My day started with death. Not in a particularly morbid way, or in any way that will alter my life for more than the 10 minutes I sat in class, listening to my professor awkwardly piece together sentences that were littered with a grief I didn't understand. Someone in our extended seminary family passed away, and while I still don't know her name or the circumstances of her death, I was profoundly affected for the morning, and still now.
Amidst the tears of a few who knew the story, my professor paused the lecture recording, stopped and somehow stared all of us straight into the eyes without looking at anyone in particular, and read to us from 1 Corinthians 15 - the only passage, it feels, that makes grief even remotely digestible.
If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
And then he stopped reading, closed his Bible, and told us that this is what matters. That we are not in seminary for any reason other than this - to push back against sin and death in the world, and to be a part of the restoration of creation to its full, flourishing, beautiful original state.
On Sunday night, we worshiped - perhaps for the last time this Spring - in the old stone church we call home now. Two rows in front of me, a shaggy-haired teenage boy sat with his family. I couldn't keep my eyes off of him during worship. He's still in that stage of life where worship is nothing but pure joy, when his hands are raised and pulsing in sync with the music, his feet tap and he drums against the back of the pew in front of him. My heart ached for him, as I remembered so many of the shaggy-haired boys and too-makeuped girls that I worshiped with that same way in high school. Faith felt easy then. Maybe it was. But then college came, and the "real world," and I watched so many fall away, one by one, and perhaps they darken the doors of a church on a regular basis, but doubt fills their minds instead of joy, and the conflicting messages we hear about what "church" and "Christians" are like - the shame that goes along with those labels - echo in our minds when we should be swallowed up in song. I prayed for that boy, nonstop, all the way through worship. "Be careful with him, God. Let him keep this innocence. Don't let him stray. Don't let him doubt. The Church needs men like this - people like this. Don't let the real world get to him."
Dr. Matthew's words have sat with me all day. "You are supposed to push back against death."
I am one who shies away from every hint of it. I can't watch television or movies unless I know no one dies. I skim the news at most, and then let it keep me up at night. I weave morbid ends for everyone I love, hedging my heart against this bet of living humanity full and well.
There's a Patty Griffin song I love (well, there are many of those). She sings -
Be careful how you bend me. Be careful where you send me. Be careful how you end me. Be careful with me.
That is how I pray. I pray - sometimes whispering that prayer with every rise and fall of my chest as I breathe. Be careful with me, Lord. Be careful with Price. Be careful with all of us.
And so on mornings like this one, when unexpected death shows up and smacks its ugly head, I am broken. I am full of doubt. Most of me runs - my mind scampers into valleys of happy thoughts, I drown that doubt in good work and funny cat memes, and I'll fall asleep tonight to the sweet sounds of Sportscenter to focus my mind on anything other than fear or death.
I am full of fear and doubt so much that it chokes me.
But I'm starting to think that maybe it is this doubt - this fear - that makes me believe all the more. Maybe God is watching these things unfold with the same ache and sorrow that I am. And maybe He has a plan to make it all right in the end. Because it doesn't make sense - death doesn't. It doesn't fit. I doubt the power of death even more than I doubt the existence of God, because I can't imagine living in this world that is so broken without having the hope for something better.
I believe that I live in a world where death is not meant to be, where it came as an unwelcome stranger and that one day it will be no more. And that the restoration of a glorious world promises me an ending to a story where I won't have to be careful anymore. It's a world where this promise comes true -
Live carefree before God; He is most careful with you. (1 Peter 5:7, The MSG)