“Is he quite-safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Security is such a tempting vision for “the good life.”
It’s easy to think that if we could only have enough safety and comfort, we would be in a position to really enjoy life. So we spend a lot of effort guarding ourselves against risk.
We buy big houses so we can feel safe from the elements. We invest in the best security systems so we don’t have to worry about thieves breaking into these houses. We spend incredible amounts of money on health insurance to guard ourselves against disease.
In past blog posts I’ve explored how these efforts stem from our fear of death. We store up our goods so that we will have plenty, terrified by the possibility of loss. But those who invest, those who know how to multiply their goods, will tell you that even the best investment involves a certain amount of risk.
Yet risk can also be a necessary path to reward; we intuitively know that, if something isn’t risky, it probably isn’t worth doing. Part of the fun of a roller coaster, for instance, is how exhilaratingly terrifying the ride is.
The risk leads to (and is part of) the payoff.
God asks us to take a risk in becoming disciples of His Son. And we don’t do a very good job talking about that.
Sure, we talk about the battle against the passions, we talk about the labor of ascetic discipline, but what about the risk of participating in God’s Mission in the world?
In Christ, death has already been defeated. It’s like a roller coaster that has already been completed; we know the ride is a bit scary, but in the end, everything is going to work out okay. Yet much of the world still lies under the shadow of death: broken homes, exploited populations, abused children.
All these things are still colonies of Hell. God’s Mission is to fill Death with Himself, and He’s inviting us to join Him on this quest.
Frequently, I hear well-intentioned folks quoting Christ’s words, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Often, they interpret Christ’s words to mean that He built the Orthodox Church two thousand years ago, and (Look!) it’s still around, prevailing against all assaults of demonic heresies.
Folks aren’t wrong to say this, but it’s incomplete.
Yes, the Church is a rampart and fortress, protecting us from the darts of the evil one. But notice that Christ says that when He builds His Church, it is the gates of hell that shall not prevail; when was the last time you saw any army (even a demonic army) attack anything with gates?
Gates are defensive measures.
Let’s look at this verse with new eyes now. If Christ is saying that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, then this means that the Church is the army that is storming the province of Hades. It means that the gates will not prevail because they’ve already been roundhouse-kicked by Chuck Norris Christ.
The High King of Heaven has waged war against the armies of evil, and He has conquered the battlements of hell, and He is charging His army to follow in His footsteps.
He is charging the Church with the invasion of hell.
As baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians, persons who receive Christ’s very Life through His Body and Blood, we are each charged with this. And each of us has been given a set of gifts that our King wishes to use in His conquest.
This Sunday, we read about a master who entrusted three of his servants with various amounts of “talents;” one servant receives five, another two, and the last receives one.
The servant who received five invests his money and receives five more talents as a return for his risky (but well-planned) business venture. The second servant also doubles his amount, for a total of four talents. The last servant, however, afraid of what his master might do if he lost the talent, hides it, and ends with a net yield of zero.
When the master returns, the two who increased their talents are commended, while the servant who was afraid to use the one talent is duly reprimanded:
You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. (Matt. 25:26-27)
This image of money and investments is a helpful metaphor about participating in God’s Mission of overthrowing hell.
The Lord has given each of us talents, gifts, strengths, passions, drive – call it whatever you want, but it comes from God. And He has given us these gifts so that we might use them to invade the colonies of Hell and claim them for Christ’s Kingdom.
Too often we assume that being a faithful Orthodox Christian only has to do with saying the right prayers or attending all the divine services. This is certainly part of it, because it is in prayer and the services where we receive marching orders and understand what life in Christ’s Kingdom is like: all are welcome, all drink from the same cup, all are invited to a life without fear, without pain, without sorrow.
As members of God’s Church, of His Kingdom, we are called to use these talents for the sake of the Master, not for our own lives. We are called into risky territories, to put our lives on the line as we seek to take back what is rightfully God’s, as we seek to reap the souls of all those in the world.
We cannot be afraid of hell. It’s already been defeated. It is the roller coaster that Christ has completed and shown us how to ride. Now the trick is getting on the ride, taking the risk of getting hurt, and greeting Christ as our Master when we reach the other side.
Where do you feel called to invade hell with Christ? What are your strengths? How has the story of your life prepared you to be God’s emissary in the territories of death?
Figure it out, and throw all your talents right there, for that is your entry place into the fight. To quote Fredrick Beuchner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Find that place.
Battlements: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc
Bible: J. Mark Bertrand via Compfight cc
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.
For more on storming the gates of hell, check out this episode of Be the Bee: