Dying to Live
In the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption," the story hinges on a pivotal moment. The hero, Andy Dufresne, is recovering from an assault, and as his prison yard comrade attempts to console him, he finds resolve in this simple assertion: life comes down to s simple choice..."get busy living, or get busy dying." It makes for a dramatic moment...but the truth expressed in that assertion then takes decades to enact. Andy's circumstances don't change, but his resolve to survive, even rise above it, begins to manifest itself and he begins to change his situation. His resolve notes a transformation of response to suffering. He chooses to take what he can from his surrounding and form a life from it, rather than wasting away in conflict with it. It's not that we can avoid suffering and despair in life, but rather what we choose to do in response that defines our survival. On top of that, choosing to survive-though admirable-comes at the cost of rendering our values up for challenge and transformation. To put it simply...it's amazing what true hunger does to our likes and dislikes when the only available food is food we despise, and our ability to retain our sense of self through crisis is the other challenge that survival demands of us. Andy could have succumbed to the dehumanization that a lifetime of animalistic incarceration was attempting to install in him. Rather, he chose to live in it while striving to rise above it. The story completes its arc with his escape from prison...through over 200 feet of piping through which raw sewage is being pumped. Turns out, Andy was willing to keep busy living, even in the face of what most would call hell on earth.
It's hard to suffer in this life, harder still to keep a healthy sense of health and hope alive when survival tempts and distorts us at the core value level.
The Psalmist opens up that abyssal landscape inside our despair this morning with the 22nd psalm's images of loss, deprivation, exposure, defeat, failure, even impending death. So deep is the despair that the psalmist laments in the first line that it feels like even God has forsaken him. That is before the rest of his woes are exhibited for our shock and dismay. How can hope live in the face of all that? It must. The alternative is worse.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes attempts to remind us one more time of the need to pursue wisdom, even if it means no small level of disillusionment, even despair, at the craziness that is real life. It is the last bastion for the retention of hope in the face of meaninglessness for us...the last redoubt behind which we can keep faith alive as the rest of reality assaults us. It may all be "but a puff of wind," but this life is all we get and in order to make the best of it? We need to..."get busy living, or get busy dying."
Finally, and perhaps for many ultimately, we have Paul asserting once again that life, hope and the chance to thrive in this life (and the next) if rooted in our willing embrace of Christ, who through his death and resurrection lifted us up. The elevation calls us to a higher place wherein the "get busy living" aspect of a life of faith expands a narrow focus on simple survival into a broader, deeper more expansive existence wherein reconciliation, hope, truth and justice become as dear to us as our next breath. Clearly, in Christ, real life will keep us quite busy, indeed.