One of the themes of the book I am reading (Father Elijah) is that there have been many apocalypses leading up to the future final Apocalypse.
But we often forget that in every age the spirit of Antichrist has been active, capable of deluding souls and dragging to perdition entire nations and peoples. There have been many apocalypses since the time of Christthe reigns of Nero, Hitler, and Stalin for example. [I would add Mohammad.] They are prefigurements of the reign of the Man of Sin. They are also warnings.
In a similar way, keeping with the theme of our Lenten observance, there are also many deaths leading up to our final death. Scripture prefigures these incremental letting goes that we must do before we cross the final threshold. We die to sin, our old nature (the flesh – not our physical nature), step by step to this world (not the birds, bees, trees, and dirt around us, but the sinful system of being), and of course self (not what most people facilely think) as we prepare for the next and eternal life.
It will take several postings, maybe more than several to deal with dying to self, to get across what it is and isn’t. As a teaser let’s say it is a radical change of who we are while at the same time not being the complete negation of being that is the core of Bhuddism. Predestination taken to the extreme leads to what is much the same as the latter, while most of modern Christianity wants to avoid even a touch of the former.
Suffice it to say, a true disciple dies a thousand deaths on the road to his union with Christ in his own death. Just as a Roman scourge removed a piece of flesh with each stroke, God the Father, in perfecting his children, removes a piece of our flesh (our old nature) with each stroke of his discipline (see Hebrews 12: 3-11). The more we are able to bear up under it, submit to it, the more of our old nature is removed, replaced by that which will remain.
It is a pretty simple choice, if I read 1 Corinthians 3 correctly:
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straweach ones work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyones work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15
I have this vision similar to the scene from The Terminator where as he passes through the fire his false humanity is burnt away, leaving his true self exposed. We too will pass through the fire, the holy fire of God’s judgment and what has not been scourged away by his discipline and replaced with what will last, will instead be burnt away by his judgment, causing excruciating pain and suffering as one passes the piercing light of his everlasting discernment.
Paul warned us in a similar context in 2 Corinthians:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. 1 Corinthians 11:27-32
So, pay now and grow and build, or pay later and be fortunate if you have anything but your naked self coming through the fire.
Seen in this light, being willing to accept these many mini-deaths should mean that the last and biggest step should be much easier for those who have adequately prepared for it. I pray that is your path. Pray for me that I stay true to same for myself for my remaining years.
Grace and peace and perseverance be with you today, tomorrow, and forever.