Its a simple fact really. A stunning fact. A fact that should shake us to the bones: We will all die someday. And yet we live most of our lives furiously pushing forward as if tomorrow has no right not to come. This week some of us were shaken out of the stupor. Something may have happened to wake you up, to make you stop, to let the cold reality sink in. Death is inevitable. This happened to me and some of my friends by the death of a young man. I personally never met him but the pain of a young and untimely death spreads like a cold fog through the hearts of friends and loved ones to all around. It weighs down on us. It says to us in an arresting voice, “Pull over. Stop and think.”
We’ve all perhaps heard of Mary Shelley’s dark tale of the genius scientist Victor Frankenstein, who’s curiosity and intellect drive him to create a living monster (yes, yes Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not the monster). Anyways, as the story goes, the beast haunts Victor everywhere he goes, wreaking havoc on his entire life and eventually leading to his very sad death. Frankenstein has now been told and retold for nearly 200 years, and for good reason. It is a magnificent and horrifying exploration of human nature, the limits of science and our relationship to nature. No matter how you slice it, it is rich with meaning and significance. And yet as I read it last year there was one thread in particular that jumped out at me.
There comes a point during any good tough hike when the rigor and the pain flip you into a different mental mode. The aching muscles and dwindling mental energy narrows your focus: keep moving. One foot in front of the other. Get to the end. This is actually a good picture of how we often tend to function in our daily lives. We are working for something. Some ultimate end. Some point of satisfaction. Something that will make it all worth the struggle. Underneath the repetitious wheel of daily life we have a bedrock purpose that keeps things turning. Sometimes we may even forget about its existence. But that doesn’t diminish its ever present influence throughout our days and minutes and weeks and months. On this point both Nietzsche and Darwin were right – life is a continual struggle. We are always reaching forward.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened. But somewhere in these last few years, there grew within me this unshakable awareness that life is very fragile. This awareness came quite unexpectedly. Almost like someone pulled back the curtain in the middle of act three, throwing off both the audience and the actors on stage. It shook up my young and untested sense of the world. It melted that notion that life will always continue to flow as it always had.
The other day, as I was rocking my daughter to sleep and reflecting on how much I love her, I stumbled upon a striking realization. There was a phase in my parenting life, perhaps a year ago, when I really sought to hurry through the whole toddler bedtime routine. Every evening was a race with the clock to get her down nice and early and enjoy the freedom of spending time with my wife without constant interruption. But lately, things have changed. I have really started to enjoy those twilight bedtime minutes.
There is nothing that is more powerful or fulfilling to the human heart than to be gripped by love. Nothing else fills us with the satisfaction and meaning that we get when we are tied in our heart to others and feel the irresistible drive to seek their joy and wellbeing. We can do a great many things in life. In the end however, if we are simply left alone with our pile of toys and trophies, we find that they really mean nothing on their own. Unless we have someone with whom we can share the joy, unless we have those who give us reason to be better and stronger people, the sense of fulfillment dissolves helplessly in our hands.
The idea of the resurrection of has been criticized and mocked from the very earliest days of christianity. Jesus debated with the Sadducees – a group of Jewish scholars who generally dismissed the possibly of the miraculous or supernatural. When Paul spoke with the Greeks in Athens, they listened to his argument, up until he got to the fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Then they just mocked and dismissed him.
Some of the most powerful drivers of human history and civilizations are rooted in the deepest longings and needs of the heart. Just think of the stuff that fills the news today. Equal rights. Justice. Freedom. Dignity. Beneath the clutter of the headlines that fill the newsfeed, these are the core drivers of all that surrounds us. We are humans are built with certain longings and affections that cannot be rationalized away. Its just how we are.
The question of pain and suffering has been on my mind lately. It is a hard question. One that seems to push any worldview and philosophy beyond its boundaries. Anywhere we look to find a satisfactory answer, we find that the issue in question looms larger than our own powers of comprehension. Sure, some may have purely intellectual ways of answering the question, but they aren’t answers that satisfy the longing of the soul. They are answers “from the view of the balcony” and are not likely to satisfy the questions of the weary travelers on the road.
In the past week, Michael Gungor has come out criticizing the idea that Jesus’ death was a substitutionary death (a death in our place). The argument he makes is an argument that echoes the concerns of the modern heart, a concern for the violence of ancient religion and their entire notion of a blood sacrifice that had to be made to appease the gods. Bloodshed is a problem often associated with religions throughout all history. Bloodshed is an an utter and tragic horror. It is in many ways the epitome of all that ugliness that fills our world. Gungor therefore argues – what kind of God would require bloodshed to bring about healing and redemption?
Today we live in an aching and divided world. We are longing for real healing, real answers. Contrary to the predictions of the past less and less people seem to embrace the position that states there is no God at all. The vast majority of us believe in a “higher power”, a “force”, a “presences” – a version of God through which we long to come to view of reality that will help us find the path to real healing to all that is fallen and aching in this world. In view of this we understandably recoil as we consider the bloody religions of the past and present. We don’t want violence. We want peace. We want love. We want reconciliation.