Christ came for those chained to the “fear of death” (Heb 2:15). We all lie under this death sentence. Death produces fear and this fear becomes lifelong bondage (Heb 2:14-15). Richard Beck wrote a book on this very topic, he argues that our fear of death drives us to fierce avoidance of our mortality. He states,
“Every American is thus ingrained with the duty to look well, to seem fine, to exclude from the fabric of his or her normal life any evidence of decay and death and helplessness. The ethic I have outlined here is often called the ethic of success. I prefer to call it the ethic of avoidance. . . . Persons are considered a success not because they attain some remarkable goal, but because their lives do not betray marks of failure or depression, helplessness or sickness. When they are asked how they are, they really can say and really do say, “Fine . . . fine.”
In spite of this avoidance and believing that “our deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation” (Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death) we cannot escape it. Death is personified in Scripture as a ferocious monster that consumes everyone and everything in front of it (1 Cor 15:26, Rom 7:24, 8:1, Rev 6:7-8).
Death must be looked in the face. Wisdom requires it (Ps 90:12). Without this, we run the risking of not taking our mortality to heart (Eccl 7:2). Just as sin drives us to the cross for forgiveness, death pushes to the empty tomb for hope and assurance. The gospel is the only good news in the face of death.
Jesus buried, this is one of the most critical yet overlooked facets of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-4). The sting of death was full absorbed by Christ. He lay lifeless in a tomb for three days. Yet, as he lay there he was unraveling death itself. He came that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14). Death was his instrument of undoing our sin, undoing the evil one and destroying death itself. The third day was the death knell of death itself.
Running from death will not help us. We must face it and run toward the gospel. The buried Lord and the resurrected King tell us that all will be okay, we do not need to be controlled by the fear of death.
I have been thoroughly enjoying Richard Beck lately. I read his book on the Slavery of Death and found it to be challenging and compelling. He discusses at length the linkage between vulnerability, understanding our frailty, embracing our mortality and the possibility of love marking our relationships. Check out what he has to say.
“Notice in Acts 4 that there were “no needy persons among them.” Why? Because they shared with “anyone one who had need.” The expression of neediness in the community allowed the economy of love to flow. But in churches in America and other places where affluence poses special problems, the situation is very different. These cultures are enslaved to the fear of death and death avoidance holds serious sway. In these cultures the expression of need is taboo and pornographic. What results is neurotic image-management, the pressure to be “fine.” The perversity here is that on the surface American churches do look like the church in Acts 4 – there are “no needy persons” among us. We all appear to be doing just fine, thank you very much.
But we know this to be a sham, a collective delusion driven by the fear of death. I’m really not fine and neither are you. But you are afraid of me and I’m afraid of you. We are neurotic about being vulnerable with each other. We fear exposing our need and failure to each other. And because of this fear – the fear of being needy within a community of neediness – the witness of the church is compromised. A collection of self-sustaining and self-reliant people – people who are all pretending to be fine – is not the Kingdom of God. It’s a church built upon the delusional anthropology we described earlier. Specifically, a church where everyone is “fine” is a group of humans refusing to be human beings and pretending to be gods. Such a “church” is comprised of fearful people working hard to keep up appearances and unable to trust each other to the point of loving self-sacrifice. In such a “church” each member is expected to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, thus making no demands upon others. Unfortunately, where there is no need and no vulnerability, there can be no love.”
Richard Beck, psychology and theology professor at Abilene Christian University wrote a helpful blog post on the mundane nature of following Christ. I found his perspective to be refreshing and spot on in many ways. Check out what he has to say.
I was talking to one of my students recently about the temptations of youthful spirituality, how when you are young you get addicted to the buzz of the worship high and then go searching for a more intense fix. You become a worship junkie.
From your high school youth group on being close to God is being ON FIRE! Because God is AWESOME!
That’s the temptation for youth, being trained to associate God with adrenaline and the Spirit with excitement.
What I told my student was this.
What no one ever shares with you when you’re young is that Christianity is boring. No one tells you that. That Christianity, for the most part, is boring.
No one tells you that Christianity is a 70 to 80 year grind in becoming more kind, more gentle, more giving, more joyful, more patient, more loving.
You learn that God isn’t in the rocking praise band or the amped up worship experience. What you learn after college is that Holy Ground is standing patiently in a line. You learn that Holy Ground is learning to listen well to your child, wife or co-worker. Holy Ground is being a reliable and unselfish friend or family member and being a good nurse when someone is sick. Holy Ground is awkward and unlikely friendships. Holy Ground is often just showing up.
Being more and more like Jesus is a million boring little things.
No one ever tells you that when you’re young.
Just like no one ever tells you just how risky and revolutionary it all is.
That a truly radical life of following Jesus is made up of a million boring little things.