Though the Mountains Be Shaken

Though the Mountains Be Shaken

Collectively, we humans have thousands of fears – fear of loss, harm, abandonment, failure, darkness, monsters under the bed. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve had them all. Fears are the water in which we swim. Fear has ushered many a tyrant into power. 

Although one cannot legitimately extrapolate from personal experience to universal applications, for me, the fear of death undergirds all other fears. To be more specific, it is a fear of nonexistence. Fears of abandonment, rejection, failure, and loss of control are the offspring of existential meaninglessness. 

Lesser fears cluster in tight groups under the fear of nonexistence. Those clusters spin in circles. Worry leads to self-blame, which leads to shame, which leads to anxiety, which produces more worry. Round and round I go, spiraling downward into depression. 

Existential angst, the terror of annihilation and nonexistence, has power by virtue of the fact that, if true, annihilation renders life meaningless. The thought is not original. Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Friedrich Nietzsche all went there. Death as the end of all seems to be the default philosophy of the intelligentsia. Bravely facing the darkness and busying oneself with useful projects gives them purpose and meaning. That has never worked for me. I find no joy in either stoicism or hedonism. As far back as I can remember there has been an ache within me – a yearning to experientially know Truth.

Truth corresponds to an external reality. We’ve all heard the parable of the four blind persons approaching the elephant – each reaching their own opinion of reality – the elephant it likened to a rope, a huge snake, a tree trunk, and a leathery wall because one blind person handled the tail, another the trunk, a third a leg, and the last the animal’s side. Each has their own “reality” because none bothered to collaborate with the others or invite outsiders to expand their knowledge. Regardless, an elephant is an elephant. 

Truth is not my opinion, nor my perspective. Truth is not superimposed dogma. Although I never have the complete picture, there is nevertheless an external reality that exists regardless of what I believe. 

Whatever my personal beliefs about God, God exists. I need not try to prove that to anyone. The evidence is overwhelming when I consider the beauty of the intricate mathematical equations that describe the universe, when I consider the logical improbability of quarks flying from a hot big bang producing rational beings without a prime mover, or when I know in my gut that love is more than psychobiology. 

Since God is, it is not surprising that God has made Godself knowable. Galileo argued (in his 1615 letter to the Grand Duchess Christina) that God has written two books – the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture, which do not, because they cannot, contradict one another, having come from the same Mind, the Ground of Being. There are contradictions between interpretations of the Bible and the natural sciences, but none between the Bible and science. 

It is not surprising that a Prime Mover capable of imaging a universe of quantum theory and soul-stirring symphonies is not fully discoverable. I would not want it otherwise. There is joyous energy is the discovery. Both books are amaranthine ceaseless mines of wonder. It is not only about the destination. There is joy and purpose in the journey. 

The Apostle Paul was neither the despicable misogynist, the ivory-tower intellectual, nor the religious fanatic imagined by some. He was a man. He had all the same emotions and problems common to humanity. At one point in his life, he was so deeply depressed he despaired of life itself. 

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, NIV)

By “Asia,” Paul is referring to modern Turkey. Two things seem to have collided in his life to produce despair – persecution and hardship in Asia Minor, and news that the community of faith he founded in Corinth had disintegrated into bickering and division. It would seem that Paul felt that his life was useless, that he might die having accomplished nothing. Purposelessness. Meaninglessness. Worthlessness. Existential angst. 

What lifted Paul from the “slough of despond” (to borrow John Bunyan’s phrase) to a life – not a life of grim Nietzscheandefiance, not a life of narcissistic indulgence, nor of coercive political power – but to a life of interior freedom, true joy, and eternal purpose, was learning to rely on “the God who raises the dead.”

All of Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection of Christ. Either Jesus was raised from the dead or he was not. The evidence is again overwhelming:

  • A cruel Roman crucifixion
  • A certain death
  • A sealed and guarded tomb
  • Terrified disciples
  • A huge entry stone lifted out to reveal an already empty tomb
  • Grave clothes wound as if still around a body
  • A turban neatly folded
  • Bodily appearances to hundreds of people in many different places and under many different circumstances
  • Thousands attesting to the reality of the resurrection
  • None of them recanting in the face of torture and death
  • A faith that exploded across the Neareast, Africa, Asia, and Europe
  • Millions of radically changed lives over the next 2 millennia

God raises the dead. God conquers the essential fear. Death, where is your sting? Annihilation, nonexistence is an illusion. Life has purpose. Life continues forever. All of the lesser fears that cluster in bundles under the fear of nonexistence dissipate in light of the God who raises the dead. 

In the new covenant, there is but one negative commandment and but one positive commandment:

  • Do not be afraid
  • Love one another

“To me this is like the days of Noah,
    when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
    never to rebuke you again.
Though the mountains be shaken
    and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
    nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

(Isaiah 54:9-10 NIV)

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on September 28, 2020, in anabaptist, apologetics, Bible, Bible Teaching, bodily resurrection, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Justice, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, parables, Peace Shalom Hesed, Poetry, Prayer, Prophecy, Spirituality, The Cross, Theodicy, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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