Monday, December 10, 2012

Loss is Senseless

What I find funny, in a dark sort of way, is how quick we all are to try to turn loss into something good.  It's like we can't stand that loss just hurts, that loss is just loss.  It is what it is.  We hate the idea.  We always need to find that silver lining.  We always need to make it sound good somehow.  We call black white and white black.  And Christians can be the worst at it.

There is, of course, a grain of truth to it, and I will look at that a little further down.  But first and foremost, loss of a loved one, either through death or divorce or a mind-robbing illness or something like that, is in its barest essence the experience of a void where there once was connection and love.  That person, the way you knew them (however that was), is gone. 

So, we say things to try to comfort ourselves such as, "Loss is a part of life."  Yes.  But it is a part of life in a fallen world -a world that is not as it should be.  Therefore, it is misleading to say it is just a "part of life"... we must qualify that statement to remind ourselves that while true, loss is a reminder that this created order is broken and fragmented away from God, distorted and cursed with the promise of loss because of man's departure from God.  Loss of a loved one should not make us numb to the fact that this world is just wrong.  It should highten our awareness of that fact.

We also say things like, "It will make me stronger." Wonderful -a knock-off from Nietzsche. It can also make you harder and bitter. But, for the sake of argument, let's say we stick with the positive: it can make you stronger. Then by that logic, we should seek to experience as much loss and pain as possible. After all, if it makes me stronger (and stronger must be better) then I should want that, right? Of course not.  That is like saying that burning my hand on the stove makes my skin tougher.  Sure.  I'm sure it does over time as the scar tissue builds up.  But how on earth does that make burning your hand on the stove a good thing?

Why are we so driven to want to ignore the truth?  I think we are afraid that we will lose ourselves.  We will find out how weak we really are.  I think we are afraid that we will become something we don't like.  We will be "weak" in our own eyes, or we will crash under the weight of the sorrow.  We are afraid of ourselves, of what we will truly find, and I think it is partly because we know, deep down, that our sense of control is an illusion.  So, we look for ways to minimize the bad or paint it in a good light.  But does it really work?  How glorious can you really make it?

Take death, for example.  What is glorious about death?  A once living and breathing person you loved is reduced to a mass of organic tissue as they soil their clothes and take their final breath.  There is nothing glorious about that.  And what of you?  Where are all the clever words and sayings?  How do they hold up?  You come face to face with the chilling and unrelenting smite of powerlessness.  Your plans.  Gone.  Your hopes.  Gone.  Your love.  Unmet. 

Life as you know it has permanently changed.  A void has been created, and you were powerless to stop it.  You can, and you probably will, try to fill it with things and people and hobbies and cute little quips from this book here or there.  But it won't work.

At the end, loss leaves you without answers.  You scramble to try to make sense of it.  You look for reasons.  You rehash the past and try to figure out your place in the whole thing.  But there is nothing there to argue with, to reason with.  There is only a headstone.  Your cries, your frustrations, your longings, your questions, your "if only's" pour out of your soul and hit cold, dead stone.  No answer.  Silence.  It is amazing how big and empty the night skies feel.  You feel alone in the universe.

But then there is the cross of Christ.

The cross of Christ beckons us to come down to earth and walk in the real world.  It beckons us to avoid the temptation to call black white and white black.  Before we even talk of the wonderful effects of Christ's death, we need to look at the cross for what it is, first.  What happened on the cross?  Ignoring our desire to theologize and peer up into the heavens and make statements about something that must have happened up there, what do we really see if we look at the cross and the man who hung on it?  We see a man, the Son of God, God come down to us in human flesh, hanging, bleeding, broken, likely soiling Himself.  Could there be anything less glorious?  No answer.  Just a man, a man his closest friends were finally beginning to hang their hopes on, dead.  Lifeless.  Stuck in the side like a piece of meat.  There is nothing heavenly about that.  It is, if anything, both grizzly and ordinary, hauntingly non-special.

At the end, that is all this life, this created order, this system, has for us.  Despite the presence of good in the world and a lot of temporal blessing, it ends the same way.  There is no ladder up and out of it.  No self-improvement scheme will break it. No amount of pulling up our bootstraps will change it. It is a literal dead end.  You live, you experience loss, and then you die a very ordinary death -ordinary only because, in this age, decay and violence and disease are just part of things.  In the end, the curse stands -even the Son of God did not escape it.  It swallowed Him whole.  The wage of sin leaves its mark on all of us, leaving us all helpless, powerless, stricken with loss, until it finally claims us in a blanket of futility.

But... after His ordinary, futile, unglorious, senseless death, something happened.  On the third day, He rose from the grave.  He rose to newness of life, being, as the Bible states, the "firstborn of a new creation."  A new age began on that day.  Something new was created.  The old had to die.  This new thing is not a fixed-up version of the old.  A bleak, ordinary, senseless death happened first.  And then a new light dawned, the first dawn of the new creation where God will ultimately be with His people and sin and loss and brokeness will be no more.

Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, 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)

Why spend all this time explaining this?  It isn't new.  It is important to hear this because Jesus is not just some kind of life preserver or way to minimize the blows of this life.  He is not here to help you climb your ladder to heaven.  His death shows us there is no ladder, just a dead end.  The only way through the bad is to die.  Redemption is no patch-job of this age.  God doesn't work that way.  There is death followed by resurrection.  To be part of it, you must die and be born anew into the new creation, the new age.

How does this figure into loss?  When you see this, I think, at least for me, I become slightly more and more able to accept loss -not because it is good, not because there is a silver lining, not because I can call black white, and not because I'll somehow try to turn it into some kind of elixir for stronger living.  I am able to accept loss more because I realize that I am dead and belong to something new, something that is growing like an infant in a mother's womb even right now.  I am able to accept loss more because I can face it head on, looking it in the eye, embracing the loss as loss, powerlessness as powerlessness, calling it what it is rather than trying to water it down or turn it into something else.  I can begin to approach living in reality rather than just telling myself something that temporarily makes me feel better. 

The truth is that there is no hope in avoiding and minimizing and Christian-sugar-coating what is painfully part of reality (our preferred way) -it is a lie, but there is hope in facing loss head on because beyond the senseless futility, beyond the very necessary death of our sense of control, -and only beyond it- is resurrection (God's way).

And then, and only then, can I see the beauty of how God creates something new out of death.  That is how there is a "silver lining," if we should call it that.  That is how the bad is used for good.  God is not one who helps us patch ourselves up, and the Christian life is not a self-improvement ladder.  It is a life of getting used to dying and walking in newness of life.  It is a life of getting used to the fact that our old self was nailed to the cross with Christ and now, in Him, we are new in God's sight -blameless because He took our place.

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