“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Death and Resurrection, Part VI

…This theme of pain leading to greater joy, and perhaps, more generally, the theme of death and resurrection, is present in psychologist Larry Crabb’s book Inside Out. Crabb focuses on the idea that in order to change deeply from the inside out into mature believers who love God and love others more fully, we must take a good hard look at our weaknesses and failures and the unsatisfying nature of this life. Our deepest longings cannot and will not be satisfied in this life and our closest human relationships will ultimately leave us disappointed. We are sinful, weak, and fallen people, and we will face pain and suffering. Only when we embrace the reality of our unsatisfied longings and see the sin that corrupts us at the core will we begin to change. We must stop protecting ourselves from the harsh reality of a fallen world. Seeing ourselves as desperate sinners and this world as a fallen, broken place will help us to fix our eyes on God, who alone can heal us and fulfill our desires. Indeed, we need to be changed at the core – a transformation and renewal of our hearts. This, I think, is part of the death to self, as are both humble awareness of our sin and the necessary suffering we face. Crabb emphasizes, though, that real change is possible here and now – by passing through disappointment and pain we can come to a deeper joy in Christ. And just as only God was powerful enough to raise Christ from the dead, so only God can perform such a great work in us, who have fallen so far.

Tim Keller pursues a similar idea chapter twelve, “The (True) Story of the Cross,” of The Reason for God. Just as there is a cost to following Christ, there is a cost to forgiving others as he forgave us. Forgiveness, writes Keller,

“means refusing to make [others] pay for what they did. However, to refrain from lashing out at someone when you want to do so with all your being is agony. It is a form of suffering…You are absorbing the debt, taking the cost of it completely on yourself…It hurts terribly. Many people would say it feels like a kind of death. Yes, but it is a death that leads to resurrection instead of the lifelong living death of bitterness and cynicism…[C]ostly forgiveness…always feels far worse than bitterness…[It] must be granted before it can be felt, but it does come eventually. It leads to a new peace, a resurrection.”
Jesus Christ paid the price of forgiveness dearly on the cross, but it led to his resurrection. We too, are called to forgive unto death (Mark 11:25, Matthew 5:44), and in doing so we follow Christ (Colossians 3:13), each taking up his cross. At the root of forgiveness is love – a sacrificial, selfless love that places the good of others before one’s own good, the kind of love Christ showed on the cross when he gave himself (Luke 23:34).

Keller and Crabb agree that there is a great cost to resurrection, and a pain that must precede the joy we were made for. They describe different aspects of it, or perhaps different ways that it might be experienced, but both describe the same event, a death to self. As we have seen (parts IV and V), the apostle Paul also deals with this painful giving up of oneself to God. And each writer describes a kind of resurrection – a new life and a greater joy that follows, a joy that grows out of love and delights in the good of others, a joy that springs out of the knowledge of Christ and his love, as shown on the cross.

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