Saturday, September 17, 2011

Something Worth Dying For

And even if he tries to kill you, you’ll develop the inner conviction that there are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.  ~ Martin Luther King, JrDetroit, MI, 1963.
 I'm taking a class on Christology right now, and had to read Jesus Wars by Philip Jenkins.  On the whole, it wasn't that impressive.  It's basically a book about early church history, starting with 4th century stuff like the Council of Nicea (325 AD), and then diving in to the follow-up affairs, through the Council of Chalecedon (451 AD) and shortly thereafter.  If you're into early church history, or don't know much about it, it's alright.  He's a good storyteller, and the parts where he's just relating history are fine.  But when he tries to weave theology into his history, he starts to go a little off the rails.  His point seems to be that things like the Creeds and orthodox doctrine as defined by the Councils didn't just float down from heaven on a cloud.  Nobody went up to Mt. Sinai to receive the tablet of stone with the word homoousious written on it.  There was plenty of power and politics and manipulation and sinfulness to go around, as bishops and emperors all across the known world duked it out over the precise relationship between Jesus' humanity and divinity (which served at times as sort of a proxy war about who was really in charge or had the most power at any given moment). 

This, I know, will come as a giant shock to most of you.

Nevertheless, we must move ahead.  My biggest problem with Jenkins is not that he wants to air the Church's dirty laundry - whatevs, the Church is comprised of sinful men.  Let us sin boldy, that the grace of God may be shown even more boldly, right?  My problem with Jenkins is that, by the end, he really only grudgingly acquiesces to the decisions of the Councils, and seems to mock orthodox believers who, regardless of all the murder and mayhem, still see Providence at work in the affairs of men. 

This can be forgiven.  After all, there are a lot of heterodox liberals out there who enjoy poking at the foundations of others' faith.  Jesus died for them too. 

But what I took most from the book was the idea that "these people" - the key players of the day - had something to fight for.  They believed that Truth existed, that it was knowable, that God wanted us to know it, and that once it had been discerned, it was to be defended - to the death, if necessary.

Now look, I'm glad that we're not all taking to the streets with sword and shield in defense of orthodox Christology anymore.  I think that's good, and I think that Christians killing each other makes the baby Jesus cry.  Nevertheless, there's something to be said for believing something so fervently that you are prepared to die for it.  There's something to be said for defending the Truth.  There's something to be said for being so passionate about something that you would give up literally everything else you have in order to preserve it. 

We just don't have that anymore.  Especially in the United States, or the West in general.  Fervent belief is considered boorish and unenlightened, or at best, something to be expressed only in the privacy of one's own home.  Dying is the ultimate end - even for professed Christians, who, frankly, should know better - and we try to avoid it all costs.  We try to control it - either by putting it off as long as possible, or bringing it to ourselves before its time.  We've found reasons not to eat practically every food on the planet because it could increase our risk of heart attack/stroke/diabetes/death.  We drug ourselves into oblivion as we attempt to suppress or destroy every symptom of aging.  And when the end inevitably begins to arrive, we'd prefer to choose the time and place with a syringe of barbituates than peacefully surrender. 

Now, on the one hand, this pro-life (ahem) stance is a good and natural thing.  God created the earth, He (!) created humans, and when we introduced death into the place, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us so that we might once more have life, and have it abundantly.  Life is a good thing. 

But: whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord, and thus, death is no longer to be feared.  Death has been swallowed up in victory!  Which is why Jesus can say, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it."  Because when a Christian loses his life in this world, he isn't really losing it.  He's gaining the Kingdom!

Somewhere along the way, though, we stopped believing this.  Gentility and "peace" became the Most Important Things.  Believe whatever you want, as long as you're nice to other people.  We all have our differences, but as long as we get along at Coffee Hour, then nothing else matters.

Except Jesus doesn't give us that option.  Jesus is good and kind and loving and peaceful, that is true.  But public courtesy and civility isn't always His greatest priority.  He can bring the snark, the sarcasm, and even the anger when necessary.  He lays it on the line.  "This is how it is.  You can take it or leave it - I'm not going to cram it down your throat - but there are no other choices.  There's no 'I'll take Door Number Three, Bob.'" 

Now, that sounds harsh in our Age of Aquarius, a world where you can Have It All, a culture where it's considered rude to believe that you are right and someone else is wrong.

But what if we actually believed Jesus on this one?  What if instead of saying, "Well, you have your beliefs and I have mine, and in the end, who's to say?" we said, "I believe this so strongly and I think it's so important and I'm so committed to it that I'm not going to shut up about it and in fact, I'm willing to die for it."  Not in an obnoxious, in-your-face, annoy-the-crap-out-of-everyone-around-you kind of way, of course.  But in a way that made other people sit up and take notice.  A way that caused others to say, "Wow, that's different!  You don't hear that very often, that somebody's willing to die for something.  I wonder what that's all about." 

Would we rather muddle through, and pray that things will all work out in the end?  Or do we want to live boldly, trusting in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection?

Is there anything worth dying for?

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My Comments Policy: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23