This is a guest post from Chichi Agorom, a student at Denver Seminary. You can read more of her writing here.
I read recently in one of those simple yet life-altering books about life, that the pattern of the Christian life is one of life after death.
It’s the cycle we adhere to – we die, and then we come back to life. Of course, the greatest and clearest example of this is Jesus. His death and resurrection initiated this rhythm and we’ve been – consciously or unconsciously – following suit since he lived, died, and lived again.
Maybe this isn’t news to you. Honestly, while it was an interesting pause in my reading, it wasn’t until I understood the second half of that concept that I truly stopped, took a deep breath, and said, “Oh, my word. Really?” The second half is that this is not a two-time occurrence: once at salvation and the other at the second coming. This is a continuous pattern throughout our lives on this earth. Death. New life. Death. New life. Over and over and over again. If you’re not in the process of dying, you’re in the process of being brought back to life. Sometimes everyday, sometimes every few months, sometimes every season.
The season of death isn’t necessarily always punishment for a sin; it’s just part of the cycle.
I know there is a part of Scripture that talks about how we must die daily to the flesh and choose the life of the Spirit. I guess I never really understood what that meant. I was taught that dying to flesh was essentially being a good kid, and making good decisions that honored God and my family. No lying, no cussing, no partying, definitely no premarital sex, and no general impoliteness.
And then I experienced death for the first time, after I moved away from home and began to choose who I wanted to be in college. When I contemplated really choosing Jesus for myself and not because I was expected to, my first thought was that choosing him meant letting other things die. I knew I couldn’t hold my current lifestyle and my new faith at the same time. That was my first experience with death.
I had to let something die to allow a rebirth in me.
Six years later, I’m in graduate school – at a seminary no less – and I’m mad at God for the existence of pain and brokenness and suffering in this world. I can’t wrap my head around his omnipotence and the heart-wrenching pain we endure, some worse than others. Most days I ask him why he doesn’t just speak the words that will stop the madness and heal our aches, or why he doesn’t just establish his victorious reign now.
Why must we wait? Why is it so hard? Why are there little girls sold as sex slaves and grown men who exploit them with no remorse? Why are there parents who abuse their children, leaving them with gaping wounds? Why can’t my bosses get a break? One day, it’s a broken pelvis, the next it’s the possibility of cancer, and the next it’s a car accident.
Why have we become a “hate group,” bashing anyone who’s different from us in the name of the God of love?
It hurts my head to think about these things, and it hurts my heart to know that there could be a different scenario where this brokenness didn’t rule the world, as it seems to. It’s a messy thing, wrestling with God about the things he allows to happen.
And then this idea of constantly dying and constantly being brought back to life appeared right in the middle of my messy, teary, heartfelt outrage. I’m in a season of death. Things aren’t working like I want them to, God’s not answering like I want him to, my heart keeps hurting even when I try to make sure it won’t. It’s a season of pain and tears and questions and anger. Most days, I would give anything to not be in this season.
Yet the most incredible, Christ-like people have died a million deaths and found life a million times. The fear of death, the trying to run as fast as you can away from hurt and pain, the lie that if you do everything right you’ll be spared from gut-wrenching pain is nonsensical and futile. When we signed up for this life with Jesus, we signed up to die a million deaths. It’s the only way we can discover new life. Somewhere along the line, I bought into the lie that choosing Jesus meant choosing security and safety and a fulfilled wish list. I fell in love with a genie and not the God of heaven and earth. Jesus himself promised us pain and troubles, many enemies and fierce battles. I conveniently forget that part all the time.
I’m in a season of death, and it’s one of the hardest ones I’ve ever experienced. It makes me question everything about what I believe and whom I worship. But there’s hope in that the sooner I die, the sooner I can be raised back to life. Maybe what Paul meant by “to die is gain” is that growth and life only occur as a result of death. Without His death I could not have Him. And without my death, I cannot have Him.
So I’m not running away from it anymore. I could love my enemies, heal the sick, never miss a Sunday service, only listen to Christian radio, and pray before every meal, and yet pain will come. Death will come. I’m trying to remind myself that I must die in order to reborn. I’m planting a garden for the first time this summer, and just like the seeds must die before they can bring forth new life, so must I. I’m learning to celebrate the seasons of life, basking in the glories of lushness and ease. But I’m also learning to stop fighting the seasons of death, understanding that it’s not always because I’ve failed or sinned, but it is the only way growth can come. And to be growing is to be alive.