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What's Dead Looks Dead
July 14, 2006
A couple of months ago I wrote about Tiazzi’s last day. Tiazzi was our dog and, unfortunately, she began to lose her mind. Because her behavior was becoming increasingly erratic, we conferred with her veterinarian and decided that it would be best to put her down. It was a very difficult decision, but we are confident that we made the right choice. In order to help the children deal with the loss of the dog (whom they didn’t really like, but who had been in the family as long as they had been alive) we bought a small aquarium and some fish. They have gotten a great deal of pleasure out of taking care of these fish and going with me to Big Al’s, the absolutely superb fish store near our home. They chose a variety of colorful fish and even a couple of shrimp to live in their aquarium. They love to feed their fish and to show them off to anyone who comes to the house.
We have quickly learned that the average lifespan of a fish is significantly shorter than that of a dog. Fish, and tropical fish in particular, are not the hardiest animals and are prone to suffer from fluctuations in water quality and temperature and even from plain old stress. This morning I went downstairs to see one of the little blue guppies lying on the gravel at the bottom of the tank. Just yesterday he had been zipping around looking lively, but by this morning he was dead. Quite dead.
I stuck my hand in the tank and fished around (no pun intended) until I managed to get ahold of the slippery little thing. I hauled him out of the water and took a quick look at him. I was struck by how different he looked. The night before he had been brilliantly-colored with shimmering silver scales and beautiful streaks of blue through his tail. But this morning the blue was dull, the tail had collapsed and his body was pale and grey. He looked dead. Really dead.
It struck me just how much something that is dead looks dead. There is no disguising it. If you have been to a funeral that had an open casket you will know what I mean. A dead body looks dead. People usually insist that the person in the coffin looks just like he did when he was alive, but he doesn’t really. No matter what we do, no matter how much makeup we apply or how much we try to fool ourselves, a dead person looks dead just like a dead fish looks dead.
Children are born dead. I was reflecting on this just a short time ago when I came across a well-known excerpt from Augustine’s Confessions. Naturally, being the father of three young children, the subject of children and their sin has been much on my mind lately. Just this morning I had one of those experiences where one of my children proved her sin. “Eat your breakfast,” I said. “But I’m full,” she replied. This is a routine we go through at every meal (except for those occasional meals where we eat some type of junk food). She always eats half of her meal and then insists that she cannot eat another bite. “You’ve only eaten half a plum. You’re going to eat the whole thing. You can and you will.” Without missing a beat my little three year-old bundle of joy replied, “I can’t and I won’t!” She’s a little sinner, that child, just like her father and mother were until we grew up to become big sinners.
Here is what Augustine had to say about himself as an infant:
At that time I knew only how to suck and be deliciously comforted, and how to cry when anything hurt my body, but no more.
After this I began to smile, at first only in my sleep and then when I was awake. So I have been told, and I believe it on the strength of what we see other babies doing, for I do not remember doing it myself. Little by little I began to notice where I was, and I would try to make my wishes known to those who might satisfy them; but I was frustrated in this, because my desires were inside me, while other people were outside and could by no effort of understanding enter my mind. So I tossed about and screamed, sending signals meant to indicate what I wanted, those few signs that were the best I could manage, though they did not really express my desires. Often I did not get my way, either because people did not understand or because what I demanded might have harmed me, and then I would throw a tantrum because my elders were not subject to me, nor free people willing to be my slaves; so I would take revenge on them by bursting into tears. I have learned that babies behave like this from those I have been able to watch, and they without knowing it have taught me more surely what I was like myself than did my nurses who knew me well.
Augustine goes on to make a penetrating observation about human nature. “The weakness then of an infant’s limbs, not its will, is its innocence.” An infant is innocent only because it is incapable of acting out the sin and the rage that lives within. Were an infant able, she would surely lash out and cause pain and harm. And, as all parents soon realize, this is precisely what children do as soon as they are able. Children are dead.
I assume my children are dead. They say they love God and, to some extent at least, I’m sure they do. They love to hear stories from the Bible and love to learn the truths that lie beneath those stories. They even love to pray and to sing to God. And yet in so many ways they look dead. None of them has claimed thus far to have been given new life. It has been my prayer, since before any of them were born, that God would grant them this new life. I am confident He will do so, but only when the time is right. While some children turn to Him at a very young age, so many wait until they are a little bit older. So my wife and I continue to pray and continue to teach the children. We continue to trust that the obvious signs of death will begin to fade and that new life will course through their veins; through their souls.
I guess that’s what the Christian life is all about. It is about being delivered from this body of death. It is about relying upon and yet working with with the Spirit to make what we know to be true positionally become true practically. It is about preaching the gospel to all men, but first and always, to ourselves. For if we are to be men and women that claim to be alive, we must look alive.