Coop's Column - Simply Fellow Strugglers

My years as chaplain among college students have convinced me that many young people suffer from what I call the "immortality virus": "Death-accidents, illness, and weakness, too-can, and sometimes do, happen to others. But it won't -read: cannot- happen to me." Or so they foolishly imagine.

My years as chaplain among college students have convinced me that many young people suffer from what I call the “immortality virus”: “Death—accidents, illness, and weakness, too—can, and sometimes do, happen to others. But it won’t (read: cannot) happen to me.”

Or so they foolishly imagine.

Sad to say, the virus often endures well beyond adolescence. Plenty of adults, too, show symptoms of believing that they’re invincible, unsusceptible to life’s common weaknesses and difficulties. Blithely they assume that the winds of life—of their life—will always be pleasantly gentle and at their backs; that circumstances are well within their power to manage; and that a generous portion of prosperity and cheery happiness is theirs by some sort of entitlement.

God, however, declares quite otherwise. Time and again God keeps reminding humans how small they are, and how very fragile and weak. Soon after creating the first human pair,the Maker reminded the woman and the man of their creaturely limits: “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). And to every subsequent generation of human beings—to modern folks, too, whose confidence in themselves knows few bounds—God keeps reissuing a “Declaration of Human Limits,” so to speak:

[Your] years pass quickly, and [then you] shall fly away.” (Ps. 90:10)

When he took on humanity’s nature, Jesus too became weak—as tired, weak, and vulnerable as any one of us. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was able to “sympathize with our weaknesses,” an acknowledgment of his solidarity with us. He had scars to show for the troubles he bore and the weakness he felt.

Nor did Jesus promise his would-be followers a smooth and easy time of it through life. Never did he lure them toward discipleship by presenting it as something of a good bargain, a ticket to a life free from weariness, distress, and agony. Never—simply never—did he hide his scars to get them to come on board. Rather, without apology or double-speak, he forthrightly announced, “In this world you shall have trouble” (John 16:33).

Barbara Brown Taylor claims that getting in touch with human weakness—with our own weakness—is the proper starting point to trying to figure out who we are: “The practice of wearing skin is so obvious that almost not one engages it as spiritual practice, yet here is the place to begin: with tears, aches, moans, gooseflesh, heat.” She adds: “You and I are simply fellow strugglers. None of us has our life or our pain under control, although sometimes we pretend that we do. . . . Deep suffering makes theologians of us all. The questions people ask about God in Sunday school rarely compare with the questions we ask while we are in the hospital.”

Hospitals may be good places to get rid of the immortality virus. So too are churches. In fact, wherever and whenever God calls his people together for worship, there and then—at that place and time—he intends it to become something of hospital itself. A worship service is something of “God’s common hospital,” so to speak, a place to become healthy and whole—and fully human—again. Corporate worship ought to be a place and time where we learn to sing and declare about ourselves and about our Lord, “Jesus loves me, this I know. . . . [We] are weak, but he is strong.”

Prayer

Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. . . . My lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. (based on Psalm 39: 4-6)

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