“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15:55-57
This picture of my Grandpa Don was taken just one week before his death. This picture depicts the effects of an unsuccessful surgery at OHSU to remove the cancer from his head, his face, and from his neck that inevitably left him paralyzed on the right side of his face.
He was in so much pain, here. He had suffered physically at this point for so long. By this time he was uncomfortably well-acquainted with the loss of certain senses, his imminent death, and with the emotional adjustment to his new way of life and his new off-putting appearance.
However, what I love so, so incredibly much about this picture is the trust, the heart and the attitude that is so evident, even in his last moments.
Although he would have had every reason possible to recant on his faith, or to blame God for his circumstances, he chose joy. He would have had every reason to feel confused, to doubt, to be scared or bitter about his upcoming death, wondering where was God in all of this suffering? And yet instead of blaming God, he intentionally used his circumstances, here in this picture and always, as an opportunity to point others towards the goodness of God and the hope that he clung to until the moment his spirit left his body. He viewed His suffering as an honor and a unique opportunity to share his heart with the people around him with little time left to do so.
One of the very last things that he said to me in his ever-so precious voice that I can hear as clear as day, he said, “God has never once failed me in my entire life. He will not fail me now.”
Grandpa Don and my brother Nick having a lovely day on the water enjoying Grandpa’s most favorite hobby
Today, on Easter Sunday, 2.2 Billion people around the globe celebrate the single most important event in the history of the world. (Fact)
But what does the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ have to do with this post, with you and I, with our post-modern way of thinking, or with my grandpa?
For those 2.2 Billion people, this day means that the bridge between us and God has been lovingly grafted into the human story through Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross. It means that the weight and the sting of the suffering we experience, the loneliness, and the ache of living in human skin in this life doesn’t end there. It means that in the words of Jesus, “life to the full,” is available now, and that eternal life is what is in store, through Him: “The now, and the not yet.”
It means that there is another story on offer.
When all the facades are gone; when popularity fades; when the filters can’t hide what’s going on inside of you; when your followers drop off; when your good looks, your social status, or a good education don’t seem to offer the promise you banked on; when the perfect career doesn’t seem to satisfy; when your emotions rise and fall based on the likes you receive on social media; when marriage doesn’t meet your expectations; when the pills can’t actually fix what’s going on in your soul; when sex, when the government, when your spouse, when your sexuality, your identity, your logic, science, or your political beliefs don’t seem to actually offer you the explanation, the promise, the hope or the satisfaction that you desperately crave. What’s left? Who has the certain answers for the toughest questions?
I can’t think of a better time in history for a hurting world to hear a different story than the alternatives that are on offer. And yet this is arguably the most unpopular moment in history to be a follower of Jesus, who happens to be THE ultimate alternative story.
Like even me posting this makes me an illogical fool to many people in our post-christian secular society. I totally get it. I can genuinely reckon with the reputation that Christians receive at times for the misuse of Jesus’ name. And I understand why that is unappealing. However in my opinion, there is also a gross misunderstanding of what it actually means to follower of Jesus, but even the most honest attempts at a devoted life to Christ’s life and teaching will never be free from error. But it is certainly a very lonely and rejected road to travel at times.
What is likened to a fairytale, an emotional crutch, and wishful thinking to so many is an understandable position. I think doubt is very fair and super reasonable, especially considering how provocative the story of Jesus is.
I personally however cannot live in an ongoing state of doubt. I can’t hover in it for the span of my life. Even if I were to deny the Lordship of Jesus, the competing worldviews to the Biblical Worldview still do not offer a better solution to the very same questions and aches pertaining to living in this human story. There is something inside of me that requires me to make choices. I cannot do gray area because like every other human I’m a narrative junkie who inherently craves order, and understanding, and a story to make sense of the details of life.
What I’ve experienced through the events that have marked my life’s journey, particularly in the last 6 years or so, have left me utterly unable to remain in a state of doubt. The power, the restoration, and the change that I’ve witnessed in my own life and in others lives requires me at some point to make a choice about what I believe in order to live honestly and responsibly according to the whole of reality as I experience it.
For me, it’s become quite simple: The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is either true, or it’s not.
It’s a 50-50 shot.
The story of Jesus is either the most long-standing and most prevailing lie in the history of humankind; Or, it’s the single most important story that’s ever been told that has mind-bending implications for every single person on earth. It’s either that we are merely machines on legs and there is no purpose in life other than to be happy, which we all know is difficult because happiness is an ever-fluctuating emotional state.
God has a very high view of human person and there is infinite purpose to every facet of our lives. In that, there is more to death than death itself.
Either the distinct order and the design that we witness in nature such as the eye in the tip of a Peacock’s feather, or the process of blood clotting (not explained by natural selection), or in the rotary motor’s sequence of operation within the DNA cell structure are the design and handiwork of an engineer. Or they are meaningless and random processes that just happen to mirror the distinguishing properties of design. In this low view of the created order, humans are merely products of chance and time. For this reason and so many others, I deeply appreciate the high-value that the Bible and Jesus put on even the most seemingly insignificant and overlooked details of our existence.
For all that Christianity has done incorrectly, and for all of the numerous ways that Christians just like myself fall so short of the life that we actually want to live and of the people who we actually want to be, I still cannot think of a more meaningful narrative to live by that speaks to the whole of reality and our collective human experience.
No matter what happens to me in my life, and no matter how lonely and rejected it feels to maintain faith in Jesus in an environment that runs 100 mph in the opposite direction of it, I will never regret choosing the narrow road. There will come a day that I too will be staring my death in the face. And just like my grandfather I will hold my arms up mustering up all the strength left in my body, and I will say unashamed and without a doubt that “My God has never once failed me in my entire life; He will not fail me now.”
In Jesus, death has no victory.