Dead and Open or Alive and Grasping?
In a recent blog, I shared the bad news that no amount of winning or success will ultimately bring salvation. I suggested that the way of salvation is admitting your death to the whole earning system altogether. Admitting that we can’t -- and need not -- attempt to save ourselves through performance. Instead we are free to admit our defeat and receive the King who has defeated death for all people. This King is named Jesus.
If you’re anything like me -- first, I am sorry if you are anything like me -- you may receive the idea of death as a negative concept rather than truly the life-giving reality we are offered. It’s taken some time for me to embrace this idea as death for life. Maybe you’re in process with this too?
A helpful illustration for me, one that makes my heart sing, comes from Robert Farrar Capon in his book Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus
“[Let me give] you an illustration of what death as a way of living might be like. The temptation, of course, is to imagine it as a doing of nothing at all, a profound quietism, a deadly, boring wait for death itself finally to turn up and end the nag. To help you get around that view, I want you to hold out your right hand, palm up, and imagine that someone is placing, one after another, all sorts of good gifts in it. Make the good things whatever you like - M & Ms, weekends in Acapulco, winning the lottery, falling in love, having perfect children, being wise, talented, good-looking, and humble besides - anything. But now consider. There are two ways your hand can respond to those goods. It can respond to them as a live hand and try to clutch, to hold onto the single good that is in it at any given moment - thus closing itself to all other possible goods; or it can respond as a dead hand - in which case it will simply lie there perpetually open to all the goods in the comings and the goings of their dance. When I talk about being dead, accordingly, I have in mind not the absence of interest in the dance of living, but the absence of clutching at our partners in the dance - not not-dancing, if you will, but not-trying-to-stop-the-dance.”1
Capon’s illustration of a dead hand receiving versus a live hand that grasps at the blessing sent in our life is so valuable to me. Being “dead” isn’t about inactivity as much as it is about relinquishing control. Being free to receive what comes our way as a blessing rather than holding on to things as if they are the ultimate blessing in our lives.
Believe me, I haven’t arrived in this by any means. Nor do I expect to any time soon. However, I believe that when we live life with other people who are humbly pursuing this kind of “open-handedness,” we can consistently be reminded of the beauty found in submission (there’s a word that causes us to bristle!!) and the freedom found in not trying to control what is good and bad in our lives. Maybe we can begin to see ourselves as participants in the story God is writing with our lives rather than grasping at being the writer, producer, director, and star of our own show.
The self-forgetfulness and humility that comes from admitting our death and receiving Jesus’ life frees us to trust and love the way we were intended to. While embracing our death is counter-cultural to what we’ve probably learned on the streets of life, it truly is the path to freedom and hope.
So whether those blessings which lay in your hands right now look like something great or not, perhaps we can join the saints of old and proclaim, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)
1 Robert Farrar Capon. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus (Kindle Locations 3273-3278). Kindle Edition.