Paul’s statement that ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’ is one of the boldest sentences in Scripture. As Christians, it’s a passage that we often quote and that we readily intellectually assent to; however, most of us—if honest—sense that we are not really living it the way that Paul was. Our lives (time, money, passion) are not wholly given over to serving; and we do not face death fearlessly, longing for union with God. I’ve wanted to really understand these words. And as someone who now has an illness, I feel it’s imperative. This statement of Paul is found in the book of Philippians, which though a short letter, has some of the most recognized and poetic passages in the Bible. And much to my surprise, when I took a deeper look, I found that this book is all about suffering. So why does Paul write an entire letter addressing suffering?
I recently finished C.S. Lewis’ brief work, “A Grief Observed.” Lewis originally published the book anonymously; it describes his heartache and confusion after the death of his wife, whom he had been married to for only 3 years. Like in so many of his writings, Lewis is able to articulate the feelings that many of us have had and his insights are lucidly expressed. Below are three passages that bring up perhaps some of the most important concepts about illness and spirituality. 1. Anger at God “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.” – C.S. Lewis. A Grief Observed, pg 6
And God said to Abraham, “…You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.” Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised. (Genesis 17:9,11,24) What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ (Romans 4:1-3) There is no denying that circumcision is a bizarre ancient ritual. In fact, scholars from a wide range of disciplines continue to debate the purpose and origin of the practice. I’m the kind of person who gets tripped up on stories that aren’t clear to me and I’ve long wondered about this part of Genesis. Now, a couple decades later, I think I finally understand it (or at least, enough of it).
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) “…through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) I’ve found that the Genesis story of Adam and Eve is fascinating in many regards. But one particularly interesting dimension of the story is that it tells us about the first distancing that occurs in humankind’s relationship with God. This is not a trivial theological matter. This is the story of humankind’s first break from God. Doubt enters in. And humans no longer commune with God as they once did.