Mortality is often connected to fear, so how does embracing mortality provide hope to individuals and communities? Professor Todd Billings, author of “The End of the Christian Life: How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live,” talks with Amy Julia about lamenting and embracing mortality, the potential for mortality to exacerbate divisions or create connections, and how the presence of God brings freedom from our slavery to the fear of death.
Dr. J. Todd Billings is a professor at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI. An ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America, he received his M.Div. from Fuller Seminary and his Th.D. from Harvard. Connect further with Todd:
“Whether you are young or old…our mortality matters for all of us in how we relate and connect to one another.”
“A tremendous gift of the church is that it’s one of the few places in our cultural moment where young children and middle-aged people and dying older people can come together and be part of a community.”
“In Christian circles, I sometimes get the idea that we shouldn’t be afraid of death at all. I don’t think that’s either biblical teaching or likely to happen. It sets up this ideal that makes people shameful when they grieve deeply.”
“Of course we should have a certain fear of death. But when fear of death is on the throne, then self-protection becomes the central priority...we pull in rather than reaching out in compassion.”
“This same presence of God that we’ve been aching for from the pit and in our whole pilgrimage—this one centered in Jesus—that presence will be the wide and spacious land, so to speak, of our rejoicing and dwelling in rest.”
ON THE PODCAST:
Thank you to Breaking Ground, the co-host for this podcast.
White Picket Fences, Season 3 of Love is Stronger Than Fear, is based on my book White Picket Fences, and today we are talking about chapter 9. Check out free RESOURCES—action guide, discussion guides—that are designed to help you respond. Learn more about my writing and speaking at amyjuliabecker.com.
Note: This transcript is generated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Amy Julia Becker and this is love is stronger than Fear a podcast about pursuing Hope
And healing in the midst of social division. In this season,
You have the PODCAST were talking about my book White Picket Fences and today's episode takes a look at the themes of chapter nine. Its called looking up, talking with my guests, Todd Billings we're going to let Todd introduce himself to you in just a minute, but for those of you who haven't read White Picket Fences which I'm going to say. I'm really excited to announce came out two years ago on October 2nd, 2018. For those of you who haven't read it or who haven't read it in a while, chapter nine is about how our experience is of hardship can connect us to our own humanity and too the humanity of others'.
And in this interview, Todd actually makes that a little more complicated for me in a good way, because he talks about how our experiences of suffering and hardship on a daily level can lead us to compassion and connection. But he also talks about how a number of studies have shown that traumatic and violent experiences of death and of suffering can also lead to the opposite, can lead to withdrawing into our safe and homogenous tribes. I point this out there, lots of things we talk about in this interview, but I point this out right now because in American life in American politics right now, I think we're in danger of withdrawing into our homogenous tribes.
1 (1m 30s):
But I also think we have an opportunity to take the risk, to love people outside of those tribes. So I'm hopeful that this podcast and then our conversation today, point's us in the room
0 (1m 42s):
1 (1m 45s):
My guest today is Todd Billings. Todd is a professor of theology at Western theological seminary in Holland Michigan. And he's also the author of a newly released the book, which I highly recommend is called The End of the Christian Life How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live Todd I'm really glad you're here. Thank you for joining us. It's great to have a conversation with you as well. So as this title of your book suggests The End of the Christian Life our topic today might seem grim to some people.
1 (2m 19s):
So it would be honest to say that we're here today to talk about Mortality and death and dying and your book covers all of those topics, but I've read your book. And I would say that we are also here to talk about life and about human flourishing and about hope. And I'd like to cover all of those topics and actually talk about how they relate to each other and how they're. In fact, I think you're arguing integrally connected to one another. And I also want to relate all of this to the themes of this podcast when it comes to social divisions and what it means to participate in some of the healing of our communities and our nation.
1 (2m 57s):
But before we get too, all of that would love to give our listeners just a sense of who you are and what your story is. So could you walk us through what your, what you would say your story is in terms of how you came to write this book at this time?
2 (3m 11s):
Thanks a J I think that there's two stories kind of coming together. One of them is I'm a cancer patient. I was diagnosed with an incurable cancer in 2012, married with two young kids in my late thirties. And I was, I became a member of the cancer community, kind of like an anthropologist, becomes a participant observer in a culture, except for, I became like a real, a member of that tribe and voluntarily.
2 (3m 48s):
Right, right. But I also I'm, I am really a nerd. And so wherever I go and whatever culture I've go into and I've been immersed in a couple of cultures in East Africa for a few years and things I'm always observing as well as, you know, reading. And so I've, I discovered that the cancer community was in my current location in Michigan before I really knew about it. And I just hadn't seen it, but here's a community that Death plays a really big part.
2 (4m 23s):
Umm, and the reality of Death whether you are six years old or 86 years old is just very real. And so you make friends, you provide each other support and then on an unexpected ways, yeah, it doesn't matter if the person is six or 86. Sometimes you see the person Live for five or 10 years and sometimes the person doesn't make it through one year. And so the other aspect of this was as a seminary professor, I would ask students who have entered into pastoral ministry and what some of their biggest challenges where, and again and again, they talked about death and dying.
2 (5m 9s):
And so a number of these students we're in their late twenties when they started, they had may be attended, you know, one or two funeral's in their life. Suddenly they are advising family members about how to approach the end of life. They are presiding at 10 to 12 funerals each year. It's such a big part of current national life. That because of the way in which our culture is so divided, according to age group and ability and so forth, they hadn't been exposed to it.
2 (5m 43s):
And so when I, when I had a number of colloquies with some of my former students as pastors, and once we started to dig under the surface, we found that the problem wasn't just about end of life, it was about the story that people in the church were absorbing. The story of disciples should have been in the gospel, didn't have a meaningful place for Death. And so that's really the approach that I take in the end of the Christian life, where whether you are young or old, whether you are a parent or a child with you, no, an aging parent, all of us are Mortality matters for all of us and how we relate and connect to one another.
2 (6m 29s):
And the Bible has a lot to say, that's actually very surprising and life-giving around these things, but because Death, isn't even on their radar screen for how many of us are discipled and in the Christian faith, I think we miss out on this aspect of discipleship.
1 (6m 48s):
Yeah. I'd love to actually ask you a little bit more that, that, because I think there are two ways that are, well, there are two aspects of our culture, right? There's like how our secular culture handles Death and Mortality, which is different from the past. And then there's also how are Christian and culture handles Death and Mortality, that's different from the past. So I'd love for you to just, if you could just sketch out what that, how that has affected our culture, like what, how did we use to handle it, whether that's in secular terms or in Christian terms and what is the common practice and picture now you've alluded to it a little bit, but I'd love to hear it.
2 (7m 27s):
Yeah. Our culture overall has undergone what are some social scientists called a great health transition? Where are the biggest change is actually not in like cancer treatments or specialized treatments But in public health. And so people are living longer, you know, a much longer than a hundred years ago, but then connected with this even into the middle of the 20th century, most deaths took place in the home and America and in most, you know, Western countries.
2 (8m 3s):
And so most children would of had the experience of being basically a hospice worker or a grandparent or a parent. The death of children was much more common, right? And so its actually the ordinary, everyday experiences of death that we have become isolated from it. It may seem really counterintuitive to listeners to think that Death is something to, one of the claims I make in the book is that we live in a death denying culture and often A, Death in a Christian culture and it may seem really counterintuitive people.
2 (8m 43s):
It's like, well Death has all over the headlines and you know what, great movie plot doesn't have Death in it for sure. But in many ways that just reinforces the point. It's the everyday experience of death that we have isolated ourselves from. And so after I was diagnosed with cancer, for example, We, I started to see a counselor to help with our kids and you know, how do we, I'm a very likely to die before they graduate from high school.
2 (9m 20s):
How does that affect my parenting now? And one of the suggestions that the counselor had, which is quite why is, I think is, you know, use every opportunity you have to expose them to death. So, so like with the death of a pet, we rather than just saying, you know, your dog's not here anymore. Or I have a lot of friends that had stories like that from, from childhood, we had a little Memorial service when our dog died and we have them pet are our dogs and the living room floor and very the dog in the back yard.
2 (9m 54s):
And there was a lot of weeping and wailing, but there were also just for weeks and weeks, many, many questions about death, but they got to ask you, right.
1 (10m 4s):
I should mention here, my M mother-in-law in 2003. So a long time ago was diagnosed with primary liver cancer. And I ended up with my husband being her primary caregiver. She was only alive for six months. And it was, I mean, I resonated so much with so many of the experiences you are describing your book, both in terms of this community of people that I didn't know existed, who are all in some ways going about their regular lives, but they're also getting treatment and their body's have become much more noticeable to themselves even than ever before.
1 (10m 40s):
And I was actually, we were with her in her, are her in her home when she died, which was both a grueling heart. I mean the most kind of hard physical experience I've ever witnessed and participated in, but also really beautiful and very final in a helpful way actually. So there was, anyway, I was thinking about all of that as that was reading a book and also about noticing at that time, the cemeteries that are no longer in a skirt YDS and certainly someone that has to deal with space like an urban planning and But some of it has to do with, let's not see those tombstones and yeah,
2 (11m 18s):
Yeah. We are going to sequester it out. Yeah.
1 (11m 20s):
Yeah. And like even just hair dye and wrinkle cream, but like let's pretend this isn't going to happen to me. I just really saw that in a way I hadn't before, but I also saw my, mother-in-law say, I know I'm gonna die. And as a result of that, I have some work to do. Like I need to figure out where I'm going. Like I want to understand what the Bible has to say about heaven. I need to deal with the people who I have finished business with.
1 (11m 52s):
Right. I need to forgive some people I need to ask for some forgiveness. So it was this condensed experience of what you described and certainly different in many ways. But I was aware of, as you said of that death denying culture. Well, so I all right. I want to ask two more questions on the so one is how do you see that? We certainly see that easily. I think in our secular culture, I just gave those two examples of like cemeteries. You know, here's a guy, but what about Christian culture? Like where do we see this within the church itself?
1 (12m 22s):
What have we replaced an understanding of our Mortality with?
2 (12m 26s):
Yeah. Well, two things immediately come to mind. One is I think a tremendous gift of the church is that it's one of the few places in our cultural moment where young children and middle aged people and dying older people can come together and be part of a community. It wasn't until I was diagnosed with cancer, that I would sometimes spring my kids too, the Seminary and it's really fun to be there, but I noticed like there's nobody dying there.
2 (12m 58s):
All of us are dying. Of course But all sorts of gatherings of people intentionally or unintentionally exclude those who are dying. And so, and so it's an opportunity for the church, but it's also often a missed opportunity. One of the things that, that we did was we went to an elder who works with care ministry in our church and just ask who are some home-bound people who don't have family in the area that we could visit.
2 (13m 33s):
And I really wanted my kids to, to know them and to know some dying people. And so we became really good friends and with a number of those and then, but it's just odd because when I would, you know, after one of them died, I take my daughter out of school to go to a funeral and people are kind of like, you're your wet? And we were, we were actually with him and his, yeah, we were the last people with him where he was actually speaking a few hours before he died.
2 (14m 9s):
And so it's an opportunity, but then there's also the fact that on the one hand, many churches are becoming more and more homogeneous units in terms of their generations. So I remember chatting with one of my students who is in a church plant and you know, he said, yeah, I've been pastor there for five years and I've never had a single phone funeral. Right. And so I just asked what age are the people? And you know, there's nobody over 40.
2 (14m 39s):
So yeah. So it's a similar thing where we lose the gifts of the body of Christ. When we have just an all white church, we also lose the gifts of the body of Christ when we have an all young church or when we don't have dying people in our midst. And then the other, the other challenge is just that because of how we institutionalized the dying for some good reasons and at times, but it's, their are so many in our current patients who can't join the community and worship and ON on Sunday morning.
2 (15m 15s):
So it makes it all the harder to receive, not just to minister to them, but to receive benefit from them. They have so much to offer. They are not just ill people. They are ministers have the gospel. And I could tell story after story of those who we were visiting and nursing homes, who, who are just,
1 (15m 38s):
What are the stories in the book? And it's really beautiful. And I love the relationship that you're children have with some of these elderly people. And I did I we actually go to this little country church where there are, is, I mean, there are actually probably more people over the age of 60 than under. And I think that is such a gift to our children than they really know these older people and are connected to them in a pretty intimate way. But I do think that's a loss that many churches and communities have a sustained in the course have, you know, when did you call it?
1 (16m 16s):
2 (16m 17s):
A homogeneous unit principle was the M. It was the big church planting principal for many decades in circles from
1 (16m 26s):
Because human beings like homogeneity, even if it's actually is not God's vision, how it can flourish. Well. So let's talk about that for a minute because one of the things that you do bring up in your book and that obviously is of interest to me is the thought of having a privilege. You wrote about being a white, educated Protestant American man, which has by a social situation, isolated you from some degree of experiencing suffering and contemplating Mortality.
1 (16m 57s):
And even in the midst of cancer, you are aware that all of those things are still quote unquote, helping you in some ways that someone else with the same experience actually doesn't have the same advantages at the same time. You talk about this experience of she'll a, am I pronouncing that correctly? She'll
2 (17m 15s):
Yeah. It's my wife has an old Testament scholar and she pretty much says, yeah, anything like that. I ask her, yeah.
1 (17m 23s):
Something like that. Or I would love for you to explain what she All is, and also talk about how that I love the way you're a chapter on shield. Describe that experience and how this connects to this daily, the ordinary experience of suffering have life in the pit, especially for countless people who are experiencing either a kind of physical suffering and, you know, knowledge of Death impending or injustice and oppression.
1 (17m 56s):
I mean, I think there's a continuum of suffering that might be physical in nature, and it might be S in some other way happening to us. So I'd love for you to just talk about Sheila a bit.
2 (18m 6s):
Yeah. Yeah. This is one of the things that once I got diving into the book and some of the biblical literature about resurrection hope, I found that it was just different than what I was expecting. She'll is a Hebrew word that's used in sometimes in the old Testament, just to talk in a generic way about the place where the dead go. Okay. And this is how it was used by surrounding cultures to the Hebrew people.
2 (18m 38s):
So it would have been a well known, you know, concept sort of the underworld, but even in, in various parts of the old Testament, you also have a different sense of she'll used where they're are living biologically living people in shield in the image for Sheila is literally a Pitt. A sometimes it's translated the Myree pit, a muddy pit. And so when the Psalmist cries out from Schiele and says, I am in she'll, that's a place where they are saying, where is the concept of Shayle is not just biological life for Death, right?
2 (19m 17s):
But it's actually correlated with the temple. It's a dwelling place of God as an opposite. So, you know, Psalm 27, you are crying out from the pit and you are the Psalmist once to dwell and the house of God, but the temple of God and Jonah, which is one of my favorite examples of this Jonah talks about the belly of the fish as she, Oh, and then he cries out not just to be delivered from the, the belly and the fish, but to go to the temple.
2 (19m 52s):
Obviously the Psalm is still alive when they were saying this Jonah is still alive when they were saying this. But I think the underlying point is that for the old Testament imagination, there's something more important than even biological life and death. What's even more fundamental is God and the presence of God, his life, right. And Elaine nation from God is dead. And so I think there's all sorts of ways in which we live and can live in she'll in this place of alienation from God while we are living.
2 (20m 32s):
And when I use that term alienation from God, I am not just talking about non-Christians, I'm talking about living in places where we feel, where are we really sense? M like, Jesus did on the cross, right? My God, my God, why have you me were, it feels like this godforsaken place. And I found that certainly as a cancer patient, I was brought into this place and Learn to lament in new ways and the gist, the gift of biblical Lament.
2 (21m 4s):
But I also found that there were others there lamenting who are there for the different reasons. I remember one of my students who I had read this manuscript and that chapter on shield, he said, you know, she'll was my neighborhood growing up in a rough, urban part, a city in California, you know, I was shot many times had many of his friends die from gang violence before he was 20.
2 (21m 36s):
Like I know this place. And so, so there's, there's to just amazing, wonderful things up about how scripture speaks into this. One of them is that even though there's this very dark shadowed portrait of, of shale, there's a sense in which this place, which seems like the very absence of God is also in a mysterious way where God is present. We there's moments of there a have that in the Psalms, you know, even in the depths of shale I'm there I'm.
2 (22m 13s):
And then when we see this most clearly in the Lament of Jesus on the cross that he pioneers she'll so that it's, we're not alone there. Yeah. We still need deliverance and we cry out for deliverance there, but we're not, we're not alone. And she'll now when I unpack some of these themes, it's interesting how people hear them. I remember a J after I wrote a book about Lament shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer, someone coming up to me and saying, Todd, this is so such a valuable book.
2 (22m 51s):
This must be why God gave you cancer. And so it's a deeply biblical theme to say that God's power is manifest through a weakness and that God can be present in Christ, even in these dark places. But
3 (23m 14s):
That's not a very good way to
2 (23m 18s):
Describe, to frame it in the sense of can God be present to my student growing up in, in territory, in this city in California? Absolutely. But what God is doing is being his presence in Christ is to be the God of life there. And so it's, it's a little bit when I was in Uganda doing community development work, I found that the original missionaries there have been in this remote area has spread the gospel and the people were really grateful, but they had really centered in, on, on the idea of bless it are the poor.
2 (24m 3s):
And the thing is, is that it was basically blessed it out of the poor, which, you know, the missionaries were not poor, but the people were told they were poor. So you're bless it in this situation. Hmm. This is where there is about 50% of infant mortality. And by the time I arrived, they were saying, you know, that was almost like a kind of curse. So you have to be really careful on how you hold this together is God on the side of the poor and the oppressed in a special way.
2 (24m 37s):
Absolutely. But it's also not helpful to set it up in certain angles in terms of Providence.
1 (24m 47s):
Yeah. And that's no, I'm so glad you bring all of this up. And you're pushing my mind in lots of different directions, because I think about, I actually have an essay coming out soon about the difference between the idea that God is love and God is in control. And not to say that God's not sovereign or that guy, that doesn't work all things for good, or that there's not a true providential hand in all that happens. And yet at the same time to submit ourselves to the workings of love, that is uncontrolled.
1 (25m 19s):
And that does allow an injustice and depression, even while saying I'm on the side of the ones who are being oppressed and who are in that pit I'm with them in that pit, even, even as I'm also rescuing them from it. It's very complicated. Yeah. So I think a lot about that. And I think a lot about that, especially from my position as a person of privilege, because there are lots of things that I can look at him my life and see us as like being provided by God or answers to prayer.
1 (25m 52s):
And I think there's sometimes there's some like proper humility in that because I'm being grateful and I'm recognizing that I have not earned my kind of place in life, but at the same time, I could easily tell the same story and say, no, that has to do with the fact that your parents were white and married an educated, like it has nothing to do with God and its, and its hard to actually kind of untangle those threads and maybe I'm not supposed to be able to, but I do at the same time, one of the ways that I found that cut through some of those questions of like, is it privileged as at Providence is the experience of Mortality that like facing the human limitations, you talk about both through the death of my mother-in-law and also through our daughter's disability for and recognizing again, this is an area and which I do not have control, but I am invited to love it.
1 (26m 52s):
If I see cancer has a problem. If I see down to numb as a problem, it's certainly not one I'm fixing. Right. And I I've been thinking about this recently because of the pandemic and there have been all of these people who have said, Oh, you know, COVID-19 can strike anyone down. It's, you know, it's not some a disease that cares about our social divisions. And it's like, but at the same time as a person who does not need to go to a building where I work alongside other people, I have protections, right?
1 (27m 22s):
Like as a person with enough wealth to be able to be at home, I have protections. This is all a very long lead up to saying, how do you, when we are looking at questions of suffering and Mortality, I'm curious how you see both social divisions continuing to divide us, but also whether there are ways in which understanding our Mortality actually connects us as human beings.
2 (27m 48s):
Yeah. Yeah. That's a, that's a powerful question. What it makes me think about is the work of group of social psychologists actually, who I got to know, umm, in this process and I have a approach called terror management theory, were they examine M? What are the effects of exposure to death and dying in a visceral way upon people's behavior? And it's really a lot of it comes out of the research of this book that I love published in the year that I was born Becker The Denial of Death who was this fascinating agnostic Jewish scholar who was trying to come to terms with the Holocaust who had Martin Luther King jr.
2 (28m 44s):
And Dietrich Bonhoeffer as his heroes. And couldn't read enough soaring Kirk yard. I mean what a puzzle, right. That man was, how do you put all that together? But there's a sense in which there is something about Our Mortality per se, that is democratizing are, it could be that we are all Mortal creatures, no matter how much we try to deny that control that, but some of how this actually functions and, and works is that particularly when we're in a culture that has some distance from the everyday experience of Mortality, when we get vivid experiences of it, like someone close to us dies, or it could even be a vivid experience of, you know, something really horrific like the George Floyd video or, you know, a Death like that, what studies and there've been over a hundred of these studies done show is that as just as human beings, we tend to perceive a threat and go with our tribe.
2 (29m 55s):
So we tend to the sociologists talking about it as a sort of a tightening of the worldview. So whoever is from my nation or my ethnic group or, you know, perhaps my religion, those are the only ones who can be trusted, outsiders are threats. And so it's just this kind of instinctive response. And so you can see today
1 (30m 18s):
And then, so let me just say an instinctive response to specifically to seeing Death.
2 (30m 23s):
Yeah. Okay. Yeah. And so this close and a close exposure to violence, but what's really interesting is that when they've done studies about people who have more every day experiences with Death or people like chaplain's or a funeral directors or that sort of thing, it can actually like ongoing exposure actually can lead to the opposite effect. It actually opens can open you up and compassion. And there have been, I don't think enough studies, but there have been some studies that even prayer like meditative forms of prayer, I think is particularly what have has been studied.
2 (31m 2s):
Can also have this capacity to be both it's it's it's not like you're accepting of Death in the sense that that is no longer an enemy, but it allows you to move out in compassion toward, toward others. And so I find it helpful just to even be aware of that. I mean, as I've observed in the pandemic, how much we actually expose ourselves too, the reality of what is taking place in terms of the dying has dramatically changed, you know, in various parts of the times or the pandemic.
2 (31m 41s):
So, you know, early on there was a lot of news coverage and exposure and then there's no other political things that come up and then, you know, the whole pandemic becomes politicized about whether to wear masks or not. And I think whenever life and death issues matter. And so they do have political consequences, but I get Death is also a mystery that we're never going to get our minds and hearts completely around. So I do get nervous when deaths are sort of simply politicized in, in, in a, in a flat sense.
1 (32m 19s):
Well, no, I think it's really interesting because essentially what you're saying is there are some aspects of like violent or traumatic suffering and death that only make us want to kind of close in on ourselves. And then there's other more of this just like ordinary human experience that can really connect us to one another. So there's both which I think comes up so much in your book that Def in a Christian perspective is both a foe to be conquered and overcome and a friend to be welcomed and understood. And I think there are many of those tensions there.
1 (32m 52s):
I also, for me, I've been thinking about actually did M because zoom video called with an English teacher who was not a Christian and said, you know, one of the ways I related to your book was in this experience of Mortality and recognizing that, what I understand that makes us human is that we're all gonna die. And he referenced at home are any reference Shakespeare. And just this sense of like we, all of the same amount of land we are going to take off when our bones go in to the grave. And I was like, yes, that is true. But I also think we're connected in our capacity to give and receive love.
1 (33m 26s):
Like it's not just about Mortality in terms of being connected as humans, but for me, recognizing that common human limitations, common experience of neediness in vulnerability, even though I have not personally faced my imminent death or have not faced personal experience with death or disability in my own body, because of the people around me who I've loved, what that's done is it's actually opened me up to love. And I do think that's what I'm hearing from you in terms of the experience of chaplains.
1 (33m 59s):
That's what I'm reading and your own book. And in choosing to bring your kids to the nursing home and kind of embrace the fullness of what it means to be human death is a limit and we can't go beyond it, at least in our minds on our own, but at the same time, its a limit that relates to other limits that we have in our bodies. I mean you even read about sleep as this kind of many deaths, where are we just surrender our body's to something and we are not even quite sure what it is.
1 (34m 29s):
I mean, there are things that are happening physically while we're asleep, but it's a fascinating thing that we do every single day. And there's a sense in which is a mini Death that relates and, and how much do we fight against that sleep. And yet when we get it, there's a sense of acknowledging her creatureliness that can only be life-giving well, I have one final question. There was this place in the book where you write your writing about a passage from Hebrews and you wrote Hebrews does not say that Christian should no longer Fear Death because of Christ.
1 (35m 2s):
No, our deliverance is from slavery to deaths. Fear stated differently. The goal of the Christian life is not eliminating the fear of death, but removing Death from its throne. I love that. I think that's so helpful, but I would love to just ask you to speak about what possibilities open up when we are free from slavery to the fear of death and either how might we do that? How has that played out in your life? I mean, you can take it wherever you want, but just I'm thinking about that difference between being enslaved to fear and being aware and fearful, but not letting Death be on the throne.
2 (35m 43s):
Yeah. That's, that's a great question. Some of the reason I even framed it that way is that I do In Christian circles sometimes skit the idea that, well, we shouldn't be afraid of death at all. And I don't think, I don't think that's actually either a biblical teaching or likely to happen really honestly, for any of us. And so it's sets up this ideal if that makes people shameful when they grieve deeply.
2 (36m 14s):
And you know, I remember a person in my Church just He even with tears. It was the anniversary would of been his 56th anniversary is his wife had died the year before and he said, I know I shouldn't be crying because everybody tells me she's in a better place, but I just want her here. You know? And so there's, there is of course we should have a certain fear of death, but when fear of death is on the throne, then self protection becomes the central priority.
2 (36m 53s):
It's kind of like, as I noted with those studies supposed to, you know, Death, Oh, this can happen to you if you pull in rather than reach out and, and, and compassion. And so I think some of what it looks like is being willing to take risks, knowing that they are risks and to be both aware of, you know, even if it's not a life threatening act aware that this could damage my reputation, this could damage my, you know, earthly fortress for fortunes.
2 (37m 31s):
But this is what the love of God and neighbor is calling me too. It's there's, there's a kind of slavery to self protection that we can easily slip into. And particularly when we have a, in a, in a middle class culture with cellphones, then our schedules up to us and it can just make us feel like we're master of the universe, right when we're just not, but as long as we're under that illusion, we don't really get out of a self protection zone.
2 (38m 7s):
And so I think when we are willing to just honest will say, I'm dying. I'm not going to live forever and 50, a hundred years from now. Nobody's going to remember who I am most likely that most they might know my name. There's actually something very freeing about that. Like,
1 (38m 25s):
Are you talking about it, freeing us to do small things because we're small people, but not to see them as insignificant, but just like do the small act of love. That is a risk because it's connecting you to someone else it's extending yourself. It's on some even minimal level sacrificing whether it's time or money or energy or our, whatever it might be. But I also wrote it down a different or another quote in light of genuine Christian hope, a daily embrace of our Mortality.
1 (38m 55s):
You can refresh are parched soles, freeing us to generously Love rather than claim to methods, have self preservation. And I So want that right to instead of clinging and insulating and isolating to open my life, my hands, my heart, but recognizing that, that makes me vulnerable. And so that means I'm open to love. And it also means I'm open, I think too, to more pain, then that is exactly what Jesus did for us. Right. It was just say an opening myself to humanity on too.
1 (39m 28s):
The love that I have for you. All I'm also exposing myself too, the pain that comes with that. And yet we're invited to go right there with him and experienced both that suffering and a dying and rising.
2 (39m 45s):
And in a sense, I think the apostle Paul sees that his pioneering of that as a source of hope because in union with him, even our mortal body is wasting away. Second Corinthians four has been, become a really important passage just for me spiritually in the, in the writing of this where, you know, we carry Death in our bodies, but it's, we're not doing anything heroic in a sense.
2 (40m 15s):
We're just, it's, it's, it's our union with Christ to has gone before us that were called Two to live into. And so it's this strange paradox because its when we live in to that union and the self-giving love within that, which is the opposite of clinging to this life now, or even just like I'm going to change the world forever. And I'm the hero when we live into that union with Christ, that's often when our lives actually have the most significance as well.
1 (40m 53s):
Yeah. And I think the, the hope that we have both in are not having to depend upon ourselves to fix it all, save at all and you know, live forever, but also in connecting to the work that God is doing both to bring the temple, to bring heaven to our experience here and now, but also this greater promise of one day living and the fullness of the presence of God when that becomes our animating.
1 (41m 27s):
Hope a, there's both this sense of like pulling the future into the present moment, but longing for that future, which is where, you know, Death becomes a passage and again, not in some Pollyanna, its all for the good way, but, but there is some reality w there is certainly a lot of hope on the other side of that.
2 (41m 49s):
Yeah. Yeah. What's one thing that I've just real briefly that I've noticed already from readers is that the older readers that I've had the readers, so I've had, who have in their eighties, their favorite chapters are the last few chapters that our, you know, talking about this very bodily expectation of the world to come. And the younger readers actually tend to be more attracted to, and want to process more some of the earlier, earlier chapters.
2 (42m 22s):
But I, I really do think that we shouldn't be shy about just having an Astonishing Hope for the aged com. And I think that it makes our witness very powerful right now when embraced in the right sort of way, it's not just, Oh, I have a ticket to heaven and I'm just going to hate it.
1 (42m 43s):
2 (42m 45s):
You know, this same heaven, the same presence of God that we've been aching for from the Pitt and in our hole pilgrimage to this one centered in Jesus is, you know, that will be the wide and spacious land. So to speak of our rejoicing and dwelling in rest,
1 (43m 9s):
I think that is a good place to a call this conversation to a close. Thank you for that. Umm, I love the idea of an Astonishing Hope for the world to com and I am really grateful for the work that you've done to bring all of these thoughts and to weave together really good Theological study and reflection along with these very M personal experiences of your own life, as well as the lives of these other people who you've gotten to now. So thank you for us.
2 (43m 39s):
All right. Thanks so much AGA it's great to chat with you.
1 (43m 44s):
Thanks so much for listening to love is stronger than fear. And again Todd is the author of The End of the Christian Life recently published by Brazos. That's a great book. We'll link to it on the show notes as always. Did you get tired of hearing me say this? Does anyone even listen to the outro of this podcast? Because if I'm honest, I skipped the outtros when I listened to PODCAST regularly. But anyway, if you are listening, I will say again that I would love for you to share this episode to subscribe to this podcast.
1 (44m 15s):
So you'll get next week's awesome conversation. And of course, to give it a rating or review wherever you find your podcasts, so that even more people can benefit from knowing about this host of great people who have wonderful things to say. I also want to thank our breaking ground, which has a wonderful PODCAST of its own as well as articles and videos that reflect from a Christian perspective on how to think about the past, understand the present and explore redemptive possibilities for the future and can find more about [email protected]
1 (44m 50s):
I'm also very thankful to Jake Hanson for editing this PODCAST to Amber Barry and my social media coordinator. And to all of you who listen, I always end this way, but have Dennis say it again because I So want this to be true for me and for you as you go into your day to day, I hope and pray that you will carry with you. The peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than for you
4 (45m 13s):