I’m reading through Athanasius’ On the Incarnation right now for a church fathers discussion group I’m part of, and came across this lovely thought in parts 27-28.
Athanasius says that one of the ways you can see that death has been defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ is that for Christians, “no longer is death fearsome, but all believers in Christ tread on it as nothing.”
First of all, I’m struck by how he talks about the death of death as a cosmic fact. It’s not just some private experience that a person has (like gnosticism), but when a person becomes a Christian, they personally begin to participate in a cosmic reality that took place in the death and resurrection of Christ: the defeat and death of death itself!
And you can see this participation by the way so many Christians (even boys and young girls, he says!) treat death as nothing, knowing that it has been defeated by Christ.
Secondly, his argument in part 28 made me laugh out loud. He is speaking to those who may still doubt that death has been defeated. Even after seeing so many martyrs go willingly to death, he says,
If, regardless, he still has doubt in his mind that death has been destroyed and brought to an end… let the one not believing the victory over death accept the faith of Christ and come over to his teaching, and he will see the weakness of death and the victory over it.
Isn’t that funny? The argument basically is: Don’t believe me about death being defeated? Become a Christian and you’ll see it’s true!
One of the axioms of the missional theology we train leaders in at Gravity Leadership is that we learn how to live as disciples of Jesus not through detached analysis but through embodied participation in his life.
In other words, you don’t really discover a spiritual truth by examining it from afar. You don’t really see or understand the kingdom of God by moving away from it and analyzing it. You only really see and understand spiritual things from the inside, as you participate in them.
It’s kind of like trying on a new pair of glasses. You can’t really know if they work by looking at them and analyzing them from a distance. You have to put them on your face and participate in the way they bend the light, and see how your eyes respond to it. Only after trying the glasses on do you know whether or not they are helpful to you.
It’s really the same in faith – if you want to find out whether death has been destroyed by the death and resurrection of Christ, there’s no other way to really find out except to “accept the faith of Christ and come over to his teaching.” You’ve got to give yourself over to it before you’ll really understand even the first part of it.