free web stats Lost in the Eternity of the Here and Now: January 2010
Sola Scriptura · Solus Christus · Sola Gratia
Sola Fide · Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Christian rights

As Americans, we have certain rights. We are guaranteed the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The framers of our country said these rights are endowed to every man by his creator. These rights are as much his natural possession as his own thoughts. As a gift from God, to the individual, no one but God has the right to take them from us. That’s what they meant by “inalienable.” I can understand the motivation behind their words. Living under the oppressive rule of a dictator across an ocean, one with supreme authority, is good enough reason for their statement of rights. However, this idea of rights poses some trouble for me.

As Americans, we have been taught all our lives about our rights; about those things which belong to us, those things that cannot be taken away. So much of our identity has been framed by this perception, that we deserve, that as unique and special people, our rights entitle us to things. This perception is so integral a part of our identities that it permeates everything we think and do. We even approach Christianity in terms of our rights.

How many sermons have we all heard on any number of patriotic weekends telling us about our rights, telling us that we are a nation founded on Christian principles and as such, are now granted certain rights. Further, we must fight to protect those rights. We must ally ourselves to political parties to ensure those rights, whether of the individual, or of the masses, it doesn’t matter. We are told to pray for our nation, our leaders, that God would restore America to her rightful place. We are encouraged to get involved and make our voices heard, so that we can ensure our rights. The point is we are taught from childhood to demand our rights. But even a cursory look at the Bible has me questioning this entire philosophy.

What rights does the Bible afford men? The right to life? Ask the Hebrew mother of the Northern kingdom, likely no older than her mid-teens, who watched helplessly as the Assyrian invaders came and slaughtered her newborn child, raped her mercilessly, and then killed her for sport. Ask the father in Judah who watched his son being taken away into Babylonian captivity as he was killed at the end of a spear point. What rights did these people have? Oh, but they were under condemnation you say. God sent those invaders as punishment. True that. But they certainly had no rights to demand of God as they were killed, raped, or taken away into captivity. But still, they were disobedient you say. They got what they deserved for their abandonment of God, you say.

Fair enough. Let’s look at the righteous examples then. What rights did Isaiah have as they sawed him in two? Or what about the apostle James, the brother of John, who was beheaded by Herod? What about Stephen who was stoned for talking about Jesus? Or Paul? Or Peter, as he was crucified upside-down in Rome? What about the countless Christian martyrs used as torches to light the streets of Rome at night? What of these men? Where were their rights? A right to life? A right to liberty? A right to pursue happiness? I see none.

These men were slaves. They were slaves to God and to the message of Jesus Christ; the message of the imputed righteousness of another, by his death and resurrection, and the application by the Spirit that imputes that righteousness to those who would believe in it. For this message they were killed. Here’s a wake-up call. I don’t have any rights. I don’t have any claim. My obedience to the gospel of Jesus promises only one thing, death. My disobedience, into which I was born, promises only death, but carries with it a death to come as well. So either way, no matter what I choose, I get to die. How’s that for rights? Dead people don’t have rights. Let’s see someone preach that. But, in the final analysis, that seems to be what the Bible teaches. Every single one of the New Testament writers uses the idea of a slave, and I don’t think they do it by accident. You are either of slave of sin, in which case you reap your fruit, which is death; or you are a slave of righteousness (read that as Christ, the person himself), from which you reap your fruit (your confession of his righteousness) which leads to life (in the resurrection). In the meantime, believer, you’re likely going to die because of your belief. You are a slave.

Slaves do not have rights. They do not have possessions. They do not have dreams. They do not hope for a better life. A slave trusts in his master. If his master gives him something, then his master is gracious. If he is denied, then his master has done him no wrong. A master is not obligated to do anything for his slave, much less God for any man. God has obligated himself in one way, and only one way, to his slaves. They will live again. But like I said in my last post, that life is not now. It is not a promise of a better life now. So, when you get upset that life isn’t going the way you want it to, when you get pouty that you have been denied what you deserve, remember this one thing. Only a fool demands of God what he deserves, because the Bible is clear. You deserve only death. That you have life by faith… that is grace. It is not deserved, earned, or merited in any way.

You are a slave.

You have no rights.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

You're already dead

It’s pitch black in the dead of night. A song floats across a field, its words lost on the warm currents of the summer night. A group of men, soldiers, faces painted in shadows and darkness, sit talking in their foxhole as their enemy sings from their own foxholes on the other side of the field – the field upon which they fought only hours before, the field upon which their brothers fell to the fire of hostile bullets. German bullets, fired by an occupying force of invading foreigners that now held a garrison outside of Carentan, France. A soldier named Blithe tells how he came to be there. He was separated from his unit after having blacked out in fear after parachuting in. When he came to, his unit had left him, so he just hid there in the ditch.

“You know why you hid in that ditch Blithe?”

“I was scared.”

“We're all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there's still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll be able to function as a soldier is supposed to function. Without mercy. Without compassion. Without remorse. All war depends upon it.”

The scene is from the acclaimed HBO mini-series Band of Brothers which tells the tale of Easy Company, of the 101st Airborne Division’s time in Europe during World War 2. I’m not the first person to quote this scene for this purpose, and I’m sure I will not be the last. This scene has come to my mind a lot these past few weeks as I think about my life, the decisions that have brought me to where I am, and where I will go next. It is easy to get bogged down with life, its pursuits and goals. It is easy to get so focused on what we are striving after that the big picture gets blurry. Our perspective gets distorted and we feel lost. We feel scared. We feel alone. If only we could embrace this philosophy, really embrace it. If only we could remember this simple fact. We’re already dead.

It is easy to say that. It’s easy to think about it. It’s harder to live though. As men, born into this world, we are born dead. That is our only birthright. It is all we have to claim. Sure, we can do many things while we live, but in the end, no one gets out alive. As Christians, we are dead to the world. We died in Christ. Done. Over. Dead. Surely we will live again. That is our hope after all, hope in the resurrection from the dead, a hope based on our faith, a future pledged to us by a promise, by the seal of the Holy Spirit living in us. That Spirit who raised Christ from the dead also now dwells in us who believe, that as He lives, so too will we live. But here is where Western Christianity seems to have lost it. I was taught my entire life that eternal life starts now. I have the Spirit living in me. Life is now. God will bless me if I obey. God will show favor to his children by blessing them now. I can no longer read Scripture and come to that conclusion. The only thing the Bible promises me, as a follower of Christ, is that I will be an enemy of all. The world will hate me. It will seek to destroy me. And, in the end, it might succeed.

I am not promised any hope in this life. I am like Blithe, sitting in my little ditch. My whole life people taught me to have hope. To strive to achieve things. To make something of myself. Get an education. Get a job. Get a wife. Raise a family. Grow old. Die at a nice old age surrounded by loved ones. Vanity of vanity, all is vanity! My mistake? I still thought there was hope. There isn’t. Not in this life. It is easy to say that this life doesn’t matter, that we’re already dead. It is another thing to actually believe it. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we can function as we are supposed to, as aliens, foreigners for whom this world is not our home. If I have been crucified with Christ, and am reckoned as dead, I ought not cling to this life, its dreams, its pursuits. But you know what? Even something that is mortally wounded, only moments from death, still strives to move forward. It clings to the last vestiges of life with its dying breath. Even though it knows it is as good as dead, and that nothing can stop its fatal slide into darkness, still it claws forward until its life is spent. If only we could just let it all go. If only we could forget it all and live this life as we ought to, as we ought to in light of our impending death. If only we could proclaim with Paul that we have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer us who lives, but Christ in us. If only we could genuinely abandon all value for our lives and pursue the Kingdom with hearts devoted to it, without reservation. If only we could abandon hope in a life now for the hope of a life to come. If only we could accept it. “You’re already dead.”

Dead people do not hope. They do not dream. They do not fight back. Those who are dead are free of the burden of caring for anything in their life. That life is over. There is no going back. There is only the life of another. His life. His dreams. His goals.

“…you think there's still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead.”

There is no hope. Not in this life.

You’re already dead…
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