Fear is all around us, and perhaps more pronounced today than in the past. There has been a lot of discussion about the decisions, impositions, and implications resulting from the intense fear surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. Whichever side of these debates you fall on, there’s one important question that, as Christians, we perhaps aren’t asking ourselves enough…why are we afraid? I understand why those outside of the Church fear the suffering and death this plague brings, but why do we?
Within our society, there is an expectation of happiness. We want to enjoy life, we work hard to build a comfortable lifestyle, and we try to avoid hardship and suffering. But as Christians, we should know better. Suffering and death exist in the world whether we would have it or not, because this world is fallen and sinful. Martin Luther says in his commentary on John 14, “The Christian should always think, if peace and tranquility reign today, it will be different tomorrow. The devil can soon shoot a dart into my heart, or some other affliction can befall me.”
The thought, prevalent throughout Western Christianity, that God’s goal for you in this life is to be happy, that He doesn’t want you to suffer and die, is wrong. Your life as a Christian will be marked by pain, discomfort, heartache, and ultimately death. In last week’s episode of Ringside, Rev. Joel Hess addresses this head on. “Suffering is a mechanism by which you are strengthened, whether you believe in God or not. In the world of Christ, suffering is the stigmata. It is the sign of being a Christian. It is the experience through which you come to really understand the things you say you confess. When we ignore or avoid that, we cause a problem.”
Yet, Christians get swept up in the hysteria and desire to extend our lifespan at any cost, just like the rest of the world. Now, to be sure, God has given us knowledge, technology, and medicine to enrich our lives, and we should take advantage of these good gifts. It’s the underlying terror of death that’s problematic and can partially be attributed to the fact that death is hidden in our society. “When the elderly get sick, we put them in nursing homes and hospitals. People don’t die in the home anymore, tended to by their families until the very end,” Rev. Paul Koch notes. When we don’t acknowledge and interact with death regularly in our lives, it becomes a hidden and forgotten part of our reality. That is, until a pandemic hits and the media drops death squarely in our laps.
Perhaps this is where the Church should really be focusing its conversations tody. Before commenting on politicized decisions or the validity of medical directives, do Christians need a dose of reality? Do we need to be reminded how depraved and sinful the world is, that the wages of sin is death, and that we do not have to be afraid of that because Christ died and rose for our sins, and will raise us up again to live eternally? If this is the foundation of our lives, our interaction with and decisions in the world and our understanding of the purpose of life will flow from it. “The purpose of life is not YOLO*,” Rev. Joel Hess reminds us, so go and live your life in peace and with confidence in God’s promises, and when you die, do that with peace and confidence too.
*For you non-millennials out there, YOLO stands for “you only live once.” It is the 21st Century version of “carpe diem.”
This article is a brief synopsis of one of several topics discussed on last week’s episode of Ringside with the Preacher Men. To hear Rev. Paul Koch, Rev. Joel Hess, and Rev. Ross Engel duke it out over John Lennon’s “Imagine”(ary) utopian vision, the idolatry of health, the role of suffering in the Christian life, and the Smalcald Article on the Law, listen to the latest full Ringside with the Preacher Men episode, “Imagine There Was No Heaven or Hell…and More Topics.”
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