Joshua Cooper Ramo recalls in his book, The Age of the Unthinkable, a conversation he had with an Islamic Hezbollah fighter. He spoke to the fighter about the fighter’s interpretation of Koran, the importance of martyrdom, and that the fighter considered himself to be already dead. As we have come to learn as a world, there are many extremist terrorist groups who want to usher in a new age through the obliteration of this one. I couldn’t help but think about how different this is from my own Christian worldview.
This fighter considered that his mortal life was already over. He was already dead. What was left for him was only obedience and martyrdom for the sake of his people and his god so that he could be ushered into paradise.
Christians, too, seek entry into paradise. But between our conversion and entrance we are not “already dead” but “already alive.” There is no need to usher in the eschaton, the new age, for it has already begun in our lives. The Kingdom of God, that Day which we long for, is already dawning in our present state of existence.
In the language of the New Testament we have been made “alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11) and have been made “alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:5) and we are a “new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In a sense we are indeed “dead” but our death is a death to sin.
We had a baptismal service this morning at church and in the Baptist tradition from which I hail, we “dunk ‘em.” We do this as a way of picturing this death-life reality which has already occurred at conversion. Going down into the water we share with Christ in his death (by which we are forgiven of our sins) and in rising up out of the water we share with Christ in his resurrection (by which we receive the power for the new life.)
Throughout the centuries Christians have boldly faced the threat of martyrdom, though it was never called such in “holy wars.” But it was faced bravely not because those believers considered themselves “already dead” but because they knew of Christ’s resurrection. And, knowing that they already shared with Christ in his resurrection by faith, they looked forward to that better resurrection on the Last Day.
After the Paris bombings various talking heads cautioned against painting all Muslims with a broad brush, and I completely agree with them. We should not assume that the actions of a few (and those of an extreme position) are representative of the many. The Muslims with whom I have interacted have given me no reason to believe they are not peace loving individuals.
However, our beliefs do matter. What we believe about the world shapes who we are and what we do. There is a world of difference between believing you are “already dead” and believing you are “already alive.” The one who is “already dead” seeks only otherworldly paradise, which is all the more damaging when that comes through the annihilation of your enemy and yourself. The one who is “already alive” seeks to share that life, to experience that life, and to do it in this present, physical, age. One seeks release through obliteration. The other seeks redemption and renewal and, in imitation of Christ, through sacrifice and love of neighbor.