Why we fight (reason #31)

Why we fight (reason #31)

In between sips of tea, she recalled to me, “My husband and I had been married for 62 years when he died…. It’s been almost two years since he passed, but I still can’t seem to figure out how to live my life without him–sad to say…. Take something as simple as making a meal, for instance:  when you’ve been making dinner for two for that long, buying the groceries, preparing the food and all, you just don’t know how to do that for only one person…. Sometimes I think I hear him calling from the other room, or I’ll be reading the paper, and I look up, half-expecting him to walk through the door of the living room.”

I sat listening, incompetently.  I was 24, serving in the U.S. military, and a deacon at my local church–in Niceville, Florida.  Luella was 82; she was on the “list of widows” at our church.  And I was dutifully–it was, sadly, a duty for me–stopping by for a long overdue visit.

My conversations with the widows were usually awkward–I often didn’t know how to start (or continue) a conversation.  Inevitably, I felt they had ministered to me more than I had ministered to them (which isn’t saying much).  And this occasion was no exception.

On the drive home I tried to relate (in vain).  She had said, “It’s been almost two years since he passed, but I still can’t seem to figure out how to live my life without him.”

I brushed the thought aside and went to Scripture.  I had been meditating on Romans, especially Romans 5-8, and I was wrestling with the following verses:

“We are those who died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”  (6.2)

“…count yourselves dead to sin….” (6.11).

I was fairly sure that Paul, when speaking of those who had “died to sin,” was referring to Christians.

But my sin wasn’t dead.  I was in a raging, often losing battle with sin.  I remember saying out loud, as if Paul were sitting in the passenger’s seat, “Sorry, Paul, but my sin is alive and well, thank you.”

Why should I keep fighting for?

Well, I knew that Paul obviously didn’t think that being “dead to sin” meant never sinning again, because he later says, “count yourselves dead to sin….Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”

So we’re dead, and yet it’s like we still think we’re alive.  I need to “count myself”–i.e., consider myself–as dead.

Weird. How can we believe someone is dead, and yet go on living as if they weren’t actually dead?

The widow’s words came rushing back to me:  “It’s been almost two years since he passed, but I still can’t seem to figure out how to live my life without him.”

She and her husband had been married–they had been “one flesh”–for 62 years:  it had become virtually impossible to discern where one ended and the other began.  They were not an “us” but an “I.”  And so when he died, in a very real way he wasn’t the only one who died.

She (obviously) believed that he had died, and yet living as though he were dead was anything but natural:  even as everything had changed–forever, she had found herself living at times as though nothing had changed.

Those who have lost loved ones tell, wincingly, of the way that the finality of death can be so cruel:  like the waves of the sea crashing one after another, relentlessly, indifferently.  I can remember talking to one young lady after her mother had passed three years earlier.  With (entirely undeserved) self-loathing, she shook her head and said, “She’s dead.  You’d think I’d actually get that at some point.”

The cruelty of death’s finality is directly related to the intensity of our love for the one we’ve lost.

But imagine if we received news of the death of a mortal enemy, of one who wanted us dead.  Perhaps we had testified against a mafia ring leader, placing him behind bars, and he swore he would do everything in his power to have us killed.

For the rest of our life, we regularly relocate, always watching our back, looking over our shoulder, examining every face, always expecting the unexpected, never knowing whom we can trust.  Will he get to us and to the ones we love?  And it becomes our way of life.

But then one day, unexpectedly, we hear news of his death.  We research the matter, seeking multiple sources of verification.  We struggle to believe it.  We travel to the city, to the morgue, hoping to see the death certificate ourselves.

And we come to believe it.  And we begin anew.

But old fears and patterns die hard.  We have to remind ourselves–re-convince ourselves–of his death.  And the finality of his death once again hits us freshly.  Yes, our life remains something of a contradiction:  family and friends wonder when–or, sometimes, if–we will ever change (and we do, too).  But it is true:  nothing can change the past.

Absolutely nothing.

And that’s what keeps us going.  That’s why we fight.

Slowly but surely we come out from under the power of another.

“We are those who died to sin.  How can live in it any longer?”

When Christ died, we died by virtue of our union with him.  We participate in his destiny–in his life, death, resurrection and reign.

“…count yourselves dead to [the power of] sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its evil desires.”

…………

There’s a fantastic scene from the HBO series Band of Brothers, where a lieutenant informs a fearful enlisted man that the reason that he is too scared to fight is because he doesn’t realize that he is already dead.  Brilliant.

 

 

Previous posts that give reasons for “Why We Fight” can be found here and here.

4 thoughts on “Why we fight (reason #31)

  1. I think there’s a marked contrast between the death we die in Christ (and is symbolized in baptism – Rom 6:4) and the death about which the lieutenant speaks. Christians do not become people lacking hope and compassion when they die; they are offered new life and hope, and it is through that new life that we can love others (1 John 4:19). In contrast, the soldiers referred to in the video clip are not offered new life. They die for their cause (indeed, the lieutenant already considers himself and others dead), but there is no new life – and thus no mercy, no compassion, no remorse.

    I’m not saying the lieutenant’s appraisal about soldiers is accurate, but I think it’s an interesting contrast between the two states of “death.” I do think that there’s something to be said for “moral injury” ( http://projects.huffingtonpost.com/moral-injury ) and how that might lead to the death/dying that the lieutenant describes. I’ve never experienced war (thankfully), but I understand it does horrendous things to the human spirit. I wonder, however, if the lieutenant is right insofar as he evaluates how a soldier is “supposed to” function, if in order to participate in (earthly) war a soldier must die the death the lieutenant describes.

  2. I think I see what you’re saying, but I’m thinking of the Lt’s speech in a little bit different (more creative–probably flawed?!) way:

    The ability to fight our sin comes from the knowledge that we will inevitably die: we died with Christ, and one day the power of sin within us will be dead. Seen in this light, the lack of hope and compassion are actually good things, in so far as they are (1) a hopelessness with respect to sin: we give up hope that it will have the last word; (2) a lack of compassion with respect to my fight against sin: I fight sin ruthlessly.

    But, of course, you’re right: the Lt doesn’t offer new life.

  3. That makes more sense, when oriented with respect to sin.

    What do these dual metaphors mean about our reaction to sin, though? How are dying and fighting in this sense related? If I am dead, do I fight? And if I fight, am I dead? When Paul exhorts us to count ourselves dead to sin, what behavior is he condoning? Do the dead fight? It seems that the dead aren’t doing anything, really, but are in a state where sin becomes irrelevant

    I wonder where the war metaphor regarding sin comes from? I’m not familiar enough, off hand, with the relevant theology to separate what’s simply become a popular Christian custom and what’s actually grounded in Scripture as it pertains the use of war metaphor and sin. Certainly we are reminded time and again that God is the one victorious over our sin, but in our day-to-day lives, is “fight” the best word to capture what occurs between us and sin when “dead” is the most passive state you can inhabit?

    However, this is in contrast to actions like “resist” (James 4:7) or “endure” (James 1:12); these things often occur through prayer. War victims sending an SOS signal aren’t fighting, per se, but asking for a stronger power to come fight for them. So I’m not sure how to reconcile doing something regarding sin (e.g., fighting, praying, etc.) and seeming to remain passive (e.g, being dead). Jesus wasn’t passive in death, but I’m led to believe we are. We don’t resurrect ourselves.

    I’m certainly not saying we should give in to sin and temptation. Rather, is it incorrect to consider ourselves soldiers in a fight against sin? That would imply that we have some personal resource to use against sin, which we don’t. The analogy that comes from Scripture is perhaps better suited: we’re dead with Christ, and therefore the war isn’t ours to win or lose anyway. Someone else won it already. Perhaps if I’m to parse words very specifically (and I’m not sure if this even matters), my fight is against temptation. I don’t fight against sin: I’ve either already won in Christ, or I lose as soon as I succumb to a particular act (e.g., lying, angry outburst, drunkenness, etc.).

    That’s long and rambling. Hopefully it made sense!

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