Friday, February 20, 2009

The last page of the novel Moby Dick describes the sinking of the whaling vessel Pequod – how it and all the sailors whose personal dramas and inter-relationships had been recounted for hundreds of pages sank beneath the water and no sign remained that the ship and crew had ever existed. Not a ripple marked the spot where it had gone down. “The great shroud of the sea rolled on as it had for thousands of years.”
This is the nature of death – what exists disappears. This is what happens to you and me – we die, and nothing of us remains. It is not a pleasant thing to contemplate.
One man, Ishmael, survives the sinking of the Pequod. He is saved by a wooden coffin that buoys him.
The Christian religion promises a pardon, a kind of wooden coffin, from the sentence of death we live under. Christianity says that the Savior Jesus Christ redeemed us by dying in our place. By dying he disabled death itself, we are told. He was resurrected by God, and so may we be. Salvation is attainable. We shall not surely die, not really, at least not the part that is really us. Our bodies may perish, but not us.
I have no quarrel with those who believe in the Resurrection. The essence of what they believe will no doubt come to pass. Their bodies will perish, but who they really are will ascend unto heaven, there to be united with God into eternity. For myself, however, I see such beliefs as tending toward self-deception. The fact is, our time here on earth is at best a substitute pattern of what God intended; we are not, as it was put, walking with God and sharing in his creative processes. As fallen man, we live lives separated from God in our consciousness. Anything we do separate from God will perish. Like the Pequod and its crew, it is all going to pass away.
A few years back my mother died and my two daughters and I spent a sad afternoon sorting through her personal effects. Most of her photographs and correspondence we put in the trash barrel because we didn’t know the people. They had enriched my mother’s life, but without her none of the things had meaning. The day is coming when my things too will go into the trash. And rightly so. The remains of my human existence here on earth will disappear.
The Book of Genesis records the creation of man and the purpose of his existence – to walk with God and serve as his steward on earth. The book also tells the story of how man, represented by the figures of Adam and Eve, disobeyed God and hid from Him. And were subsequently expelled from the Garden of Eden (actually they expelled themselves). And how they were condemned to earn their bread by the sweat of the brow and how death came upon them – despite the sibilant hissing of the serpent, “Ye shall not surely die.” Death is not the ordained end of man as God made him, but it is the unavoidable end of fallen man.
Professed Christians sell themselves short. They have a self-centered, limited vision of themselves and the cosmos that God created. Christians imagine that life consists of three score and ten years here on earth and then an eternity in heaven. Zip, zip, once around the track, across the finish line, up to heaven, and that’s it. The race is run, the game is done. The truth, the reality, might prove to be something more. There is no finish line. God's creatuve processes are ongoing and never ending. We are all a part of the unending, never finished work in progress. That's where our consciousness, our sense of self, our "soul" if you will, needs to be. Evrything else perishes.