountered it over the years, I’ve always considered it rather odd that the illustrator decided to portray this skeleton in the posture of prayer. It’s actually a bit disconcerting, since death and decay have nothing to do with our Lord who is the way, the truth and the life.

If we haven’t said our prayers in this mortal life, as Lewis reminds us, we will lack the voice and opportunity to do so in the next.

Besides, knowing Christ is not something with benefits only in the next life. Walking through life in his light makes our days here all the more pleasant and joyful. As I look back on my own life I recognize numerous ways in which his hand directed my path. Had I lived for my own selfish appetites the person I would be today would little resemble the Christian me. Thank God that he delivered me from becoming that man.

How Precious You Are

March 23, 2012 — 7 Comments

God loves you.

It doesn’t matter how loveable, or unloveable you are, he loves you.

It doesn’t matter whether you praise his Name or deny his existence, he loves you.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you love him. You can even hate him . . . but he still loves you.

Doesn’t make sense to our fallen human reason, but it’s true. One of the amazing revelations of the Christian Scriptures is that God loves each and every one of the people he has created.

Every human being is unique, and each is precious to God. Whether you feel like it or not . . . whether you feel undeserving or (far more dangerously) you think you are a pretty “good” person . . . you are precious to him.

I find it intriguing how some manmade religions and philosophies consciously downplay the uniqueness of each person. What is clearly evidence of God’s infinite creativity—the glorious diversity of men and women the world over—is seen as something odd. A cosmic fluke to be remedied when all essence returns to the amorphous and undifferentiated “whole.”

The elimination of what makes you and me precisely who we are, seems to be the goal of some of these worldviews. But deep within each of our souls we know that this pursuit is wrong. It’s alien to the core of our existence. Loss of identity is, in a phrase, not that for which we were created. You and I were made for a different purpose. And our distinctive personalities (and even our quirks) in this one-time-in-all-creation combination, are no accident.

In his treatise on why suffering exists, C.S. Lewis offers a powerful glimpse into the singularity of our souls. He argues that Christ’s sacrifice was no generic or blanket wonder. Rather, it was a divinely individualized miracle. Listen to Lewis:

The signature on each soul may be a product of heredity and environment, but that only means that heredity and environment are among the instruments whereby God creates a soul. I am considering not how, but why, He makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you. The mould in which a key is made would be a strange thing, if you had never seen a key: and the key itself a strange thing if you had never seen a lock. Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions.

For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you, the individual reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith. Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction. The Brocken spectre ‘looked to every man like his first love’, because she was a cheat. But God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it—made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand. (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.)

I suspect that the intimately personal nature of God’s love for us is one of the things that moves some people from agnosticism to atheism. And I think I just may address that distinction in my next post.

Christians may cease reading here.

A personal and sincere note to any unbelievers reading this column. I’m not writing this to offend you, or to push any of the buttons that may be holdovers from your days in restrictive or destructive religious settings.

If you’ve never believed, I encourage you to tune out the voices (on both sides of the issue). Go directly to the primary account(s) of Jesus’ life and read them. (There are four “Gospel” accounts of his ministry, but I encourage you to first read the Gospel according to Saint John.) Any of your Christian friends would be eager to offer you a copy of the Bible for no cost, but it’s also available for free download at various sites. For example, here you can download an entire Bible in English Standard Version (ESV) for free.

If you once believed, but have laid your faith aside, I don’t want to offer guilt. Instead, listen to this promise of grace. Just as the father of the Prodigal Son was always awaiting the return of his child, the same joyous welcome home awaits you. If ever you desire to return home, know with certainty that he’ll welcome you again, not as a servant or second class citizen, but as his son or daughter. And you’ll hear the words from that parable proclaimed over you: “It is fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother [or sister] was dead, and is alive; they were lost, and are found.” (Luke 15:32).