No Higher Calling
And it is appointed unto man once to die and after
this judgment – Hebrews 9:27
This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press on toward
the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 3:13b-14
“The test results have come back. I’m sorry. You have cancer.”
The feisty and often combative mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, who was poised for great political election battles with Hillary Clinton for a New York State Senate seat, has now withdrawn in the face of the discovery he has prostate cancer. In remarking on the affect of his health crisis and giving up the political contest of his life, he observed: “I will focus more on the important things in life.” He went on: “Politics is not as important in my life as I once thought it was,” and said he hoped the whole experience would make him “a better person.”
Giuliani is, of course, not the first person to suggest that the threat of imminent death — that the Doctor’s warnings — can bring a new and sharper focus on what’s important in life. It can dramatically and instantly change priorities when we are forced to face our mortality. In one respect that is natural. We live too often in an illusion we are in control of our lives, and we set our own agendas. We postpone the important in favor of the urgent. Our busy lawyer lives encourage us perhaps to be seduced by these illusions of self-determination. We set our own schedules, we own our Day-Timers, and mark off the hours like we owned them as well. With briefs due, court dates, and depositions, those family and spiritual priorities will have to wait until “manana.” We sing in church about “seeking first the kingdom of God,” but our schedules and wallets hum a different tune.
So our bodily frailty arrests our attention and shatters the illusions. That’s inevitable.
Now, however, as natural and even appropriate as this reassessment based on the threat of death may be, I am struck that this is not an especially biblical perspective. Pending death is not the chief biblical trigger of prioritized lives. It does not appear that the threat of death is a primary motivator for discipleship, faithfulness and focused living.
The Apostle Paul never seems to be laboring under the impetus of mortality. In fact, it is the OPPOSITE. Is is not MORTALITY that drives him, but IMMORTALITY — the recognition of the gift of eternal life that energizes and focuses His life. It is the wonder and glory of the grace of God which has claimed Him, that causes him to “Press on toward the prize:” not the “Grim Reaper,” but the “Glorious Hope” which overs over his life.
I wonder if instead of wondering how life would be different if the Doctor told us we had six months to live, instead we really heard the Lord tell us — “you will now live forever — you have the gift of life eternal. You are a new being by my grace.” That is what I believe Paul sensed. He had already moved from “Death to life” and now in wonder and praise would focus his life on that reality. Now, as the hymn declares, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
It is not our mortality which ought primarily to reorder our lives — like some Damoclean sword. Rather it is the “lively hope” (I Peter 1:3) which ought to reorder our schedules, spending and passions. You see, it is not how little time we have left that is the issue — it is all the life we have been given! It is not the doctor’s warning words, but the Savior’s promise, “O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory.” (I Cor. 15:55)
“He that fears death, lives not” — George Herbert
Mr. Buzzard was Professor at the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law at Campbell University where he focused on church-state, constitutional, and international law. From 1971-1985 he served as Director of Christian Legal Society. The author of ten books, he has substantial international experience in church- state matters.