Tag Archives: death

A Desire to Live, a Readiness to Die

“Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice.

He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.”

~ G.K. Chesterton

Far Too Easily Pleased

Some of you may have already read this article from MSNBC; but if not, I strongly urge you to do so. Here’s an excerpt:

Stacie Crimm didn’t get to share much time with her infant daughter, Dottie Mae – she’d made the ultimate sacrifice to give the little girl life.

Crimm, a 41-year-old single mother, received the grim diagnosis of terminal head and neck cancer just months after her little girl was conceived. She opted to skip chemotherapy to protect her growing fetus.

Crimm survived long enough for the baby to be delivered. But shortly after holding her daughter for the first time, the Oklahoma woman slipped into a coma and died.

It’s a beautiful, beautiful story. Here’s a woman who (as far as I know) was not a Christian, and yet she demonstrated the essence of John 15:13 far better than many believers do. As Challies said, “Greater love hath no mom than this…”

But there’s something disappointing and troubling about this story, too: you probably noticed it yourself, toward the end:

[Crimm] didn’t have many special instructions on how she wanted her daughter to be raised, but she did have big plans for her little girl.

“She said, ‘I hope this little girl grows up beautiful so we can put her in pageants,'” Phillips told Lauer.

Really? I thought. That’s it? That’s all you want for your daughter? How sad.

Not surprisingly, I’m reminded of something C.S. Lewis once wrote: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

As Christians, we, too, live because Someone died for us. Because Christ died for us. The life we now live is not ours to wile away on paltry earthly pursuits. Jesus didn’t die so we could have our “best life now”; He didn’t die so we could chase our wildest dreams; He didn’t die so we could win beauty pageants or write a New York Times bestseller or make it to the Oscars.

No, He died that He might call us to something bigger, better, grander, and far more magnificent than any of these things. He died that we might be sons of God – that we might love Him and glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we
should be called the sons of God…” (1 John 3:1)

Book Review: The Book Thief

The year is 1939. The place is Nazi Germany. Standing by her little brother’s grave, nine-year old Leisel Meminger’s life is changed forever when she picks up a small object from the snow-covered ground. It’s a book – The Gravedigger’s Handbook, to be exact, accidentally left behind by one of the men who buried her brother. It’s also Leisel’s first act of book thievery, and the beginning of a lifelong love affair with books and those powerful little entities called words.

With the help of Hans Hubermann, her kindly, accordian-playing foster-father, Leisel throws herself heart and soul into learning how to read. In due time, she’s “stealing” books from Nazi-book burnings, and even from the mayor’s wife, who deliberately leaves her library window open for that purpose.

But Nazi-Germany is a dangerous place. And when Leisel’s family shelters a fugitive Jew in their basement, the young girl’s world is once more dramatically changed – both for better and for worse.

The Book Thief – written by Markus Zusak – is the literary equivalent of Roman Polanski’s film The Pianist (2002): artful, absorbing, devastating, beautiful. In short, unforgettable. And though it is classified in the Young Adult section of the bookstore, it deserves the consideration, not only of older teens, but of adults as well.

Death himself is the narrator in this book: an unsentimental – though not uncaring – storyteller trying to make sense of what he sees. He witnesses much misery, but also much beauty in his travels to and fro over the earth. He tells us,

… I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.

In Zusak’s words, Death is “exhausted from his eternal existence and his job”. He is “afraid of humans – because, after all, he was there to see the obliteration we’ve perpetrated on each other throughout the ages” and he is now telling Leisel’s story “to prove to himself that humans are worth it”, that there is beauty among the ashes.

Such a choice of narrators may sound odd, but it nevertheless works exceedingly well within the framework of the story.

The author’s writing is simply spectacular, reminiscent of greats like Cormac McCarthy and Ray Bradbury. It’s crystal clear, wonderfully descriptive, and as searing as a hot iron. When asked whether such writing came naturally to him, Zusak replied,

like the idea that every page in every book can have a gem on it. It’s probably what I love most about writing – that words can be used in a way like a child playing in a sandpit, rearranging things, swapping them around. They’re the best moments in a day of writing – when an image appears that you didn’t know would be there when you started work in the morning.

There truly is a gem on every page of The Book Thief. Zusak’s masterful word-craft grips you and begs you to linger over every other sentence, while the intensity of Leisel’s tale compels you to keep going. It is one of those rare cases where the storytelling is as excellent as the story itself.

And the story is excellent. It is a story of love, loss, tragedy, and hope. A story where books are treasured and words are acknowledged as the powerful tools they are. The characters are all drawn with care and finesse, and it was with great reluctance that I turned the final page. I wanted to see more of these characters; I missed them, with all their quirks and flaws and virtues.

As far as content goes, this is a book I would reserve for ages 15 and up. Violence and sexual content aren’t really an issue, but there is a fair amount of swearing, in both English and German. It’s not particularly strong, but it’s certainly not mild either, so discretion is advised.

Theologically, the book is a mixed bag of sorts. Death’s character acknowledges the existence of God and of the hereafter; yet God does not play a large role in the story. Instead of a deity sovereignly involved in the affairs of mankind, this “God” is, for the most part, an aloof one. I should have liked to have seen a more biblical portrayal of God, one more in keeping with passages such as Nehemiah 9:6, “Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.”

That aside, The Book Thief is magnificent and well worth your time. It’s exceptional prose and superbly crafted story make it possibly one of the best books I have ever read. Undoubtedly, it the best piece of fiction I’ve encountered so far this year.

Matthew Smith’s “Goodnight”

As you may or may not have noticed (depending on the frequency with which you read this blog), the Ink Slinger has been silent for the past week or so. The explanation?

My family received word that my Mom’s dad had been hospitalized and was not expected to live much longer. On the spur of the moment, we packed our bags and made a trip to VA to see him. God graciously allowed us to spend time with him before he passed away on Tuesday, June 14th.

In light of his death – and the fact that he was a believer – I think this song is most appropriate to share:

I journey forth rejoicing
From this dark vale of tears,
To heavenly joy and freedom,
From earthly bonds and fears;
Where Christ our Lord shall gather
All His redeemed again,
His kingdom to inherit.
Goodnight, goodnight till then!

Why thus so sadly weeping,
Beloved ones of my heart?
The Lord is good and gracious,
Though now He bids us part.
Oft have we met in gladness.
And we shall meet again,
All sorrow left behind us.
Goodnight, goodnight till then!

I go to see His glory,
Whom we have loved below:
I go, the blessed angels,
The holy saints to know.
Our lovely ones departed,
I go to find again,
And wait for you to join us.
Goodnight, goodnight till then!

I hear the Saviour calling,
The joyful hour has come:
The angel guards are ready
To guide me to our home,
Where Christ our Lord shall gather
All His redeemed again,
His kingdom to inherit.
Goodnight, goodnight till then!

(Click here to learn more about the song.)

“Lord, I Was Blind!”

Lord, I was blind! I could not see
In Thy marred visage any grace;
But now the beauty of Thy face
In radiant vision dawns on me.

Lord, I was deaf! I could not hear
The thrilling music of Thy voice;
But now I hear Thee and rejoice,
And all Thine uttered words are dear.

Lord, I was dumb! I could not speak
The grace and glory of Thy Name;
But now, as touched with living flame,
My lips Thine eager praises wake.

Lord, I was dead! I could not stir
My lifeless soul to come to Thee;
But now since Thou hast quickened me,
I rise from sin’s dark sepulchre.

Lord, Thou hast made the blind to see,
The deaf to hear, the dumb to speak,
The dead to live; and lo, I break
The chains of my captivity!

~ William Tidd Matson