Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Death and Mercy; The Whole

Philip. 1:21, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
Death is full of suffering and sorrow; suffering and sorrow that overwhelm life. Death breaks the spirit and binds the heart in bitterness and pride, despair and guilt, fear and shame, distress and discomfort, for " ... the sorrow of the world produces death." Death takes life captive to itself for life has been held captive to death. Death is unmerciful and cruel.

With God, death and love are synonymous terms. Death is a severe mercy. Romans 6:3-5, "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, ..." " A mercy as severe as death, a severity as merciful as love." Death is seen as the great evil, perhaps the great escape, it is the cessation of life, separation final and eternal from the loves of this world. There is very little which would appeal to man to die and therefore it is difficult to make an appeal to die. God calls us to 'die to self', in essence to cease from living an independent existence. Romans 8:13, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

It is by this concept of dying to one's self that God assaults our sensibilities. God is showing through what we have always longed for; what we have always sought; the desires of our heart; the need for a greater love, a love which fills with great delight and joy; a love which fascinates, for those loves given in this life are mere glimpses of the fullness of life to be had with God. Life becomes a treatise wonderfully proclaiming the soul's need for love. Love which is compassionate, passionate, indulgent and fascinating, imbued with grace and mercy and forgiveness. All of life's loves require the act of grace and the response to grace, that unmerited favour, that undeserved preferential treatment by one who loves because there exists no other desire of greater necessity than to love. Life as exemplified through love is illustrative of the theological truth that grace, rather than destroying the natural love, ennobles and dignifies it and that there is always agreement to be found between the natural and the supernatural -- between the principles of sound reason and the manifestation of Divine grace. Psalm 68:9, "You, O God, sent a plentiful rain, whereby You confirmed Your inheritance, when it was weary." Fresh mercies await when old mercies are forgotten. Weariness of the loves of this life, when there is no longer any pleasure; when all appetite, taste, and color are lost, then, and only then, can the fear of death we have carried be annulled by grasping to the life offered through Jesus Christ. What a spiritual awakening does is to take Jesus Christ out of the realm of 'religion' and into the world of personal reality. 'Death to myself' should enliven an honest appraisal of the 'I,myself', where I am stripped of all protective coloring and veneer and awaken my soul to faithful assent to the actuality that the decision is not one of either/or, but a release from captivity to one 'good', in order to hold to a greater 'good'. The sin and temptation, the sorrow and grief that hold me captive in this realm; those things that are arrayed against me have been defeated by Jesus and His death for my sins and my life in service to Him through that propitiatory sacrifice brings honour to His name. In this I am Christ’s property and servant, and Christ is my portion; that is the first 'good'. The greater 'good' is the fullness of the "God-life' as I am released from the weakness, misery and disappointments of this life through perfect indifference to the consequences. When we are devoid of life, then can we see. Psalm 36:9, "For with You is the fountain of life; In Your light we see light." Romans 14:7-9, "For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living." This fellowship with God through the death of His Son demands 'dying to one's self' for the purpose of living to God.

"Set Me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thine arm; for love -- that is, the act and work of love -- is strong as death, ..."

It is moving from 'I and God' to 'God and I'. In this, I feel I have become a traitor to myself, forsaking those loves that have been given to me in this world, renouncing those loves that have become a sustaining and necessary part of my life. These are what have formed me, they have shaped me, they are embedded in my personae and without them I will be less of a person, the 'I, myself'. These are the guarded loves; the vision of who I am, the dreams and aspirations of my heart. As they are placed before the crucifix of my Christ, God says, "I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown." and "I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain."

As I face the dark waters, the dreaded darkness of my soul, the malignancy of my natural loves, and this life with its burning despair and ice-cold darkness of love betrayed, I am called to " ... arise and seek Him Whom my soul loves ... to seek the Lord and His strength; Seek His face evermore!" However, as these loves, my life, are placed on the altar and slain I can come to know a dread and a fear of God, even a hatred of God. A last desperate attempt exists to thwart what God requires, to challenge God for my soul. I wish to cease to believe and I desire for another option, I choose ... but what choice do I have ... "Lord, to whom shall (I) go? You have the words of eternal life." But, I will always believe, or will I? It is death that brings me to this place, to decide, to question the validity of God as One Who loves. Why should death have to be a path to life?

In an absurd conundrum, death saves love from perishing from one of the other ways in which love could perish. It would be better for love to perish through death, than through hate. Love does in truth have to perish, " ... perish in its earthly form, at least, or perish utterly in hate or indifference. Perish unless it can be redeemed." C.S. Lewis said, 'There can be miraculous reprieve as well as miraculous pardon." "There's something in natural affections which will lead it on to eternal love more easily than natural appetite ... there's also something in it which makes it easier to stop at a natural level and mistake it for the heavenly. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is. And if it finally refuses conversion its corruption will be worse than the corruption of the lower passions." "Every natural love will rise again and live forever: but none will rise again until it has been buried." Our loves in order to be redeemed must die to the old self, otherwise, there would be no contentment in turning to the love of God and to what God restores of love. This is an acceptable sacrifice, mystical, mysterious, imperative. "Death wounds to cure." Hosea 13:9,"O (Christian), you are destroyed, but your help is from Me."

Perdition, absolute ruin comes to the soul only from the soul itself -- it arises from its own internal desires and motivations; only good comes from God and from God alone. Death is the great hindrance to, and the great deliverer from, the pursuit of all earthly desires that all lead to evil. Death is not a state, but an act; not a condition, but a passage. It is the re-birth of the soul. Death furnishes the catalyst to communion with God to receive the fullness of the blessings of that union. Death is a blight to the soul, through which light shines in the darkness.

As death looms in the loss of my loves, and the 'I, myself", I despair, not as one who as yet understands the loss and the grief, but as one who passively anticipates the correction of those imperfections and disorders that have their root and their strength in the spirit. "The reason is that all the imperfections and disorders of the sensual (human) part have their strength and root in the spirit, where all habits, both good and bad, are brought into subjection, and thus, until these are purged, the rebellions and depravities of sense cannot be purged thoroughly." These loves are barriers, hedges around my heart, through which God will not force Himself to enter. In this I know that the darkness of death must have its cleansing work and in this I fear, not for the safety of my soul, ... but still I fear ... not the dread of my demise, ... but still I fear ... I don't even fear what I may lose, ... but still I fear ... I fear because I do not understand ... and in not understanding I cannot grasp the depth of the consequences of casting myself upon a Holy God ... but still I fear... even though "... there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment ..." but still I fear ... because "... he who fears has not been made perfect in love".

'Perfect in love'; some men have neither love nor fear; others have fear without love; others have love and fear; and others have love without fear, but to be 'perfect in love' declares a state-of-being, a conscious acceptance that the love of God pervades life with its condescension to my well-being. In this we see Jesus as the first and the last example of confidence in and submission to God: He is the most complete model of faith and obedience that can be brought before us. Jesus modeled 'perfect love' in trusting by faith in the strength and wisdom of God through His death. I must have a right knowledge of the true love of Christ. John 15:9, "As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love." This is the purpose served in Christ bidding us to continue in his love; because the right knowledge, and faith of that to the soul, disperses and drives away all the fogs and mists of darkness; the delusions of this world; and disciplines the heart and soul to endure the trials that remove the dross from our lives and those things which draw our heart away from God. The love of God should fix our eyes upon Him for "... of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace."

A philosopher said whatever is received comes to him that receives it after the manner of the recipient.The natural faculties of love, which are human and base, can not contain the purity or strength to receive that which is Divinely supernatural. The soul must be weaned, purged and annihilated which is impossible unless the old man dies first. Paul says very eloquently,"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain ... what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ."

It is "... better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart." Bereavement may be the "... easiest and least perilous of the ways in which men lose the happiness of youthful love. ... every merely natural love has to be crucified before it can achieve resurrection ..." Death to self is the means God uses to free me from myself and provides for the taking of the matter, my life, into His hands.

Only through death can there be re-birth, but there are many ways of dying. Some forms of dying create an 'eternally unbridgeable chasm', this 'death to self' mystically, without full knowledge or understanding, communicates and infuses into the soul through love the death of this life to attain the resurrection of the new life in Christ. The darkness of death must pass over the Christian. This is a fearful undertaking, but not without security. As the soul is moved to relinquish life it is drawn closer to God, Who " ... shall hide (you) in the secret place of (His) presence from the plots of man; (Who) shall keep (you) secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues."

2 Cor. 4:7-12, "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, ..."

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