If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of people.
1 Cor 15:20
Recently I heard from a person struggling with drug addiction. Among his desperate assertions was: “My life is too far gone.” What do we mean when we speak of “my life”? Is it something that belongs to us? Is it finally something that we control? And, if not, what does it mean for us to be responsible for it?
Perhaps to be responsible for our life means to be responsible to life, to the One who not only gives us life but who is the One living life in and through us. When we are feeling desperate or depressed, is it not because we feel the difference between our expectations of life, or the world’s expectations of us, and our reality? We are worth nothing because we have failed.
In truth, however, the life we judge, at such moments, is not our true life. “If our hope in Christ has been for this life only, we are the most unfortunate of people.” If Jesus has died and is risen, then the life we live is now life for God. Yet, it is even more. It is the very life of God in us.
To be responsible for our lives means, then, to be responsible for the life of God in us. Much of our human suffering is due to our false sense our lives are separate, that we exist in the world as a discrete object that must make something of ourselves. We feel a responsibility to “make something of ourselves” and so that’s precisely what we set out to do. This task of self-responsibility is precisely the heart of our greatest conflicts and sufferings. In truth, we have one great responsibility which is to the Life which is our life and so much more. We live in a life that is “the life of the world,” and we must avoid confusing “our life” with our own self-creation.
We may all, hopefully without the desperation, need to come to the realization that what we take to be our lives is “too far gone.” To the degree we have put our hope in “this life only,” that is in the life we take ourselves to be, then we are “among the most unfortunate of people.” We tend to do this even with our “hope in Christ.” When our faith and hope in Christ is directed toward our own well-being or success, as we measure it in this life, it is merely part of our false form. When our hope is dependent on the flourishing of our demands and expectations for our own life, we are truly to be pitied, for we have, in a sense, then “used” faith to our own ends.
When our hopes for “this life” come to nothing, we find ourselves in a position to recognize how much more life is than we ever knew or expected. We may even come to know a love that transcends anything we can or have done to betray it. Mercy is at the heart of the universe because it is the life of God that grounds all that is, including ourselves.
And yet, though we strain
against the deadening grip
of daily necessity,
I sense there is this mystery:
All life is being lived.
Who is living it, then?
It it the things themselves,
or something waiting inside them,
like an unplayed melody in a flute?
Is it the winds blowing over the waters?
Is it the branches that signal to each other?
Is it flowers
interweaving their fragrances,
or streets, as they wind through time?
Is it the animals, warmly moving,
or the birds, that suddenly rise up?
Who lives it, then? God, are you the one
who is living life?
R.M. Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours, trans. by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, II, 12