Monday, June 13

A Heretical Confession

I don't believe in life after death.

I know, I know. Heretic. Before you start stacking cordwood for your Jack-flambee' though, hear me out.

Though I do not believe in life after death, I do believe in the resurrection of the dead. "What's the dif", you may ask. The difference is that the whole "life after death" thing requires that I leave my body upon death. That whole notion implies the very Greek and entirely unscriptural idea that "my body" and "me" are not the same, that my body is a prison from which I must escape if I am to experience existence as I was meant to. But if that is true, then I should seek to die as quickly as possible so that I can enter into the fullness of my existence. If being "stuck" in this body means I am barricaded from "real life", then Death is the friend that sets me free from my prison and should be welcomed as a liberator.

But Death is my enemy - a vanquished enemy, certainly - but an enemy nonetheless. I hate to draw attention to the obvious, but when we die, we quit living. Else what does it mean to say that we die? Death is The End, The Grand Finale, the Last Chapter, the Final Enemy.

Or at least that is what Death meant until Christ defeated it and broke its grip on mankind. The promise of Christ's resurrection is that though Death will claim us all at some point, Death will no longer have the last word.

Christ as the firstborn from among the dead has become the first fruits of the New Order of Creation; He is not a disembodied spirit but an embodied man. If Christ rose bodily from the dead, then we too shall be so raised. If Christ is now clothed in immortality then we too shall be so clothed.

But if that is so, what happens between the time of our death and the time of our resurrection? No one really knows, but I think we must simply cease to exist. We are dead. And though we are gone, we still maintain a kind of life in the memory of those who knew us on this earth. Those on earth who remember us after we are gone will not have known us perfectly, nor will they remember us perfectly, and - worse for us - they too will one day cease to exist.
But God knows us perfectly and will remember us perfectly.

Our bodies decay and return to the dust from which we were made, but the memory of us will remain incorruptible and in perfect safety and integrity in the mind of Him who first imagined us. Though our friends may wish to reanimate their memory of us, they are powerless to do so, but the God who loves us perfectly is not. When they time comes, He will restore us to life by His great power, His infinite knowledge and His perfect love.

He will raise us from the dead just as Christ Himself was raised.

The first time God imagined man, He made us from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life – His life - into us. The second time He creates us, He promises that the life He breathes into us will never end.

The ancient creed affirms the Christian belief in "...the resurrection of the body..." Paul reminded the early church that "if there is no resurrection of the dead, then we are to be pitied above all men". Christ appeared to the disciples after His resurrection and He made an explicit point of showing them that He was physically present. He was not just an ethereal concept or a substance-less spirit but a real person with real scars who ate real food. He occupied space, but was not constrained by space.

God seems to like the physical realm. He must get a charge out of His creation, or He wouldn't make such a big deal over it. When we treat death as if it were a friend and act as if this physical creation is somehow a lesser expression of God’s goodness than the spiritual realm, we are guilty of devaluing that which God highly values.

Life is good. Resurrection life will be even better.

Thursday, June 9

Grace So Amazing

Donald McCullough verbalizes what I have been pondering for quite some time - the offense of grace.

If it doesn't offend your moral judgment, it probably isn't grace.

Tuesday, June 7

A Perfect Mirror

...we tend to forget that ‘justification by faith’ is primarily the story of God’s faithful actions in the world in his Son, Jesus Christ. It is because God justified himself that we are justified, and only for that reason. It is too easy in our preaching to make ‘faith’ something we do, a work almost, which smuggles in all the dross and anguish of human-centred religion which Luther left behind.

Sometimes I get so worn out with trying to do the right thing, be the right thing, think the right thing, say the right thing and hang with the right people that I forget the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

I manage to screw up with great regularity. Every single blooming day I do at least one thing that violates some scriptural principle, and I can always find at least a dozen books, articles, tapes and radio preachers who are eager to explain - in excruciating detail - why any person who does what I do is (insert condemnatory description here) and certainly perdition-bound.

I keep thinking about that phrase in the letter from James to the church where he says that the person who gazes into the perfect law of liberty and acts based upon what he sees there will be blessed in what he does. I used to think that James was warning us not to forget what scum-bags we are, but now I realize that I had it exactly backwards.

When I gaze into this perfect law of liberty, I see reflected back to me the image of a perfect Man. This is a wonder to me - yet the image in this mirror is in fact what God sees when He looks on me. As I gaze into my "reflection" there in that perfect mirror and ponder what God's gracious work has wrought on my behalf, the glory of it penetrates - however slowly - to the darkest and densest reaches of my heart, and as this "God's-eye-view" of me seeps into my soul, I see myself as God already sees me. A lifetime of gazing into this image changes me - my choices slowly align themselves with the reality of that image.

I can trust that the screwups I assign to myself are not reflections of the real me that God already sees, but are merely the vestigal remains of the old Jack that is already dead but not quite yet fully decayed.

Friday, June 3

Good Cop/Bad Cop - Stupid Jack

I wonder...

Am I worse at being a Christian than the other people at church, or am I just more aware of how screwed up I am?

The other day, as I was contemplating doing something I knew I shouldn't do, I stopped myself and gave myself a good talking to: "You know better than that. God doesn't want you to do that. You should do the right thing."

And so I didn't do what I was contemplating. I felt slightly better about myself and found the shadow of this thought floating through the detritus of my mind: I'll bet God is pleased with me for doing the right thing...

And just like that I realized what a fool I am.

I believed that God would be please by me doing the right thing. I imagined Him weighing my deeds in the balance and finding me worthy for doing the right thing, (or worthless for doing the wrong thing.)

Though I've always confessed that my fecal matter is malodorous to the Almighty, (and everyone else as well), I apparently still believe that my righteousness somehow impresses Him. I guess I honestly thing that my good deeds are NOT as repugnant to God as used, bloody bandages. What an idiot.

The New Testament clearly shows me that my evil deeds do not separate me from God and my good deeds do do not bring me any closer. My deeds - both good and evil, righteous and unrighteous - have no bearing of any kind on my relationship to God. With the death, burial, resurrection and glorification of Jesus, God has taken the whole issue of good deeds / bad deeds off the table. My sins mean nothing to God because they are all already paid for by the death of Christ, (and therefore forgotten by God). My righteous deeds are worthless to God, because they are dung by comparison to the righteousness of Christ. God approves of me not because I behave or don't behave but because I am in Christ .

This is such a radical way of thinking and living that I can barely wrap my head around it. I find it so much easier to condemn myself for my failings or to praise myself for my successes - yet both of these imposters are worthless to me and repugnant to God. He is utterly pleased with Christ, and is utterly pleased with me in Christ.

My deeds - both "good" and "bad" - are death for me, death if I place any value or trust in them at all. But if my trust is in Christ, then my life is in Him. He is the Vine, I am one of his branches. Whatever life is in me is His life. As the life of the vine is in the branch, so the life of Christ is the life of Jack.