Charlie's Blog: In My Time of Dying

3.23.2016

In My Time of Dying


And I see them in the streets
And I see them in the field
And I hear them shouting under my feet
And I know it's got to be real
Oh, Lord, deliver me
All the wrong I've done
You can deliver me, Lord
I only wanted to have some fun.
LED ZEPPELIN, In My Time of Dying

This song from the Zep boys is a variation of a gospel blues song going back to Blind Willie Johnson. Even Dylan did a version of it. It is bluesy with slide guitar and has lyrics deeper than anything else Led Zeppelin ever did. The credit has to go to Blind Willie. I don't know if the lyrics are original to him are taken from some older spiritual. What I do know is that those blues musicians sang and played from a place that some white guys from England will never know.

I write this piece in a blue mood. The news is about the terrorist attacks in Brussels which is almost certainly in retaliation for the arrest of the ringleader in the Paris attacks. Some Belgian politician has publicly come out spewing crap about "Islamophobia." It just blows the mind. How many people have to die before these fools admit that multiculturalism has been an utter disaster?

I've revisited my blog post about defensive pessimism, and I am pleased that its wisdom still holds up. I despise optimism and positive thinking. Optimism makes suckers out of people, and those suckers are lining up to vote for Donald Trump. Trump has the honesty to speak frankly about the problems we face, but his solutions are virtually hot air. He is no different than Obama with his optimistic progressive crap. Even Obama has tired of his own lies, and it shows on his face.

But there is a downside to being so relentlessly pessimistic. It leads to depression. You can't live without hope which is why it matters so much that you place your hope in Jesus Christ. There are two erroneous ideas that hold sway today, and they are both seriously wrong.

The first and most prevalent idea is that God does not exist, and there is no afterlife or resurrection of the dead. There will be no Day of Judgment. This life is all you get. You only live once, so you need to make it count. For some reason, making it count devolves into drinking liquor and banging out whores. When life gets too messy, you opt for suicide, euthanasia, and abortion. This is why secularism breeds a culture of death.

The second idea is one prevalent among evangelical Christians, and this would be Christianity without the cross. The most potent example is the teleheretic Joel Osteen and his prosperity gospel. A close cousin of this heresy is the one known as "victorious Christian living." This rock is found on the campus of an evangelical Christian college:


This idea comes from a bad place theologically. Catholics talk about being in a state of grace, but this is better expressed as "vigilant Christian living." There is no victory until you make it to Heaven. In the meantime, you have the life of the cross which is not pleasant. Once upon a time, I used to live by this flawed theology, and it ended in a great deal of bitterness and disappointment for me. This is why I would drift to Calvinism because it was more stark and brutal but seemed more realistic. Calvin acknowledged suffering but gave it no value.

Life is suffering. But this fact should not lead us to despair. The atheist believes that pleasure is the only good and pain is the only bad. The Catholic Christian knows better. Pleasure is good but not the ultimate good. Pain is bad but the not the ultimate bad. To have pleasure without God is worse than to suffer pain with God.

The antidote to depression is to stop thinking of suffering as the ultimate bad thing. I admit that I fall into this trap. I like this passage from Romans 8:35-38:

Who will separate us from the love of  Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; 
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This verse is where many evangelical Protestants get the idea of victorious Christian living, but they gloss over the suffering part. They read the "overwhelmingly conquer" part and ignore the rest. But this conquest is a victory over ourselves more than being shielded from suffering. The great temptation in suffering is to yield to the belief that God has abandoned you or simply isn't there. I know what that is like because I yielded to it back when my friend killed himself. My wife had a similar trial, but it drove her to faith. My trial drove me away from faith. I was a Protestant, and Protestants don't do suffering.

The antidote to depression is remember that suffering is used by God to produce good things. As I journey through Holy Week towards Good Friday, I reflect on those disciples who were not prepared for the hour of Christ's suffering. They abandoned our Lord. They scattered like lost sheep. Each one of them gladly went to the martyrdoms they were unwilling to face at that moment. Protestants are deprived of the splendid books of Maccabees. Here is the story of the mother and the seven martyrs from 2 Maccabees 7:
It also happened that seven brothers with their mother were arrested and tortured with whips and scourges by the king to force them to eat pork in violation of God’s law.
One of the brothers, speaking for the others, said: “What do you expect to learn by questioning us? We are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”
At that the king, in a fury, gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated.
These were quickly heated, and he gave the order to cut out the tongue of the one who had spoken for the others, to scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of his brothers and his mother looked on.
When he was completely maimed but still breathing, the king ordered them to carry him to the fire and fry him. As a cloud of smoke spread from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, with these words:
“The Lord God is looking on and truly has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song, when he openly bore witness, saying, ‘And God will have compassion on his servants.’”
After the first brother had died in this manner, they brought the second to be made sport of. After tearing off the skin and hair of his head, they asked him, “Will you eat the pork rather than have your body tortured limb by limb?”
Answering in the language of his ancestors, he said, “Never!” So he in turn suffered the same tortures as the first.
With his last breath he said: “You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws.” 
After him the third suffered their cruel sport. He put forth his tongue at once when told to do so, and bravely stretched out his hands,
As he spoke these noble words: “It was from Heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disregard them; from him I hope to receive them again.”
Even the king and his attendants marveled at the young man’s spirit, because he regarded his sufferings as nothing.
After he had died, they tortured and maltreated the fourth brother in the same way.
When he was near death, he said, “It is my choice to die at the hands of mortals with the hope that God will restore me to life; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.”
They next brought forward the fifth brother and maltreated him.
Looking at the king, he said: “Mortal though you are, you have power over human beings, so you do what you please. But do not think that our nation is forsaken by God.
Only wait, and you will see how his great power will torment you and your descendants.”
After him they brought the sixth brother. When he was about to die, he said: “Have no vain illusions. We suffer these things on our own account, because we have sinned against our God; that is why such shocking things have happened.
Do not think, then, that you will go unpunished for having dared to fight against God.”
Most admirable and worthy of everlasting remembrance was the mother who, seeing her seven sons perish in a single day, bore it courageously because of her hope in the Lord.
Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly reason with manly emotion, she exhorted each of them in the language of their ancestors with these words:
“I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.”
Antiochus, suspecting insult in her words, thought he was being ridiculed. As the youngest brother was still alive, the king appealed to him, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs: he would make him his Friend and entrust him with high office.
When the youth paid no attention to him at all, the king appealed to the mother, urging her to advise her boy to save his life.
After he had urged her for a long time, she agreed to persuade her son.
She leaned over close to him and, in derision of the cruel tyrant, said in their native language: “Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age.
I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things. In the same way humankind came into existence.
Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with your brothers.”
She had scarcely finished speaking when the youth said: “What is the delay? I will not obey the king’s command. I obey the command of the law given to our ancestors through Moses.
But you, who have contrived every kind of evil for the Hebrews, will not escape the hands of God.
We, indeed, are suffering because of our sins.
Though for a little while our living Lord has been angry, correcting and chastising us, he will again be reconciled with his servants.
But you, wretch, most vile of mortals, do not, in your insolence, buoy yourself up with unfounded hopes, as you raise your hand against the children of heaven.
You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty and all-seeing God.
Our brothers, after enduring brief pain, have drunk of never-failing life, under God’s covenant. But you, by the judgment of God, shall receive just punishments for your arrogance.
Like my brothers, I offer up my body and my life for our ancestral laws, imploring God to show mercy soon to our nation, and by afflictions and blows to make you confess that he alone is God.
Through me and my brothers, may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”
At that, the king became enraged and treated him even worse than the others, since he bitterly resented the boy’s contempt.
Thus he too died undefiled, putting all his trust in the Lord.
Last of all, after her sons, the mother was put to death.
Enough has been said about the sacrificial meals and the excessive cruelties.


I share this story in its entirety because Protestants never get the chance to read it and hear it courtesy of Martin Luther taking the scissors to the canon of Holy Scripture. Without Maccabees, Protestants are left with a distorted view of suffering because all of those Old Testament characters come out of their trials without a scratch. The most famous would be the story of Daniel's friends who were cast into the fiery furnace and come out not even smelling of smoke. The result of this distortion is that evangelicals believe God will deliver them from suffering and adversity. But this is no longer the case as we see from Maccabees. God no longer delivers us from suffering and adversity. He delivers us through suffering and adversity. This episode from Maccabees shows us what is going to be commonplace in the New Testament. Since Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura, most of them have only a vague idea of the fates of all those apostles. They all died violent deaths. None of them recanted their faith or lost hope in Jesus Christ.

Life is cruel and awful. This is because human beings are evil and wicked. Socrates concluded that it is better to suffer an injustice than to cause an injustice. Even a pagan like him thought it better to suffer for doing right than to ever do what was wrong. With this in mind, we should never lose heart because of suffering, adversity, and disaster. We should be concerned less with the sufferings we bear and more concerned with how we bear them.

The antidote to depression is to see the privilege and value of suffering. This is hard because human beings are weak. This is why we need God and His grace. From grace comes the strength we need to endure our hardships. In our own power, we can do nothing. Only Christ living in us can help us carry our crosses. This is why Jesus can talk about carrying a cross but also calling it a light burden. This makes no sense! But it is grace that makes the impossible possible. This is true victorious Christian living.

This is hard stuff for me because I struggle with faith. It is hard to have faith when the Church you belong to continues to reel from a sex abuse scandal. It is hard when you see so much evil in the world. It is hard when you want to do so many things with your life, but the system makes that impossible as they hamstring you at every turn. Sometimes, the most heroic thing you can do is to keep praying. As I keep living, I see that God is all I really have. There is no other way for me.