The epistle reading for this Sunday, Romans 14: 1 – 12, includes several verses that I especially love.
Here they are:
“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14: 7 – 8)
They are part of a passage in which Paul encourages people to not judge fellow believers whose faith practices may differ from their own. He reminds everyone in the church at Rome (don’t think St. Peter’s, think something more on the order of a house church) that each one is answerable to God, who alone is our judge.
I’m trying to think about why these words, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we did, we are the Lord’s,” speak so powerfully to me. To be sure, they are comforting, somewhat similar to the great reassurance with which Paul ends Romans 8, “Nothing in all creation shall be able to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But they also capture something that is for me elemental to my faith: that we live always and everywhere before and unto God.
My first intuitions of this, as a child, came in encounters with the natural world. Simple things. The wind stirring the trees in an outdoor worship service. Watching the clouds move across the sky as I lay on my back in the yard with a friend. A fierce dark sky on a Good Friday afternoon. It wasn’t that I worshipped nature, but that in such experiences I had a sense of an Other, of a Mystery, of God, who as I say, all live unto and before.
Over the years I have been asked, “Do you believe in God?” And, of course, I have asked myself that question. But something about the question has always seemed a little off to me. As if a fish were being asked if he believed in the ocean, or bird if she believed in the sky. As if it were up to me. I’ve sometimes wanted to say, and once or twice have said, to a person who says to me, “I don’t believe in God,” “That’s all right, God believes in you.”
My faith seems less a matter of my rational decision and more a disposition. A sense of One who is wholly other and yet wholly present. I think of this as “before-ness.” Living before and unto God.
I am not saying that I have always lived faithfully or even well before God. I’ve had my failures and times of being lost. But at some level beyond words I trust that, “Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”
In reviewing a book on the human search for the ultimately unknowable God, a writer commented that in end what is most important may not be the human search for God, but God’s search for us. To me, that rings true.
Saturday thoughts. Sunday’s coming.