The Life and Death of the American Christian
In recent history, there has been a radical attempt to redefine life and death. The definition of the beginning of life has been successfully altered and, in the aftermath of the Terri Schiavo case, the definition of death is constantly being critiqued. Philosophers through the millennia have mused long about the realities of life and death and I am certain the trend will continue for as long as people who live and die populate the planet.
Christians, well, those that read and believe the Bible, have encountered a God who has very much to say about the matters of life and death. No other topic is alluded to more than life and death. Jesus' story, the fulcrum of the Biblical story, is about the human life and death of God himself. But when it comes to modern American followers of Jesus there is much more emphasis on life than death. Is there a reason for this?
This Moment is All you Have
Postmodern American thinking lives for the moment - death does not matter because death is not near. The influx of postmodern thinking is evident in the teaching of the most popular Christian voices. The book stores are lined with "Christian" teaching that declares how this moment in time has been ordained as your moment of destiny. Since this moment is all that you are promised this moment is your destiny. Yuck!
Each new moment is another injection of life into the personal life. From experience to experience the Christian drifts with a longing heart to feel alive. This mode of living denies the template arc that God himself provided. We live, we die, we live again. The modern American Christian has deleted death from their religious experience and have found it as hollow as they assume their own lives to be.
This downright heretical teaching is picked and plucked from the grand story of Scripture and pasted together like one of those hodge-podged ransom notes that culls its message from carefully cut-out letters sourced from magazines.
Ironically enough, this message is holding Christians ransom from the true freedom of grace and the glory of Jesus' redemption. Jesus promises to make all things new but that time is not a momentary transfiguration. It is the process of grace sanctifying the saint and the Church. Living for a moment of spiritual prosperity or ecstasy is an affront to the gospel of Jesus and the consequences of such a wide adoption of trial belief has been the loss of an eternal perspective. The consequences of such a loss are deeper than we think.
The Loss of Eternal Perspective
The Bible and its story are all about life, then death, then life. We are not talking about a classic reincarnation tale, but the arc of humanity in the story of redemption consists of creation, death, and becoming a new creation. With such a limited way of viewing life, that is, that this moment is all we have, the beauty of the transforming power of the gospel is ripped out with the roots intact.
This cultural right of momentary existence has resulted in a Sunday-only, mega-intense, saturated worship experience that barely lasts the car ride to Sunday dinner. The attitude of worshippers is mainly this: That moment with God was good. On to the next moment whatever it may be. We no longer take the long view of Biblical living and the process of sanctification as serious or necessary. Two generations ago the Church spoke with a longing for the rapture and home going of the saints. Granted there an unhealthy infatuation with "end times" events that sacrificed the necessity of learning how to live in a present context. Still, how could a complete abandonment of teaching the eternal hope of the Church go missing in the times when grandparents had great-grandchildren?
It seems like Pastors and church leaders are mimicking the politicians they admire - when a topic becomes too hot to handle or too controversial, they immediately stop talking about it and shift attention to comfort of shiny and soothing. No one likes to talk about death and eternal consequences. The moment that is right now is what is cool and it is the only language most people can comprehend. If it makes you feel good at this moment then do it. The consequences of choices down the road be damned. Eternity, heck, next week doesn't even matter any more.
We avoid thinking about the consequences of actions because we have developed a strong aversion to the idea of suffering. American culture's number one goal is to avoid suffering at all cost and if you can't avoid suffering then at least can we get a momentary distraction from it? Addiction is when we become dependent on our distractions to helps us cope with a problem. The problem is suffering. The distractions are the weed-taking, alcohol-guzzling, illicit sex-having, disorderly eating, caffeine-ingesting, drama causing/seeking behaviors that keep us from the truth about ourselves. Because we are so occupied by avoiding suffering we so easily lose sight of the importance of suffering.
The Importance of Suffering
Martin Luther wrote that he had three Masters or teachers of his religious faith. The first two are relatively obvious. In Latin they are the ratio and meditatio or conversational prayer and meditation. But Luther's third master teacher was tentative or the classroom of suffering. Suffering is what applied the lesson to the soul so that it would neither be soon forgotten nor fail to impact the very worldview of the one who took the class.
Suffering changes us. It changes the way we think, feel, act, react, choose, avoid, and emote; suffering fundamentally changes the way that we live. Theories and theology, physics and philosophy are all great teachers, but they merely inform the way we view the world. Luther's conversational prayer and meditation also inform the way the view the world, but suffering takes the information and seals it to our very beings.
The burning fingers from touching the hot stove is the suffering that makes us respect the flame and trust the limitations of our parents. The DUI may sting, but the suspension of license and the necessity to find accommodating transportation is the suffering that has the potential to illicit real change. The reconciliation after adultery is dreadfully painful. The couple sufferers both together and apart - graduating the lesson of suffering makes them both less likely to make the same mistakes.
If we were to avoid all suffering what lessons would stick with us? Not many. This is why I am so confused at the American church that sees the rapid advancement of Christianity in hostile nations and wonders why there is no reveal here in their land. Could it be that they are too busy trying to escape suffering rather than asking the Good Teacher what they should be learning through their suffering?
The Death of the American Christian
The death of the American Christian is rapidly approaching and this has nothing to do with the declining church attendance statistics that Pastors use as scare tactics to get people to come back to church. The death of the American Christian has far less to do with church attendance than having to deal with an increasing apathy of the soul. As long as the next predictable moment brings a pseudo-spiritual happiness then there is no need to for the functioning power of the Holy Spirit. There is no need for prayer. There is no need for learning the word of God. There is no need for community and there is no need for confession. The major chords and power of positivity is all that is needed for the American Christian to be happy.
But this happiness is leading to the atrophy of the soul and that leads to death. Wake up Church! There is more to do and there is more that is already done that you are missing! Repent! The Kingdom of God is here! The dead are being made alive while you which are alive are slowing dying.
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