Saturday, April 28, 2018

Learning to Die

It is beyond any logic to imagine that man could teach God anything, but in a sense, a terrible, world-reversing sense, that is exactly what happened. And, of course, the rest of the story is so much greater, for God in turn taught and showed man so much more than we could ever dream or imagine, and gave back to the human race far more than our wildest imagination could ever have conceived. But before all the wonder and glory came to be, man had to teach God the experience of death, and then God had to teach man how to rightly die …

He was in anguish, and his wounds were beyond counting – the thorn cuts on his head, the agony of each nail that had been driven through his limbs, the deep lacerations of the Roman scourge that had been laid on his back more times than he could count in such extremity, and now were abraded into new pain by the rub of the rough wood upon his back. Every breath was torture; it was a terrible way to die.

But there was more. God knew, far more clearly than any finite, sin-encumbered human brain possibly could, the exact, hideous nature of sin and death. But he had never experienced them till now: the abject desolation and existential aloneness of being cut off from life and love, the choking terror of despair. God had to learn to die.

But it was God who had to show man how to deal with death. Later he would reveal something even more wonderful, that death had been defeated and now was only a dark shadow which must be walked through to glory, not an all-devouring monster. But today was for the dying. What is mortal man to do in the face of the last enemy?

He forgives. He shows compassion. He takes thought for the needs of others. He is honest about the raging thirsts of his body and soul. These are all part of the process.  But there is something deeper to address.  How does a man face the annihilation of everything he is, of the only self he has ever known? How does a man say goodbye to love and pleasure and every good and beautiful thing he has ever known? How does a man let go of the air in his lungs and the rhythm of his heartbeat? In that emptiest of places, how does he keep on believing? How can he know? Courage can take you so far, gritted faith may take you further, but there is a terrible unknowing which soaks them up that soaks them up like the desert soaks up rain.

But he has shown them a way to die that keeps courage and faith when you no longer have the strength to lift them up. “Into your hands I commit my spirit!” There is the answer, right in the eye of the tornado of mortal dread.  There is so much we cannot know on this side of death and dying, but it doesn’t matter. Our trust is not to be placed in theological formulae. Our trust is to be placed into the hands of the Father who has loved us utterly from all eternity. We have no map for that journey, except that we know that the only bridge is a cross. It doesn’t matter. He will carry us. He will carry us through the things no earthly metaphor can capture and bring us to himself. He has made us and he will bear the burden. He will carry us and bring us to safety. He will bring us home to himself.

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