Man Up, Christians
Nice try, but the reason we seek invasive, risky treatments is to get our miracle—so we can live a few years longer.
Some of the devout argue that we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our bodies. Yes, up to a point. But it seems clear that the height of discipleship is to put our bodies at risk for the gospel, no? If Paul's priority was to steward his body, I don't think he would have put himself in situations in which shipwrecks, beatings, and hunger were a regular part of the regimen. And throughout the church's history, saints (the exemplars of faith) end up sickly, thin, ragged, and exhausted, and die prematurely precisely because they "left nothing on the floor" when serving God and others.
I wonder sometimes if stewardship of our bodies—from keeping fit to living long—has become another way of trimming the hard edges off discipleship. So tonight, do I work out and burn some calories and lower my stress levels, or volunteer at the homeless shelter? Given our busy schedules, that is often the real choice we face, and sadly many today think of them as equal and worthy obligations.
Some of us alter diets and endure invasive surgery because loved ones have pleaded with us, saying they love us and want us to be around for a long time. But what love do these loved ones practice if they badger us to forgo that which would bring us joy unparalleled:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
So said the apostle Paul, but his line of thinking is increasingly foreign to us.
John Foxe, in his classic Acts and Monuments, said that when Protestants Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were being marched to their deaths under the persecution of Queen Mary ("Bloody Mary"), Latimer encouraged his martyr mate, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man."
Today he'd say "man up." And he'd remind Latimer that the point of our sojourn on this planet is not to live long but to live well.
Update: For more information about the study mentioned in this column, see Michael Balboni's comments at the Christianity Today Liveblog.An earlier version of this column referred to the wrong queen of England. Under the persecution of Queen Mary ("Bloody Mary") Latimer encouraged his martyr mate, "Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man."
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. He is the author of the just released A Great and Terrible Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Attributes of God (Baker). This column is cross-posted on his blog.
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In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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