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A Death Wish

AUDIO VERSION


The year I was born, Charles Bronson starred as a vengeful vigilante in Death Wish. In 2018 Bruce Willis starred in a remake of the same story. I've never seen either movie, but I did watch the 1974 trailer and read a summary of the plot.


In the original movie Bronson's wife was killed, so he retaliated by killing muggers on the streets of his city. But it doesn't take the movies or any descriptions of them to understand what a death wish is all about.


Someone who has a death wish lives without caution. In theory, at least, they no longer care what happens to them. Naturally it makes for exciting storytelling. The apparent courage of the hero (in such stories) knows no bounds. It makes them particularly effective and dangerous.


Of course, someone with a death wish may not even be conscious of their desire for their own death, but it governs them nonetheless. They may possibly do great and noble things, although those things are seriously dangerous. Or they may just act out in horribly self-destructive ways. But in either case, they just don't care any more whether they live or die; perhaps even preferring the latter to the former.


We know that God created us with a drive to survive. We call it our survival instinct or the will to live. A death wish is right the opposite. It's not necessarily the same thing as being suicidal though.


While suicidal thoughts may be fairly common, even those who suffer from suicidal ideation often also have a competing desire to live and thrive. Perhaps they can't see how to try to make life happen successfully any more, but it's their desire for a good life that drives them to forsake their futile life. It's a big problem. An estimated 9.2% of the current human population is likely to consider suicide at some point in this life (see uptodate reference). And, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the USA (see healthline reference).


However, I suspect that sub-conscious death wishes are far more common than suicidal thoughts. People often know full well that their drinking, smoking, drug use, fast driving, wild living, or gluttonous eating habit is deadly. Still, they march steadily on into the teeth of the deadly dragon. They may even feel a sense of bravado or macho as they do so, but it's a foolish fantasy. There is nothing noble about failing to care or to take care. Life is a gift to be treasured, not something to be squandered or surrendered frivolously. Life is not cheap. It should never be viewed as worthless.


Sometimes we just want the pressure to let up, and we really don't care how we get there. Some people attempt to drown their sorrows in alcohol. Others distract themselves with hobbies or career ambitions. Still more try to entertain themselves into relief. But none of these measures will work well enough or long enough to merit themselves. And certainly they can't offer to cure our real problem. The thing that ails us is the curse that hangs in the very air we breath. And there is no escaping that.


What is self-destructive behavior? If you "google it" you will probably find this information: "Self-destructive behavior is when you do something that's sure to cause self-harm, whether it's emotional or physical. Some self-destructive behavior is more obvious, such as: attempting suicide, binge eating, compulsive activities like gambling, gaming, or shopping."


Perhaps gambling or excessive and needless shopping is not exactly a "death wish" - but it's also not healthy. It's a sign that a person is not thinking rationally or clearly. The individual has stopped investing their life and has resorted to just spending it. It's an indication that a person is looking to escape from something, or maybe looking to find something to substitute for another drive that is not being satisfied.


I can't speak for others. I'm not even sure that I can speak well for myself. But I do see unhealthy patterns in my own history. While I have not suffered much in life (relatively speaking), I have certainly been exposed to plenty of others who have. The dark stories on the pages of history haunt me, and I've read many of them. The many sad accounts of abuse and pain from parishioners weighs heavy on my heart. The warnings of the danger and damage (that is coming to the world in the future) which I read of on the pages of the Bible pulls me down. The news of current trouble around the world and the incompetence of our leaders in the face of those troubles bewilders my mind. And so the spiral spins on.


What do I do? I want a distraction. I want an escape. I want my mind to stop racing so I can just rest. Maybe this movie will still my mind? If I can just go to sleep, my mind will have to stop. Perhaps if I talk about it or write about it, it will go away.


But it never goes away. Not really.


Read Ecclesiastes. The more wise Solomon became and the broader his experiences were, the more certain he was of despair. Ignorance is bliss. Yet it's also deadly. Wisdom brings tremendous potential, but it also brings soberness. The foolish child can play cheerfully on the playground as storm clouds gather, but the informed adult spoils playtime to rush the child to cover and safety. It is right and good. It is best. But it can also be tedious, difficult, hard, and depressing.


Of course our hope is Christ and His heaven. That's real and solid. Paul recognized this and wrote of it in Philippians 1:21-24 where he said (including other things), "...to die is gain... I have a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better..." Better than what? Well, better than staying here. And perhaps that perspective was in part what gave him his fearless boldness as he preached the gospel. In a very positive and optimistic and moral sense, Paul had reached a point where he was quite comfortable with his own passing. It was a noble death wish of sorts. True, it was tempered by his clear realization that his life still served a very important purpose in this world. But he was torn, really. He wanted to go, but needed to stay.


There were occasions where Paul calculated that his time was just about up. In 2nd Corinthians 1:8 we find that he "...despaired even of life." He was out of strength and ready to give up. But, by God's grace he survived, and stayed, and continued to serve until his time did come.


Admittedly, in 2nd Corinthians 5 we get a clearer picture of just how the Apostle Paul viewed this matter. He wrote that it wasn't the escape from this tabernacle (this physical body and all of its burdens) that was so attractive to him, it was the glory of the heavenly house (his new spiritual body) that had his attention.


This should be our perspective as well. We are told to set our affections on things above, not on the things of this world.


Look for that city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God.


Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.


Joy comes in the morning!


We are waiting, looking, longing, resting, hoping, yearning, watching.


We should fight tooth and toenail to survive and thrive here. God knows the day and time of our translation. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." Relief will come soon enough. And until it does, let us be reminded that we are not responsible for the burdens that belong only to the Lord. We are even invited to bring our burdens to the feet of Jesus. "Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you."


"Oh, I can handle it."


No, you can't. You shouldn't. It's actually wrong to try.


When I became a senior pastor over 16 years ago, I was shocked by the sorrows that nearly every member carried and was willing to share with me. I remember sharing this dilemma with my mentor in ministry. He smiled and essentially reminded me that I am nobody's messiah. It might make me feel significant and important if I am the one who carries everyone's burdens and solves their problems, but it will never work. I can only help people to carry their burdens to the cross. And I can only point them to solutions that God has shared with us all.


That may sound too simple, and maybe like it is only theoretical mumbo jumbo. But I have to tell you that it made a huge difference for me. I was liberated. I was set free. I was able to breathe again.


Satan left me alone after that and I never struggled again.


Not.


He just came at me from another angle. See, since I started taking everybody else's burdens to Jesus and even pointing people to Jesus before they had a chance to tell me what their burdens were, the ol' devil apparently decided to just make sure that my personal load of burdens would be unmanageable. So, a few years later someone asked me what the hardest part of ministry was. It was no longer the weight of the sorrows and pains of others. The new struggle I had was one of choosing priorities. My default perspective is to think that everything is a good idea. My natural response to every opportunity is to agree to it. It didn't take very long then for me to have way more occasions to minister than I had time, energy, or intelligence to invest. And, that struggle has continued to today.


Don't feel sorry for me. But do learn from my hard knocks. Your vice of choice may be far different than mine. I tend to be a workaholic. It's not a commendable or a noble trait. It's fueled by my desire to please people and to not let them down. It's driven by my slavish submission to a non-existent judge who tells me to make sure every item on my to-do list is checked off. I'm mistakenly defined in my own mind by my accomplishments, achievements, reputation, and dependability. I foolishly derive my value from my self-perceived competence (along with a steady stream of affirming compliments and expressions of admiration). And yes, hidden somewhere in there is a strange hope that if I just work hard enough, maybe I'll find peace and rest somewhere.


Strangely that is very close to a death wish. The hope of peace and rest is death's attractive first cousin. Solomon noted that the dead have no more worries (at least not any earthly ones). Jesus noted that the dead do not work anymore. Ah yes! Sounds heavenly.


Here is the point of today's blog. While we should all be diligent and motivated; we should all be vigorous and committed; we should all be sacrificing and selflessly serving, we must also listen to the Spirit and do only those things which please the Father. Not the things that impress others and that fulfill the letter of God's law. The letter kills. The spirit gives life.


Jesus repeatedly avoided death and danger until it was His time to embrace it and die. As Christines we must all learn to trust God with EVERYTHING. Doing things that are self-defeating and self-destructive is not honoring to God. It may somehow soothe our conscience temporarily. Or it might distract us for a little while from that which ails us. But in the end we need to remember that Jesus has called us to an abundant life (John 10:10). In one English version it reads like this: "The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give you a rich and satisfying life."


Fleshly sins are deadly.


Spiritual sins are deadly.


Religious sins are deadly.


Traditional sins are deadly.


Ritualistic sins are deadly.


Culturally condoned sins are deadly.


Understandable sins are deadly.


Big sins are deadly.


Little sins are deadly.


Infractions are deadly. Omissions are deadly.


The sin of self-reliance is deadly.


There is only one way to live properly, and that is by resting completely in the power and goodness of Christ.


Pray that I will practice this spiritual discipline daily.


I pray that you will too. Then we won't struggle with either conscious or subconscious death wishes. Then we won't cut off our own nose to spite our own face. Through a vigorous faith in Christ we can drink the cup of suffering that Christ has called us to drink, instead of the cup of poison that the devil offers to us. We will be able to carry the cross of pain that is assigned to us, knowing that God's grace is our only source of true and lasting joy and relief.



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