When [insert certain circumstance here] then I will be happy, fulfilled, satisfied. If only [insert certain circumstance here] then I could live meaningfully, fulfilled. When all the kids are finally gone . . . If only he would stop antagonizing his sister . . .
These subtle whispers can rob reality right out of in front of my nose. Life is happening right now. That’s it! Yet the zest and spice of life are illusive. The mundane quotidian lulls me. Sometimes I want to shirk responsibilities. I back away from complexities and challenges.
I work a lot. I do a lot. I think a lot. I take care of people a lot. I get tired. Sometimes I daydream about being alone. “When all the kids are finally gone . . .”
Well, now covid-19 has brought me closer to aloneness than I have been in a long time. No one is talking to me. No one is interrupting me. I have very few tasks to complete. Strange.
The strangest covid-19 symptoms are those that have robbed my senses. I cannot taste coffee! I cannot smell chocolate chip cookies. I cannot touch my children. My vision was even affected for a day.
My friend said, “Taste, smell, touch – God gave us these to enjoy life. When one or all of them go away, it really is a wake-up call to His goodness!”
Well put, my friend. This world is an explosion of God’s breathtaking artistry! Tree-lined mountain tops, a home-cooked meal, gifted flowers in a pretty vase, Wylies’s round little cheeks, and Neva’s brown silky hair, Guy’s strong growing arms. The world above in space, the world below in the sea, the world all around us on the terrain is remarkable beautiful.
How can I stay awake to that splendor? How can I ward away dullness, ingratitude and boredom? One of our very young participants on our Simple Church Zoom call suggested the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Well, sitting in the bed in the basement for the fourth day in a row while listening to the hustle and bustle of the activities going on above, concerning myself about everyone’s well-being without being able to lift a finger, and longing to cuddle and comfort my people, this brought me to tears. I love it when children share.
Even more, Gavin reminded us of the next part of the letter: “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
I will learn the secret that Paul did because just like my BSF notes stated last week, “God intends hardships to draw us closer to Him, so we become more content with His presence and provisions.” So, “whether in plenty or in want,” I will learn to be content and that I “can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
I am in the basement. Topside, in the upstairs of my home, I am in plenty. Either way, I have Christ who empowers me to see, to touch, to taste, to hear, to smell His wonder-filled world, to truly live!
How can we grow old gracefully? By this I mean that you can live at peace, gently interacting with others, eat enough food to stay healthy, wear clothes that are adequate for your weather, sleep quietly in a safe room, and rest from the trials of life.
There are three properties we need in order to grow old gracefully: Trust, Mercy and Grace.
Trust is necessary as we begin to find many things slipping out of our control. We cannot hear the news reports as clearly and information seems to accumulate faster than we can digest it. Attention to details of what we own and where things are stored begins to fade, and if you do not trust those around you, you will constantly feel in danger of losing something valuable.
Trust in any person and you will be disappointed at some time; probably more than once! Even trusting our God leaves us sometimes with confusion and wondering if He really knows what He is doing. But that is when the tires of our trust must truly engage the terrain. “Nothing happens TO a Christ-follower; filtered by His love, it only happens FOR us.” (Lane Martin)
Do we really believe that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose?”If so, then trust becomes an essential not just of our spiritual life, but of every aspect of life, including the people we trust, the weather we enjoy or endure, the supposed “accidents” that happen, the deterioration of our minds and decay of our bodies. We must recognize Father brings people into our sphere of influence (and influence over us) as part of His plan, and if we trust HIM, it will extend to the people and circumstances around us.
And that is where Mercy comes in. As we put our trust in flawed humans they willfail us, often unintentionally. But they will also misuse us, steal from us or take advantage of us. But remember, HE allows it!
So we must be prepared to forgive them, even before they ask for it, and sometimes they may never do so. We are still responsible to Father to forgive them from our hearts – ! That is SOOOO hard to do, but God does not give us an option here. “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (See Matthew 5:43-48 and 6:14-15.)
And mercy will extend Grace to those who do not deserve it. Whereas mercy is not getting the bad that we deserve, grace is defined as unmerited favor; i.e. getting something good that we do not deserve. Just as we have received grace from The God Who Is Here, He expects us to extend that same grace to those who offend us. (See Matthew 18:21-35.) After all, “we are all broken people to one degree or another. And God loves using broken people, because that way we know it is Him working out His grace in us.” (Doug Johnston)
A friend told me of two old fellows who died many years ago. His maternal grandfather went to Heaven at 92 year old. Walter had dementia but loved God and was as sweet as apple pie. He trusted his care-givers even when he could not remember their names or that he had ever met them before. He was patient and kind and always grateful whenever anyone did anything for him. Everybody loved Walter, right up to the day he passed away.
Some years later, my friend’s 57 year old father was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. His wife once heard him praying, “Lord, let me grow old like Walter.” And he did. As his disease limited his understanding of the world around him and left him often confused about what was happening to him, he also finished this life expressing Trust, Mercy and Grace to those around him.
How can we grow old gracefully? Trust your care-giving Father; give Mercy to any who offend; extend undeserved Grace to everyone God brings across your path. And pray, “Lord, let me grow old like Walter.”
Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand Who saith “A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!” [the first stanza of “Rabbi Ben Ezra” by Robert Browning] (pictured above)
Dershowitz: ‘Biden Is Not the President-Elect’ ByMimi Nguyen Lyof The Epoch Times November 17, 2020
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said that Joe Biden is not the president-elect but is entitled to describe himself as such.
“The president-elect doesn’t get named as president-elect until at least he has 270 state certificationof electors, or his opponent concedes. Neither of that has happened as of now,” the high-profile lawyer told NTD News.
He added: “I think that he is entitled to describe himself as the president-elect. At the moment he’s won 305 or so electoral votes and President Trump is entitled to dispute that. That’s freedom of speech. That’s politics. Neither is entitled as a matter of law or constitutionality to say that they are the president-elect.”
Dershowitz, who served on Trump’s legal team during the Senate impeachment trial earlier this year, said he believes the Trump legal team is seeking to have the election forced into the House of Representatives, by not letting Biden reach the 270 electoral college votes required to secure the presidency. Republicans have a 26-23-1 state delegation majority in the House of Representatives.
One possible way the Trump campaign can legally get electors to not vote is that if the challenges in court haven’t been resolved, some state secretaries of state, many of whom are Republican, may refuse to certify the vote by mid-December, Dershowitz said.
“That will be challenged in court. And that will be a mess, it would create a constitutional crisis of a kind we haven’t had before,” he said.
He noted that Trump’s lawyers are counting on a constitutional provision that moves the election to the House of Representatives if there is no definitive winner in the Electoral College by mid-December.
“I understand why the Trump legal team is trying to have the election thrown into the House of Representatives. That’s their constitutional right. And I can’t condemn them for using every possible legal recourse. That’s what lawyers do.”
“I think that the lawsuits in the end will not bring about a reversal of fortune for Donald Trump,” he later added. “I think that on January 20, Biden will be elected president and inaugurated as President of the United States, but I have no criticism of the Trump team for fighting and battling and trying everything they can legally, ethically, constitutionally, politically, to try to preserve his presidency.”
Trump’s campaign or legal team haven’t publicly described what specific kind of strategy they are employing. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of lawsuits that have been filed by the Trump campaign in several states, according to Dershowitz.
“One I call the kind of wholesale constitutional lawsuits, like in Pennsylvania, where they’re challenging legally, whether all the votes that came in after Election Day have to be discounted, even if they were voted, even if they were submitted before Election Day,” he said. “That’s a constitutional challenge based on Article Two of the Constitution. It’s wholesale and involves many, many thousands of votes. And that has a good chance of succeeding.”
“The other challenges are retail challenges. They are case by case in a few people who shouldn’t have been eligible to vote, voted. Was there fraud? Was there a computer glitch? Those are much harder, because those require actual trials, witnesses’ evidence, and they will take time, and it will be very hard for them to succeed,” he said.
He said he is aware that Trump’s lawyers have spoken about potential computer anomalies that, if they turn out to be true, could trigger a “major disruption and shift.”
“We’ve never had anything like this before, because we’ve never had computers play such a major role in the election … The big challenge is whether or not there were computer malfunctions that turned many, many thousands of votes away from Trump and toward Biden, if that turned out to be true. And again, I haven’t seen the evidence. I’ve just heard the lawyers talk about it. That would change a lot of things.”
“And, of course, the American public would be very upset because they’ve been told by the networks who the winner is already. Remember that the networks don’t declare the winner, legally and constitutionally.”
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. (Peter, the Apostle)
One of the most disconcerting features of our society is the “celebrity culture” into which too many Christ-followers have bought. Mega-church pastors, television evangelists, or best-selling authors (or bloggers) all beguile us into thinking, “Oh, if so-and-so said it or did it, it must be right.”
But when one of them falls from grace, the message of Jesus gets blamed as if HE was the culprit. Paul warned the Romans, “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.‘” But this is not just a problem for prominent religious leaders.
If any of us who name the Name of Jesus as our Lord hate our enemies and only love those who look like us, act like us, talk like us and vote like us, we will embarrass our Lord. If we fail at the most basic principles of living in the Spirit, the Name of God will be blasphemed.
In our current time, the election of our president is pressing us to take sides, to declare if we are Trumpers or Bideners. Will Trump’s legacy be one of lying, cheating, and disgracing the Constitution or will Biden’s potential presidency be one of destroying the Republic and advancing communism against half of the country?
Let me suggest we are FREE. We who call ourselves Christ-followers are free from the politics of the Democrats or Republicans because our citizenship is higher and more secure than anything either party can offer. I am not proposing that we ignore political issues, and some may be called specifically to follow Jesus into the fray of civic rivalries. However, most of us are needed on a different “front” of battle: the contention for the souls of our families, neighbors, friends and colleagues.
Unless God has called us to join a political party, we are commissioned to a much freer and better task than merely getting a temporary “master” elected. We must trust the Maker that He has chosen our next president (see Daniel 2:21) and we will still be called to live as free men and women under whatever earthly rulership He has chosen for us.
No one is truly free unless he is free in his spirit. It never ceases to amaze me that some foolish people think conversions to ideas can be forced. No heart or belief is changed by holding a gun to one’s head and demanding the victim to say words. However, “if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed!” If our citizenship IS in Heaven, then no power on earth can constrain us from doing what is right for our Master.
And His call is clear, one by one we must persuade, inform, and demonstrate that Jesus is who He claimed to be. It is for freedom that He has set us free, “for you were called to freedom. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”(Galatians 5:13-14)
The election of our president was not a landslide for either candidate as some had predicted. It was, in fact, a reflection of the wider divide in our country between worldviews of our culture and of what a president needs to be. So our 45th was not assured on Tuesday night that he would continue to serve, and our potential 46th was not certain he would replace him. My brother sent me this perceptive graphic analysis.
There have been several clear-sighted responses to the election process that are finally filtering into the Christian media and reminders that our presidents do not get to choose themselves. If you followed a link in last week’s blog, October 31, 2020, I noted a reference to Daniel 2:21: “HE removes kings [presidents] and sets up kings.”
The God Who Is Here, our Creator, the Maker of Heaven and earth, the sustainer of the universe, has not been caught off guard. His sovereignty is still intact and He is still on His throne. His plan for the ages is still progressing and will find its fulfillment in the return of Jesus as was told to the original disciples on the Mount of Ascension: “This Jesus . . . will come in the same way as you have seen Him go.”
He remains King of kings and Lord of lords. The Bible still gives us guidance for every issue we face in our daily lives, whether that includes how to accept and work with an egomaniac as president or a half-asleep abortionist. The bottom line is our president nor any human government is going to bring in an age of enlightenment, pure justice and mercy and peace. Only the Prince of Peace will accomplish what our hearts desire.
Remember, Jesus, not our president nor our government, is still our only way to Heaven, our only means of salvation, the only author and finisher of our faith. Our neighbors still need to know that He loves them, and they need to know that WE love them. Even the rioters and murderers need to know this, maybe “especially” so, and we may be the means for them to understand His love as he plants it in our hearts for them.
In another blog, I will comment on why He allows men like Nebuchadnezzar, Genghis Khan, Adolph Hitler or Donald Trump/Joe Biden to take rulership over us for certain periods of time. But rest assured, He has chosen our next president through our participation, and He is setting a stage for events we cannot yet see clearly. But we remain confident in the end result: Jesus will reign.
When Isaiah the prophet met The God Who Is Here he moaned in distress, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Notice he did not blame “the sinners” in his society. He did not blame “the protestors,” the idolaters, the child-killers, the ones many perceived as causing problems. He did not blame “the other side.”
He owned his people’s sin. He recognized his complicity and confessed, “I am the man unclean.” It is easiest to see the “others” at fault, and yes, their sin is evident. But Isaiah “saw the LORD” and realized he was as much to blame, because he saw “the other” as someone else. “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” (George W. Bush)
So watch the one minute video read the short article at the link (by the same title as the video), and pray, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” It is not that “they” are destroying “us.” It is what WE have become.
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You. Trust in Yahweh forever, for Yahweh God is an everlasting rock.” Isaiah 26:3-4
With an “election” just three days away, listen to the pundits: it will either be a landslide for Joe Biden or Donald Trump; or it will be a razor thin win that will be contested in courts all the way up to the day the Electoral College convenes on December 14 . . . or beyond!
However, what will be our response as Christ-followers to the election? Evangelicals, as a voting group, have put their hat in the ring with Trump; other Evangelicals, such as John Piper and leaders in Christianity Todayhave questioned the wisdom of voting for a candidate so far removed from a Christ-honoring life-style; as if “Catholic” Joe Biden represented a better option?
Perhaps disciples of Jesus should be less focused on this election, and more concentrated on how our witness is affected by aligning with any political party. That is not to say we should not vote, nor do I mean that we should not participate in the discussions and debates about the directions of our nation. However, those discussions should always bring us back to sharing the preeminent love of Jesus for those with whom we disagree. It should not result in a withdrawal to “our corner” with only those who agree with us.
There is a sovereignty of God that will not yield to Democrat or Republican propaganda; He will determine our next president no matter how hard we pray for a particular outcome. This is not an abdication of faith. I can tell God as forcefully as possible that I want a certain candidate elected, and if that is not God’s will, I will join Peter when Jesus told him to stand down, calling the conspicuous lead disciple a devil! “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:23)
This is where too many North American “Christians” are today! We want our comfortable middle-class religion that is easy-living and does not disturb us with issues of turning the other cheek, loving the poor, inviting the disenfranchised into our homes, giving more than merely “out of [our] abundance.”
How many of us support missions in Kenya but will not invite a black family to supper; too many of us do not even know a black family to invite! Who among us has befriended a Muslim family that needs more than Mohammad can offer? What about the college students who are living together unwed? Are we so offended by their lifestyle that we cannot show them how much we and Father love them? How much strain do you think an abortion assistant must go through before becoming calloused to the disposed “body parts?” When was the last time you talked to anyone about their eternal soul and what will happen if they have not accepted Jesus?
Whatreally matters to us? Consider how much time do we spend praying for our lifestyle choices and comforts to continue? Compare that to how much time we pray for our president or his successor. Now, let’s get meddlesome: How much time do we spend praying for friends who do not know where they will spend eternity!? Have we inadvertently bought into a “prosperity gospel” that promises we should never have to suffer because God loves us? He will “fix” whatever we find disagreeable?
And do not think that we will be spared affliction, just as Peter warned those first century followers of Jesus: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” (1 Peter 4:12-13)
So now with three days till the “election,” if it is even finished then, what will we do with these three days? Hole up in our hidey-holes and pray that God will give us the elected officials we want? Or can we find or make an opportunity to share the love of Jesus with someone who may not even realize they need Him?
Prayer should be such a constant part of following Jesus, at first I thought I would pass on passing this along. But then Scripture continually exhorts us to pray and Jesus set this as our example. So I offer this guest blog in hopes that we will join Ms. Kristian (yes, that is her real name 🙂 ) in praying for our president whoever may occupy the White House. Christianity Today is an excellent resource for perspectives on issues of faith and practice; well worth the subscription! c.a. ___________________________________________ Politics should not matter when it comes to lifting up our leaders. Bonnie Kristian – October 20, 2020
Though I have never contributed to a time capsule, penning this column seems a curiously similar exercise. As I sit down to write, summer is blazing. Joe Biden handily leads President Donald Trump in the polls, but I can’t claim to know who will win.
When you sit down to read this, the presidential election may or may not be over. The results may or may not be announced. Between pandemic occasioned mail-in ballots and the lawsuits and recounts I expect will follow, this column seems to me a distant, ominous smear on the calendar of a helter-skelter year. What can I write to such a future?
There is one certainty, however the election ends: A president of the United States will be chosen, and he will be in dire need of prayer.
Calls to pray for political leaders are familiar to evangelicals. We know Scripture requires it: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,” writes the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1–2, “for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (NRSV throughout). We know, too, that prayers are commanded no matter what we make of our leaders’ politics. We pray for their prudence and success for the sake of our neighbors, even if we would never give them our vote.
But I think we can pray more. Here are four ways to pray over a president, whoever he may be:
Pray honestly, but with mercy. Around the time of the 2012 election, billboards appeared in several states, urging passersby to pray Psalm 109 for then-President Barack Obama: “May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow. May his children wander about and beg; may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit” (Ps. 109:9–10). Imprecatory Psalms like this appear in Scripture because God wants us to speak truthfully to him (Job 42:8). We should not conceal our emotions in prayer, as if we could fool God. But at the same time, as bitter honesty is preferable to decorous pretense, so mercy in our prayers is better than cruelty.
Pray for winners and for losers. The Covid-19 pandemic; a summer of police brutality, protest, and riot; and Trump’s cunning omnipresence in our political conversations have combined to intensify what is already the most intense date on the political calendar. For many Americans, this election feels apocalyptic. I don’t think forecasts of widespread violence over its outcome are correct, but neither can I confidently dismiss their possibility. For those whose candidate lost, we should pray for calm, endurance, and comfort in what may be a moment of real fear. For those whose candidate won, we should pray for responsibility, humility, and grace. Insofar as conscience permits, let us “rejoice with those who rejoice, [and] weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).
Pray for wisdom, peace, and justice. Every presidency is much shaped by its staff, and the space between Election Day and Inauguration Day is a crucial time for the selection of presidential advisers. “Where there is no guidance, a nation falls,” says Proverbs 11:14, but bad guidance can take a nation down also. Prayers for peace are needed, because our Constitution assigns the president perhaps his most unfettered power in the conduct of war — and its conclusion. And some policies of every presidency, whether at war or at home, inflict unjust harms. We should pray for our president’s victims, for their receipt of justice and restoration.
Pray for perspective and discipleship. The presidency, we must remember, is not everything. Who occupies the Oval Office cannot singly determine every course of the next four years. In the smaller scheme of things, many policies that most affect our daily lives are set at state and local levels. There is good to do in our communities, whatever happens in Washington. In the bigger picture, the president is not our true king and America is not our true kingdom. Our hope is in Christ, not “in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help” (Ps. 146:3). Neither is the president our exemplar, the life around which we conform our own. Still, let us pray that discipleship will cultivate in us any of his virtues we admire — and that sanctification will excise from us any of his vices we revile.
Bonnie Kristian is a columnist at Christianity Today.
The title of this blog comes from 2 Peter 3:11with a little tweaking: How should we then vote? I received constructive criticism from a dear friend after sending out an email encouraging everyone to vote. He strongly suggested I should have instructed each to vote as a Christian: against abortion and same sex marriage, and for freedom of religion … and a life free from mob rule, etc.
However, John Piper recently wrote, “I remain baffled that so many Christians consider the sins of unrepentant sexual immorality (porneia), unrepentant boastfulness (alazoneia), unrepentant vulgarity (aischrologia), unrepentant factiousness (dichostasiai), and the like, to be only “toxic” for our nation, while policies that endorse baby-killing, sex-switching, freedom-limiting, and socialistic overreach are viewed as “deadly.” Both are deadly.”
You have heard it said “If you find the perfect church, do not join it as it will not be perfect anymore!” 😮 There is no perfect church and there are no perfect candidates. So we are always left with the choice of the lesser of two evils, no matter who is running for office. Randy Alcorn in Heavensaid (the book, not the address 😇) “Christians should be involved in the political process, and we can do much good, but we should never forget that the only government that will succeed in global reform is Christ’s government.” We are called to be “salt and light”in this ever-darkening world, and part of our witness is that our neighbors see how we apply our Christian worldview in deciding for whom we vote.
Another friend, though, perhaps the wisest and most influential in my life, expresses remorse that the Evangelical community has so strongly embraced President Trump that we have alienated half of the nation to our witness for Jesus. Their reasoning is understandable if our allegiance to a political party seems to take precedence over our allegiance to another King.
Jesus and His followers were not very attached to this present world, and it was that “other-worldliness” that brought on suspicion, persecution and even martyrdom, not their allegiance to any earthly ruler.
Perhaps the worst day in history for Christianity was when Emperor Constantine became a Christian. Suddenly it became “popular” to carry the Name. Meetings in homes were no longer viewed as subversive; it rapidly became politically, economically and socially advantageous to be “Christian.” The result was the Christ-following communities were infiltrated by pretenders and like “sheep in the midst of wolves,” their innocence quickly became overrun with those who were CINO (Christian In Name Only).
What the enemy could not accomplish by persecution was achieved by subtler means, getting half-hearted “disciples” to mimic the words and practices of the Christians until one could not be certain of any faith. Like many in churches today, if they showed up for the meetings, paid some offerings and generally supported the Church, they became accepted to even lead.
This is not to say the Church was entirely corrupt and of no value. Like “weeds among wheat,”Father allowed the Church to continue growing. Many good things came from this acceptance into general society, such as Constantine’s call for a Council of Nicaea to clarify certain issues of doctrine, as well as other Councils. Many church “fathers” such as Irenaeus, Jerome and Augustine explored great truths for the Church, exhibited both by their lives of commitment and their extensive writings. However, the Church continued to slide gradually into political and societal priorities and became less interested in the other Kingdom, “not of this world.”
Alasdair MacIntyre ended After Virtuewith a warning of “the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.” We in our generation may well take care to prepare for renewed persecution and ostracization if we espouse that there is another King to whom we are allied, not the Republican nor Democratic parties (nor any fringe parties, either).
“Love your neighbor. Love the stranger. Hear the cry of the otherwise unheard. Liberate the poor from their poverty. Care for the dignity of all. Let those who have more than they need share their blessings with those who have less. Feed the hungry, house the homeless, and heal the sick in body and mind. Fight injustice, whoever it is done by and whoever it is done against. And do these things because, being human, we are bound by a covenant of human solidarity, whatever our color or culture, class or creed. “These are moral principles, not economic or political ones. They have to do with conscience, not wealth or power. But without them, freedom will not survive. The free market and liberal democratic state will not save liberty, because liberty can never be built by self-interest alone. I-based societies all eventually die. Ibn Khaldun showed this in the fourteenth century, Giambattista Vico in the eighteenth, and Bertrand Russell in the twentieth. Other-based societies survive. Morality is not an option. It’s an essential.” Jonathan Sacks, Orthodox Rabbi, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times
Anita and I already voted and my friend and critic would approve, but I did not vote to please him or you. And if you think you voted for someone other than I did, let’s sit down and talk about our rationales. There should be no hate, no antagonism, no animosity. Even if you were my enemy, even if you were my crucifier, my Master calls on me to show you love; and that we voted differently hardly makes you an enemy just because we disagree politically.
This was not intended to be a guest blog. I have several writings on death that I would like to share – as a healthy senior citizen, though. With six strokes behind me (the first was at 49 years old; the last was in 2007) and a couple of “near misses” (May 8, 2018, January 14, 2015), I feel like I have some perspectives worth sharing about the “shuffling off of this mortal coil.”
However, even with that history of vascular events, one cannot tell my medical risks by looking at me, and I function very highly as an active and able-bodied not-yet-silver septuagenarian. Anita and I walk about 3.5 miles a day and I still do odd jobs of construction (no more ladder work, though!).
But then this blog came in my email from Christianity Today (good reading; worth subscribing) and so I put my ideas aside and thought this 47 year-old might have a better way of convincing you of what this old man wanted to say. So read Todd’s essay of knowing better than most of us how much longer (or shorter) he has on this earth. Sobering considerations.
Good News: Tomorrow We Die Why dwelling on our mortality may be good for us. by J. Todd Billings, September 21, 2020
I used to assume that God owed me a long life — to pursue a vocation and family with full strength, to live long enough to become a grandparent. Then, at 39 , I was diagnosed with incurable cancer. The expected storyline of my life was interrupted. Now, as a cancer patient, my expectations have changed. The cancer is likely to cut decades from my life; I experience daily pain and fatigue that drain my strength. While my former expectations of God may seem reasonable, I’ve come to see how I had unwittingly embraced a form of the prosperity gospel. I believed that God owed me a long life.
This assumption is widespread. Among those in the United States who believe in God, 56 percent think that “God will grant good health and relief from sickness to believers who have enough faith,” according to a recent Pew study. In other parts of the world, the percentage of Christians who hold this view is even higher.
In some ways, this belief fits with Old Testament teachings about reaping what we sow. “Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things,” Proverbs 13:21 says. The prosperity gospel takes nuggets of wisdom like this and combines them with the healing ministry of Jesus in a way that explains illness in a clear axiom: Since God loves us, he doesn’t want us to be sick. So if we don’t have good health, it must be a consequence of personal sin, or at least a lack of faith on our part. One way or another, the ill person is to blame. While many evangelicals would reject this “strong” form of the prosperity gospel, many of us accept a softer version, a corollary: If I’m seeking to obey God and live in faith, I should expect a long life of earthly flourishing and relative comfort.
Recently, a friend told me about her work as a counselor with middle school youth at a Christian summer camp. On a designated day, campers participated in an activity designed to help them develop empathy in some small ways for people living with physical disabilities. Some students were blindfolded, others had their ears covered, and others sat in a wheelchair for the day’s activities.
Partway through the day, one girl ripped off her blindfold and refused to put it back on. “If I became blind, God would heal me,” she said. She had faith in Jesus and was trying to obey God. Like a predictable transaction, she knew that if she did her part, she could count on God to give her a life she considered to be prosperous. If she became blind, God would fix that.
The problem with this approach is not the belief that God can heal and that God loves us. The issue is that the God of Scripture never promises the type of prosperity this camper so confidently expected. Certainly, when healing comes, including through the means of medical treatment, it is a good gift from God. When we feel like we are in a dark “pit,” like the psalmist (Ps. 30:1–3), we can and should lament and petition for deliverance, including in our pain and illness. We rightly ask God for healing, just as we ask the Father for our daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. Yet healing, like our daily bread, is ephemeral, passing away. Whether we live only a few years or several decades, Ecclesiastes reminds us that, viewed through a wide-angle lens, “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart” (5:15).
Every one of us will eventually be struck down by death, a wound that no medicine can heal. Though Proverbs is right to point us to the general wisdom of reaping what we sow, it’s not a divine law of how the universe always works. Job was “blameless and upright” yet suffered great calamity with the loss of his children, his servants, his wealth, and his health (Job 1:1, 13–19; 2:7–8). The apostle Paul served Christ and the church sacrificially in faith yet was not granted deliverance from his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7–10). When it comes to mortality and the losses that come with it, none of us will be exempt. Although we tend to push away such basic human realities in our daily life, I’ve discovered something surprising: For us as Christians, embracing daily reminders of our mortal limits can refresh our parched souls.
Good News Worth Dying For Our lifetime is “fleeting,” our days like a “handbreadth” in relation to the eternal God, Psalm 39 reminds us. Until the Lord of creation comes again to make all things new, we join the psalmist in praying: “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.” (vv. 4–5, NRSV)
This prayer contrasts with commonly shared cultural assumptions today. Our tendency to construct tales about ourselves on Facebook and Instagram, for example, is part of a larger cultural liturgy — a set of practices shaping our desires — that subtly leads many of us to assume that we are at the center of the universe and that our story, if not our actual number of years on earth, will never end. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed these assumptions as illusions. The fact that refrigerated trucks were required to gather the bodies of the dead in cities like New York and Detroit is jarring testimony that highly developed nations are not immune to unexpected death. Moreover, as protests about the killing of unarmed black people have disclosed, the assumption that “my storyline will never end” is a culturally privileged one. The black church and other marginalized communities are painfully aware of the fleeting nature of human life. “Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus,” the Negro spiritual intones. For “I ain’t got long to stay here.”
Our mortality was not so easy to avoid in earlier generations. Beyond the reality that life-threatening communicable disease was an ever-present threat, the culture of death in America was more communal. Funeral services served as consistent reminders of human mortality as whole congregations attended, including children. These services traditionally focused on how we are not our own but belong to Christ in life and in death. In contrast, it is more common now to have personal memorial services tailored to the particular life story of the deceased, with only family and friends attending. We may care about someone else’s death, but only when it’s meaningful for our own story. Our own story counts the most. Death is something that happens to other people.
Psalm 39 cuts through such illusions, yet it is charged with hope. Though we are temporal creatures, we can still find true flourishing by investing our deepest loves in the one who is everlasting, the Lord. Peter Craigie, a particularly insightful commentator on the Psalms, notes how life’s value must be understood in light of its finitude. “Life is extremely short,” Craigie once wrote. “If its meaning is to be found, it must be found in the purpose of God, the giver of all life.” Indeed, recognizing the “transitory nature” of our lives is “a starting point in achieving the sanity of a pilgrim in an otherwise mad world.” Craigie penned these words in 1983, in the first of three planned volumes on the Psalms in a prestigious scholarly commentary series. Two years later he died in a car accident, leaving his commentary series incomplete. He was 47 [the age of this author].
Craigie’s life was taken before he and his loved ones expected, before he could accomplish his good and worthy earthly goals. Yet in his transient life, he bore witness to the breathtaking horizon of eternity. He bore witness to how embracing our mortal limits goes hand in hand with offering our mortal bodies to the Lord of life. We’re not heroes of the world, and we can’t do much. But we can love generously, and we can bear witness to the one who is the origin and end of life itself — the everlasting Lord, the Alpha and the Omega, the crucified and risen Savior who has accomplished and will bring about what we could never do ourselves.
The Antidote to Death Denial Our faith should not be used as a buffer to shield us from the sobering reality of our own mortality. Indeed, this death-denying attitude, so common in the “soft” prosperity gospel today, is unnecessary because of our hope in God for the resurrection of the dead. In the end, a faith unable to cope with our mortal helplessness is not worth having. The apostle Paul admits this openly: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” he says in his famous chapter on Christ’s resurrection. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:14, 19). Daily admitting our impotence before death can be a way of giving ourselves over to the risen Lord rather than depending upon our own attempts to manufacture a “prosperous” earthly life.
Strangely enough, admitting our powerlessness over death in this way can free us from slavery to the fear of death. Sociologists, in a school of thought inspired by Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Denial of Death, have documented how cultures tend to idolize political heroes or national fortunes as a way to deny their mortal limits. When we humans deny our mortality, we become defensive, trusting only our own political tribe or own racial or cultural groups. But living in resurrection hope displaces the need to idolize flawed leaders or whitewash sinful ideological causes. We can openly admit that we cannot defeat death. Instead, we live in trust that on the final day, “when the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Cor. 15:54). That day has not yet come — we long for it in the coming age, when Christ’s kingdom comes in fullness. Our hope for it, and in God’s purposes rather than our own, makes a great deal of difference in how we live each day now.
In light of resurrection hope, Paul believed that though “outwardly we are wasting away,” our bodily decay will not have the final word (2 Cor. 4:16). Moreover, even our bodily afflictions are incorporated into the reality that holds us: our union with the crucified and risen Lord. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body” (v. 11). Whether or not we have sight or mobility, whether we live 5 or 40 or 90 years, our bodies belong to the Lord, and the process of outwardly wasting away can be a testimony to the humble love of our Savior. Amazingly, the Spirit enfolds bodily failings into his work in the world. As we are witnesses to Christ, the very crumbling of our bodies makes it “clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (v. 7, NRSV). In this way, the anchor of our hope is not deliverance from the process of decay but union with the crucified and risen Christ. This union with Christ will fully blossom in the coming resurrection, sharing in “an eternal glory that far outweighs” our present troubles (v. 17).
The Gift of Mortality Reminders According to Martin Luther, even when our bodies feel vibrant and dying seems to belong to a far country, we should make death a frequent acquaintance. “We should familiarize ourselves with death during our lifetime,” he wrote in a 1518 sermon, “inviting death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move.” Why does Luther advise this? His reason is not a morbid proclivity but rather the same reason the psalmist refers to life as merely “a few handbreadths” before God: Death punctures our hubris, our sense that the world is a drama in which we are the focal point. Reminders of our death can point to the God of life — the God who put flesh on dry bones — as our only hope, both now and in the age to come. As Luther reminds us, “since everyone must depart, we must turn our eyes to God, to whom the path of death leads and directs us.”
On hard days and easier days, amid joy and pain, I’ve come to embrace mortality reminders as strange but good gifts. They can ground me as a mortal before God. We live in hope that the frailty and decay of our bodies will not be the final measure of our lives. We live in hope that the central drama of the universe is not our own life story. Instead, living as small creatures, we can rejoice in the wonder and drama of God’s love in Christ.
Our present life will end when, like Job, we as creatures are stripped of family and fortune and worldly future. But even in light of this mortal end — indeed, especially in light of it — we can join the apostle Paul in being “convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).
Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. His latest book, The End of the Christian Life: How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live is available at bookstores and on Amazon.