Recently on a fishing trip to Alaska I was with a large group of outdoorsmen and the experience was robust indeed. Conversations ranged from politics and football to guns and cars, and along the way we caught hundreds of pounds of fish. As we waited for our return flight several of the guys were reflecting on how much fun we had together. One guy summed it up: this trip was to die for!
That phrase stuck in my mind as I reflected during the flight. While I fully understood the phrase – to die for – I couldn’t help wondering what my group of friends really would die for.
This question lives at the foundational level of ethics. What do you believe so dearly, are committed to so radically, that if forced to choose you would rather die than deny your conviction? What would you be willing to die for?
I suspect that a large majority today would respond along traditional lines. We would die to protect our children. Less would still commit to dying for our country’s freedom if it came to that. Still fewer might declare that they would die for their religious beliefs, or their philosophical worldview. A recent pundit declared that the two most aggressive movements in Western culture – radical Islam, and the proponents of same-sex marriage – are gaining ground precisely because they are willing to die for their beliefs.
I imagine that most professing Christians in America would say they would be willing to die for the name of Christ. I say this not because I believe they really would, but because that is what we’re supposed to say. And herein lies the problem. It is quite hypocritical to say we would die for Christ when is it increasingly apparent that so many of us are unwilling to live for him.
The same could be said for most other groups of people or proponents of a certain worldview. But, in the same way, it does no good to assert that you would die for some cause or belief if, practically speaking, you are unwilling to be consistent in your day to day living out of that belief system.
Sadly, we are becoming a nation of dualists. By this I mean that our individual conduct is increasingly at odds with our personal creed. Simply put, we don’t walk our talk very well anymore. For example, we believe in free speech when it comes from us, but want to shut down our opponents’ actions as illegal. We clamor for equality while employing a penchant for criticism that picks away at any whose beliefs oppose our own, endeavoring to cast them as not only wrong but dangerous. Constructive dialogue, once a mainstay of our cultural conversations, has all but been replaced by invective and diatribe.
Underneath all this is the growing reality that vital concepts have been eroded or completely redefined. Tolerance originally meant a recognition of disagreement combined with a resolute determination to peacefully coexist. But this no longer holds. Today’s “tolerance” is tantamount to acceptance. If I disagree, I am “intolerant.” This redefinition eliminates the crucial ground that pluralism must maintain if we are to disagree agreeably.
It’s time to think carefully about how we should live. I tell our folks at Grace Baptist Church to “be the church you want to go to.” If you want to attend a friendly church, be friendly. If you want to attend an honest, morally righteous, and loving church, be honest, morally righteous and loving.
The same must be true for all of us as we seek to keep our families, neighborhoods, businesses, and country on the right path. First determine what you would die for, and then commit to living it out conspicuously and consistently.
The Apostle Paul reminded his readers in Rome that few would die for another person, although for a really good man some would even dare to die. But God showed his love for us in that, while we were still rebels against him, Jesus died for us. And for those of us who have trusted in this good news as fundamental to our ethical system, living it out must be both our greatest option and purest delight.