Seeing Jesus through Mortality and Death

 

Reflecting on the future of the human race, Anne Lamott said candidly:

A hundred years from now?
All new people.

I’ve always liked reading Anne Lamott because she cuts to the chase and, raw and unfiltered, tells the truth about life. And the truth about life is, at least for now, that life is temporary, fleeting and fading…like a vapor. Because the current mortality rate is one person per every one person, none of us gets to ride off into the sunset. At least it doesn’t seem that way.

But when our personal stories are anchored in the Story of Jesus, the threat of death is not a cause for despair. To be sure, it is a cause for momentary grief and sorrow and weeping, but attentive and gospel-tuned hearts also know that death is a prequel to Paradise. The Bridegroom and the Garden-City of God await, ready to catch us on the other side, with the promise of no more death, mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:1-5, 22:1-3).

In the end, death will lose its sting. Because Jesus is risen, Christians, too, will rise with renewed bodies and vigorously perfect hearts, minds and motives. If we can imagine it (and even if we can’t), every single day will be better than the day before. The “aging process” will no longer be marked by getting older and weaker, but younger and stronger, for infinite days.

This future vision, anchored and secured and irrevocably etched into the pages of Scripture, presents us with a hope that can carry us “through many dangers, toils and snares.” Its promise is that for every believer, the worst case future scenario is resurrection and everlasting life in Jesus. Yes, in the end, that’s as bad as it can possibly get for us in Jesus…uninterrupted, unhindered, perpetual bliss in the Garden-City of God with a tree in its center that is there for the healing of the nations.

The empty tomb affirms that all these things are, and forever will be, trustworthy and true.

But what about now? What about the in-between time—these broken, never-predictable, wild, sorrow-filled, out-of-our-control, afflicted, fallen days in which we live? These are the days that bear hopeful glimpses and shadows of the world to come, but they are also the days that are, as Job the sufferer reminds us…numbered and hard.

It’s the numbered and hard days that make me thankful for my faithful friend and pastoral colleague, Russ Ramsey. I am especially thankful for a masterpiece that he has written and that releases today—inspired by his writer-hero Annie Dillard and her famous quote from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

I had been my whole life a bell,
and never knew it until at that moment
I was lifted and struck.

Through the telling of his own brush with death in his book called Struck, Russ reminds me that I am a fragile jar of clay, a finite and fallen man, restless and frail, foolish and vulnerable, self-doubting and sometimes doubting of God. I have been anxious and depressed. I have questioned my calling and been through a vocational crisis. I have groped and clawed and scraped to find meaning in this old, fallen world, and even begged God to end it all a couple of times. I have contemplated the inevitability of my own death. I have been involuntarily “lifted up” by the Creator who, as CS Lewis faithfully reminds us, is always good but never safe—and have been struck by Him.

It is from this place of affliction, this place of being struck, that my heart (and yours?) becomes most receptive and most consciously needful of stories of redemption told from the context of death and dying. The events about which Russ writes are not unique, because every person experiences grief and loss and brushes with their inevitable mortality. And yet, there is an utter and uncommon uniqueness in the way that Russ tells this common story, because in the telling he offers us a new set of eyes and a glimpse of an inner life that is shaped by the world to come. He has helped me, as N.T. Wright would say, to imagine God’s future into my present sorrows and losses, and in the imagining—in finding my place in the Story that is trustworthy and true—find truth, beauty, meaning and hope.

My friend Russ demonstrates in a most moving and lovely and hopeful fashion what it means to find joy in the sorrow, beauty in the ashes, light in the darkness, intimacy in the fear, love in the losses, water in the wilderness, music in the angst, and yes, even life in the dying.

Russ, thank you for telling us the truth about life. Thank you for telling the truth in a most tender way. You are my friend and colleague. But you are also much more than this. You are a man who, in a most artful and thoughtful and heartfelt fashion, helps me see Jesus. May God give us all eyes to see as you do.


Get Struck here.

The reflection above, which is an adaptation of my foreword to Russ’ book, is used by permission of Inter Varsity Press.


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