Friday, March 26, 2010

Death and taxes and faithfulness

Used with permission: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Benjamin Franklin etched into Western thought this pessimism: we can be sure of nothing save death and taxes.

He has a point. Even Old Faithful isn't so reliable anymore, but we all know we're going to die. On the other hand, pretty soon after you die, you don't have to pay taxes anymore.

But then, back to the first hand, you don't have to die anymore either.

This is faithfulness in a nutshell: a character of integrity that makes expectation a reliable indicator. It's not necessarily good. If I'm a career criminal (which I'm not, by the way), you can reliably expect that I'm going to get away with something immoral at some point soon. It's what I do. It's who I am. It's my character.

It's the character of life to have death and taxes.

But let's ponder a shorter definition of faithfulness. Trust. We can trust that life will dish us death. Taxes? I think those got added on somewhere along the line. We can weasel our way out of some of those, at least.

But Death...? Death is faithful. It's reliable. We can expect it.

It's part of a promise from long ago, a promise whose fulfillment is made very clear in an event we commemorate tomorrow morning. Some theologians even argue that it was an act of mercy from a God who was aware that the creativity and consequence of human evil would only increase if we were allowed to live forever. Death was a blessing, and God promised to the people that he would undo the impossible situation their selfish greed had created.

But that's not the end of the story. God was faithful to the rest of his promise. He decided to give this death thing a try himself. This created a bit of a problem: either God needed to ungodify himself and cease to exist, or death needed to be redefined.

Hint: take door number two. End of problem. Death reframed as celebration, an act of power, an episode in everyone's personal narrative of eternity.

Here's the problem with my initial premise: Franklin was wrong. Taxes are political, a function of our geography and political boundaries. And death is transient, a power that only lasts so long. To those who argue that religion is a fairytale developed by sad simpletons who wish there was some hope beyond the grave, I can only encourage them to ponder that our faith is a response, not a cause. Reality has already been written. We're not trying to fix it. It's faithful.

This post is part of Bridget Chumbley's Blog Carnival on Faithfulness.

Previous carnival entries have focused on lust, love, church, peace, patience, kindness, and grief.

The Carnival is open to anyone who would like to participate. It is designed to encourage dialogue, cooperation, and personal growth.