Nudisnudum Christ sequi: A Naked Hope
|October 19, 2008||Posted by Anthony under Blog, General|
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
CS Lewis has a fabulous essay entitled ‘The Seeing Eye.’ In this essay he recounts a news article asserting that Russian astronauts had ventured into space… and didn’t find God. Lewis counters the immature understanding of ‘God’ that leads one to expect to ‘find’ God in space in the first place but then makes an interesting set of points. He says that anyone can ‘see God’ in any place, but it depends on one’s frame of mind and general attitude. A Christian will see God everywhere: a sunset, a strand of DNA, a child’s smile. An atheist will see God nowhere.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was able to see God in a concentration camp. Elie Wiesel could not and did not and henceforth never did again. Dietrich Bonhoeffer died in that concentration camp, executed on a direct order from Hitler shortly before the concentration camp was liberated. Elie Wiesel survived the concentration camp, but never forgave himself for doing so.
What is the difference between the two men?
Or, one might consider an example like Richard Wurmbrand, who wrote the little book “Tortured for Christ.” He was imprisoned in the Romanian Russian prisons under the Communists. Communism perceived Christianity to be a threat and attempted to torture people out of their faith. Eventually Wurmbrand escaped- his faith intact- and eventually testified before US Congress, stripping to the waist to show what had been done to him. (Mind you, at that time a lot of people in America didn’t think the Communists actually did such things)
Wurmbrand and Bonhoeffer could see, and did see, God in all places at all times.
This, really, is the essence of hope.
People put their hope into all sorts of things, these days. Political candidates, governments, schools, churches, powerful institutions… History shows us that everything human eventually lets us down. Science offers hope to heal and yet it also brought us the atom bomb and weaponized anthrax. Even churches, thought by many to be bastions of hope, have shown their weaknesses. The common examples will do- the Inquisition and the Crusades.
People put their hope into things in proportion to the things they fear. If you’re afraid of being sick you put your hope in your doctor. If you fear ignorance in the masses you put your hope in schools. There is one thing we fear that poses a problem. That thing is DEATH. It poses a problem because it is the common problem facing all mankind but mankind appears to have absolutely nothing to balance against it. For sickness and ignorance we can create doctors and teachers. What can we do about DEATH? Nothing. Because of this we sometimes try to paper over our fears about death and focus on lesser problems.
Nudisnudum Christ sequi. Naked, follow the naked Christ.
There is only one solution to the problem of death that simultaneously recognizes its grotesqueness and offers to defeat it. It is not, however, a solution offered by Mankind. Christianity takes death seriously. In the face of the death of Lazarus, a man he knew he was about to raise from the dead, Jesus wept. To the ultimate problem that man faces God offers the ultimate hope. Anything less than this hope is a hope that fails, finally, at some point, with a gritty gasp or a silent sigh. If the hope that God offers fails as well- or isn’t real at all- then there really is no hope at all: “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
All this made me wonder if there is a sense in which the old saying “You can’t take it with you” might not be true. What if we bring with us all the things that we put our hope in and then upon death find that it has all fallen upon us, suffocating us, trapping us? We surround ourselves with attempted solutions to lesser problems and then when faced with the Ultimate Problem find out we are unequiped.
It would be like a man who thought he only had to scale a rock wall and brought a rope finds out the real danger is a raging tiger. This is what putting our hope in the things of man is like: assembling various contrivances to deal with life’s problems only to discover that none of them can overcome Death. If it is like this then perhaps the prudent course is to dispose of all the things we place our hope in, strip ourselves bare, and follow the One who trampled upon death.
But this requires sight. One has to See that all the human things we put our hope in fail us. We fail each other, we fail ourselves. Technology fails us. Governments fail us. Medicine fails us. Knowledge fails us. This is just in the ordinary course of living! What about when stacked up against that brutal foe, Death? Abject failure. But this requires sight.
My counsel, if it be taken, would be to throw off all that might hinder and firmly acknowledge the only problem worth being anxious about and cling to the only solution offered that has promise, since the one who offers it is able to fulfill it: Jesus Christ. Then we will not grieve like the rest of men. Then we will have hope whilst hanging from the gallows. Then we will emerge from the dark night of the soul. Then, naked, we will follow the naked Christ. Then we shall say: “This is the end – for me, the beginning of life.”