The Fear of Death and the Way of Spirit Contemplating a Relationship with the Divine

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My religious upbringing taught me that the purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the grave was, through propitiation, to make a personal relationship with the Divine Father possible for me. All I had to do was reach out and accept the free gift. 

But just what does a personal relationship with the Divine Father look like? What exactly can we expect from such an experience?

These questions stand as wide open gates to all of religiondom, wrapping their arms as city walls around the divisive communities within. Whole neighborhoods rise and fall, not from any new construction, but from philosophical lines being drawn and redrawn around influential personalities and motivating circumstances.

I just got done listening to a book by Ernest Becker entitled, “The Denial of Death.” His main thesis from which he built his points was that we are not motivated by an Oedipal sex drive, as Freud suggested, but rather by the fear of death. Which, interestingly, is what St. Paul suggested in Romans 7 when he said, in effect, that “I do what I do not want to do because I find the law of sin and death in my flesh.” Flesh is sarks, our mortal bodies. In other words, our animal bodies are dying and we know it, so we fight it.

Sin, as Becker put it, is our resistance to our mortal role in this universe. We are the animal who is aware that he is going to die, and so we fight against death in an attempt to become immortal. I think Paul would have agreed. The irony is that the more we resist death, the more we bring death upon ourselves.

Becker went on to review a number of psychological theories from this viewpoint, many of which would be fun to discuss here, but it’s his conclusion that compelled me to write tonight.

He said that any worldview attempting to offer a solution to the plight of man must embrace the wild, violent, seemingly random nature of the universe. Essentially, it must speak hope from a podium of mystery. All we can really do “is to fashion something, an object or ourselves, and drop it into the confusion – make an offering of it, so to speak, to the Life Force.”

This thought harmonized with my own recent meditations on Paul’s words in Galatians 6:7-9

“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up.”

Some translations call this the “Justice of God,” but what if it’s not quite so punitive? Maybe this is less a warning about the justice of God than it is a promise of the faithfulness of the Divine Life Force.

What I mean is that the Life Force is faithful to bring to harvest whatever seeds we plant, but we cannot expect to harvest good fruit from bad seeds. And that’s not God’s fault. Neither is it wrathful judgement. It’s simply the Way of Spirit.

Becker would be quick to point out that morality as a defense against the chaos is a delusion, and Solomon would be quick to agree.

And so we come full circle.

It’s easy to push off the harvest to some ethereal  afterlife, but when we do that we dilute the gospel into a works based effort to achieve immortality. Which is why Paul’s reference to eternal life cannot mean living forever in Heaven.

It’s much harder to meet God here and now, to trust Him for the harvest today, because we have to trust Him in the midst of the chaos. We have to believe we are the Beloved while dying on the cross.

How can we do this while the battle against our mortality rages within, and the storms of life rage without?

Let us consider the lilies of the field who neither toil nor spin yet are arrayed in regal splendor. Like the grass, here today and gone tomorrow, yet here again in the spring time. Or consider the old growth forest, beset by wild fires and timber harvest without and the slow decay of death all along its floor, yet steadily she grows. 

We are like individual trees striving to become great giants who live forever through our own causa sui efforts, but this is not the Way of Spirit. We do not have to be great in and of ourselves for the forest to survive. We simply grow in our nature and offer our seed back to the soil from which we came, “an offering, so to speak, to the Life Force.” Spirit will be faithful to bring to harvest what we have planted.

Instead of expecting God to make of us great forest giants for how well we have performed as trees, we can become part of the immortal Life Force that surges forth through the chaos to live and thrive eternally. 

“Abide in me and you will bear much fruit.”

My religious tradition proffers the hope of a day of restoration, a culmination of the work begun in the Christ that will be fulfilled in life without death. The gospel of Christ is victory over death, or perhaps victory through death.

That’s what I’m considering tonight as I struggle to birth these thoughts into words. That victory over death may be, at least in the here and now, the giving up of my own causa sui projects, my own self-made attempts at immortality, and trusting myself to the faithful flow of the Divine Life Force.

I am not in control of the circumstances that beset me, nor the quality of the soil in which I sow my seed, but as the Beloved I can trust in the faithfulness of Spirit to bring forth what I have planted.

When I look around me I can see this faithfulness on display everywhere. Consider all the disaster and atrocity that creation has been through, and yet she thrives. Fourteen billion years of evolution only strengthens this point. Most of what we fear as death and decay is really just another thriving form of life.

So the answer to my question, “What can I expect from a relationship with the Divine?” is all around me. The only question that remains then is, “Can I trust myself to this Divine Life Force in the midst of the mystery and chaos?”

Buen Camino, my friends.

To the end, to the truth.

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