The second question in the Heidelberg Catechism is “What must you know to live and die in the joy of comfort?” And the answer is three-part. You need to know your sin and your misery, then you need to know that you’ve been set free from that sin and misery, and then you can live with gratitude to God for setting you free from your sin and misery.
What I love about that answer is that it starts with honesty about misery. If you want to live with the joy of comfort and to die in the joy of comfort, it starts by recognizing the truth about the world and about yourself. That means acknowledging misery.
Even the most painful experiences now are really only whetting our appetite for the world in which there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, and no more death.
The fact that we’ve banished death from polite conversation and from our minds for the most part doesn’t mean that we aren’t experiencing death and its effects all throughout our lives. What it means is that we aren’t able to properly diagnose the problems we’re living with, and that we’re treating the symptoms of those problems with Tylenol when what we need is an antibiotic.
We Can’t Escape Death
Our detachment from death hasn’t kept us from insecurity over who we are and why we matter. It hasn’t kept us from feeling dissatisfied and disappointed when the things we think are going to give us pleasure don’t end up satisfying us. It hasn’t kept us from losing everything we love to time and what it takes from us.
So, we haven’t actually escaped death in our lives. We shouldn’t escape or try to avoid talking about it, either. When we don’t recognize that it’s death’s faces that we’re seeing in the problems and the pain that we’re living with, we aren’t able to apply the solution that Jesus came to offer. We aren’t able to see the power and the privilege of knowing the one who is the resurrection and the life and to see his power transform our pain.
But if we’re clear about where our misery comes from, then we’re able to see that he really can set us free from that misery. Once we see that, then we can live with gratitude even when other things in our lives aren’t what we wished they were. Many of us deal with stress, futility, and loss, and can often be frustrated that God allows these sorts of things into our lives. We’re focused on all the what-ifs and we stress and strive to make them reality when what we could be focusing on is what is—the rock-solid, inevitable certainty that our lives are going to end and that Jesus came to do something about that.
Jesus didn’t just come to do something about that, he perfectly solved that problem. And now we can live lives that are less than what we wish they were because these lives are not the only experiences that we’re going to have. We can be grateful for the offering that God has made for a new day, a new heaven and a new earth where even the sweetest of joys we’re experiencing now—in their incompleteness—won’t compare to what we’ll experience forever. Even the most painful experiences now are really only whetting our appetite for the world in which there will be no more tears, no more sorrow, and no more death.
So, unleashing Jesus’s promises against the real culprit underneath all of our problems is part of how we live with those problems in joy while we wait for him to make all things new.
- Memento Mori: What It Means and Why It Matters (Matthew McCullough)
- An Open Letter to Those Living for Tomorrow (Matthew McCullough)
- What Happens When We Forget We’ll Die (Matthew McCullough)