Lust For Life
LUST FOR LIFE
In 1977 Jim Osterburg, also known by his artist name Iggy Pop, released one of his most famous songs, Lust for Life. It is a pretty popular tune. I remember hearing it in my child hood and teenage years in commercials for fast cars and other products that displayed people dancing and having a good time. But if you actually listen to the lyrics, Iggy Pop’s song Lust For Life is what you think a rock and roll song in the seventies would be about, sex drugs and rock and roll. I downloaded Iggy’s official biography to get a sense of the singer’s life. The biography was written by Paul Trynka and is entitled, “ Open Up and Bleed.” With at title like that it was no surprise that the opening pages of his biography made me more feel sorry for Iggy, and his out of control lifestyle, than it did make me admire him as a musician. Certainly he was a great musician. Certainly he had a lust for life that inspired many. But it seemed from his biography that very lust for life ended up destroying his life.
This idea of throwing off the restraint society puts on us was taken to the extreme in the 1930’s by the notorious bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde. I had heard about these two bank robbers in a passing way but I didn’t know a lot about them till I watched the Netflix film The Highway Men. The movie tells the true story of Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, two retired Texas rangers, who come out of retirement to hunt Boney and Clyde down. Before watching the film I thought of Bonnie and Clyde more like Robin Hood, some outlaws that robbed a few banks, if not to give to the poor, than to have a little fun. What I didn’t know was the extent of the violence in their crime spree. I didn’t know that they killed at least thirteen people. At the end of the film there is actual documentary film of Bonnie Parker’s and Clyde Barrow’s funeral service. 20,000 people attended Bonnie Parker’s funeral service in Dallas. Clyde Barrow’s service drew 15,000 people. In the midst of the great depression, when much of the country had been robbed of what ordinary people would consider a good life, when most of the country had been robbed of a desire to live, people clung to these two criminals who robbed institutions of money, and people of their lives, as celebrities and heroes. They saw in Bonnie and Clyde a lust for life, a lust so great it disregarded the lives of others. They saw in Bonnie and Clyde an escape from their everyday misery and monotony so much so that thousands of people disregarded the fact that they were mass murders and voluntarily chose to show up at their funerals. It is clear that the world’s definition of lusting after life has been warped by sin. And yet how do we as the church convince the world that the life we have to offer is better than the life the world has to offer? Paul tells us the only way is to demonstrate our faith through our example. But we as Christians know that sometimes the Christian life can be unappealing even to us. What are we to do?
The Good News: When we know the life that Paul lusted for we will want to set an example for others. What was the life that Paul lusted for?
- Paul lusted to be with Christ because eternal life is far better than this life.
- Paul lusted for fruitful labor because he had died to himself
First, we see that Paul lusted to be with Christ because eternal life is far better than this life. Every desire in our hearts points to Christ. The world does not revolve around us it revolves around Jesus who is worthy of our glory and honor and praise. The pleasure we will experience in Christ is greater than an intimate relationship on this earth. Unlike Mormons, who believe that we Christians will not be married to spouses forever, we believe as Christ taught that there will be no need for marriage in Kingdom of heaven, for we will be like the angels worshiping God (Matthew 22:30). Indeed, Paul tells us in Ephesians that a husband and wife’s love for each other is a reflection of Christ’s love for the church not the other way around (Ephesians 5). The church is Christ bride and his love for his bride better than wine, His loving kindness is better than life, the pleasure, purpose, and promise of his love is better than any marriage that has ever existed or will ever exist. Compared to the glory of about to be revealed to us the sufferings of this life are a light and momentary affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17). Often, in trying to comfort ourselves and other in their suffering, we will often try to compare our suffering to those who have it worse off. This is a failing strategy. Because it belittles the real pain of those who suffer, and it produces a gratitude that is focused on our lot in life instead of improving the lives of those who are worse off than us. Paul tells us a better strategy is to compare our suffering to the glory of Christ, the wonders of His love, the pleasures of his presence. Our lust, our yearning, our desire, for Christ should control us and compel us to serve others, not to be thankful that we are better off than others. This love should compel us even when we ourselves are in chains. Paul tells us that if this is not the case it is because we need to die.
Second, we see that Paul lusted for Christ in this life because he had died to himself, and thus he lived for fruitful labor for others. To die is gain, and this is far better, but to live is Christ. While, going to be with Christ is the best option for us as individuals, Paul tells us that continuing to live, even in chains, is a good second option, and is better in that it allows us to serve others and thus be like Christ. And Paul, more than any other imperfect human being that I know of, lived this lust for life out. As Robert Gromacki points out in his commentary Stranding United In Joy: An Exposition of Philippians, “ Actually, the verb (is) is not found here. Literally it reads: “The act of living: Christ. Paul’s thoughts, feelings, and actions were fixed on Christ and controlled by Him. The Savior was both the center and the circumference of his daily existence. Paul personified the fulfillment of Christ’s ultimate challenge:
If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosover will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 16:24-25). (Gromacki, pg 67).
Gromacki goes on to describe how the life of Paul reflected the Lord he served. “ The apostle Paul had both life and abundant life ( John 10:10). He could daily report: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ livith in me: and the life which I now life in the flesh I live by the faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.”( Galatians 2:20). He was the ideal branch, clean and yielded to the life of the vine- Christ who flowed through him ( John 15:1-5). (Gromacki , pg 68).” Paul tells us that when we die to ourselves our ministry will become more fruitful. We will become like seeds for Christ. For a seed must die before it gives life to the plant that rises above the ground. When we humble ourselves, not just close to the earth, but under the earth, unto the grave, Christ will raise us up again, to bear fruit, fruit that does not spoil, but fruit that abides.
As I was thinking of an example of someone who had a lust for life in the ways Paul describes I thought about the fictional Jesuit priest Father Rodrigues in the 1966 classic Japanese novel Silence by Shusaku Endo. While the book is fiction, it does accurately portray the Japanese Government’s persecution of Catholic Christians in the 1600s. Japanese culture is famously resistant to the Gospel. Even today, over four hundred years later, only 1-2% of the Japanese population, maybe one to two million people, identify as Christian. This is in comparison to South Korea, where the Presbyterian Church had great success in mission work is about 29% Christian today.
In the book ,and the film by the same name, Father Rodrigues, a young Portuguese Jesuit Priest, is sent to Japan to see if the rumors about his former mentor Christovao Ferreira, are true. Rumor has reached Portugal, that Ferreira, a well respected missionary, has forsaken Christ, by stepping on an image of Christ, and denying his faith. Rodrigues and his fellow priest Garrpe, are lead into Japan by their guide Kichijiro to a Japanese village that is willing to hide them. Eventually the Japanese authorities come looking for the priests and other Christians. Rodrigues and Garrpe decide that it would be best for the villagers if they separate and leave the village. But Father Rodrigues is eventually caught by the Japanese authorities for he is betrayed by their guide Kichijiro, who in a moment of weakness, sells the priest out for money.
Rodrigues, actually meets his old mentor Ferreira, while he is imprisoned by the Japanese. And indeed, Ferreira did recant after being tortured for hours. Rodrigues promises to himself that he will never recant, that he will never step on the image of his Savior. But the Japanese torturers give him a choice. If Rodrigues does not recant his faith they will torture, not him, but the Japanese Christians he was sent to love and witness to. To save the lives of his sheep Father Rodrigues recants. The wider church will never know what he did. He may be alive physically. But to the church in Rome, Father Rodrigues is as good as dead. Father Rodrigues is a fictional character. But if he were real there would be no words written about him. Because his sacrifice was made in secret. His sacrifice was made in silence.
For recanting, Father Rodrigues is allowed to live and remain in Japan the rest of his days. At the end of the book Kichijiro, the one who betrayed Rodrigues, returns to Rodrigues so Rodrigues may receive his confession. At first Rodrigues resists, knowing he is a fallen priest and fearing for Kichijiro’s safety. But after some prodding Rodrigues relents for he knows he too had stepped on the image of his Lord. Rodrigues recounts his inner dialogue before he hears Kichijiro’s confession,
“ I too, stood on the sacred image. For a moment this foot was on his face. It was on the face of the man who has been ever in my thoughts, on the face that was before me on the mountains, in my wanderings , in prison, on the best and most beautiful face that nay man can ever know, on the face of him whom I have eyes of pity from the plaque rubbed flat by many feet. ‘Trample!’ said those compassionate eyes. ‘Trample! Your foot suffers in pain; it must suffer like all the feet that have stepped on this plaque. But that pain alone is enough. I understand your pain and suffering. It is for that reason that I am here.’
‘Lord I resented your silence.’
“I was not silent I suffered beside you.” (Endo, pg 203).
Where ever you are today whatever suffering you are going through our Lord has suffered beside you. He bears those scars forever. Everyone dies. The only question is how do we live, how do we die that we might take hold of that which is truly life? How do we die that like a seed we might give birth to a tree of life that we might bear fruit that abides. Fruit that is sweeter than any chocolate, fruit that will last longer than any relationship. I think being crucified with Christ isn’t about the glory of being acknowledged, that victory belongs to Christ. It is about how we suffer in secret. It is about pushing through the pain and embracing the pain of others that in so doing we may hear the Spirit hovering over us as he hovered over the face of the deep. So that our spirits might cry out, deep unto deep. And as we die a life may be born us, a life greater than any life in this world, and the world will see that we know the true life, the way, the truth and the life, that we have a lust for life.
In the name of the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Amen.