Embassy of Heaven

Demands of World vs Christ


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Life not abundance of possessions

Generation after generation we labour to secure life by means of violence and by safeguarding our property. Our happiness seems to us to lie in obtaining the maximum of power and the maximum of property. We are so accustomed to this that Christ's teaching, that a man's happiness cannot depend on his power or his estate and that a rich man cannot be happy, seems to us like a demand to make a sacrifice for the sake of future bliss. But Christ did not think of calling us to sacrifice; on the contrary, He teaches us not to do what is worse but to do what is better for us here in this life. Christ, loving men, teaches them to refrain from securing themselves by violence and by property, just as others who love men teach them to refrain from brawling and drunkenness. He says that men, if they live without resisting others and without property, will be happier; and by the example of his own life he confirms this. He says that a man living in accord with his teaching must be prepared to die at any moment by the violence of others, by cold or hunger, and cannot be sure of a single hour's life. And we imagine this to be a terrible demand of sacrifice; but it is only a declaration of the conditions in which every man always and inevitably lives. Christ's disciple must be prepared at any moment for suffering and death. But is not a disciple of the world in the same position? We are so accustomed to our pretense that all we do for the imaginary security of our life - our armies, fortifications, stores, clothes, and doctoring, our property and our money - seems to us something that really and seriously secures our life. We forget, though it is obvious to everyone, what happened to the man who planned to build barns in order to be safe for many years. He died that same night.14 Luke 12:15-20 And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses." Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: "The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?' So he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry."' But God said to him, 'You fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?'" Indeed all we do to safeguard our life is just what an ostrich does, standing still and hiding its head in order not to see how it is being killed. We do worse than the ostrich: doubtfully to safeguard our doubtful life in a doubtful future, we certainly destroy our certain life in the certain present.

The deception consists in the false conviction that our life can be secured by strife against others. We are so accustomed to this deception - and imaginary safeguarding of our life and property - that we do not notice all we lose by it. And we lose all - our whole life. Our whole life is so absorbed in cares for this safeguarding of life, this preparation for life, that no life at all is left us.

We need only discard our habits for a moment and regard our life from outside, to see that all we do for the supposed safeguarding of our life we really do not at all to safeguard our life, but only to forget, by busying ourselves with these things, that life is never secure. But not only do we deceive ourselves and spoil our real life for the sake of an imaginary one; we generally by this effort to make ourselves safe, ruin the very thing we wish to secure. The French armed themselves to secure their life in 1870, and in consequence of this safeguarding hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen perished. The same is done by all nations that arm themselves. The rich man secures his life by having money, and that very money attracts a robber who kills him. A nervous man safeguards his life by undergoing a cure, and the cure itself slowly kills him, or if it does not kill him certainly deprives him of life, like that sick man who deprived himself of life for thirty-eight years, by waiting for the angel at the pool.15 John 5:2-8

Christ's teaching that life cannot be made safe, but that one must always, at each moment, be ready to die, is certainly better than the world's teaching that one must secure one's life: it is better because the inevitability of death and the insecurity of life remain the same whether one adopts the world's teaching or that of Christ; and in Christ's teaching life itself is not entirely absorbed in the useless occupation of pseudo-safeguarding one's life, but becomes free and can be devoted to its one natural aim, the welfare of oneself and one's fellows. A disciple of Christ will be poor. Yes; that is to say, he will always make use of all those blessings which God has given him. He will not ruin his life. We have called poverty,16 Poverty, in Russian, is bednost, from the same root as beda, a misfortune. - A. M. which is a happiness, by a word that indicates misfortune, but the reality of the matter is not altered thereby. To be poor means that a man17 Tolstoy has in mind a Russian country peasant, whom he contrasts with a rich townsman, and the description relates to things as they were under the Tsars in the pre-Revolutionary days. - A. M. will not live in a town but in a village, and will not sit at home but will work in the woods or fields; will see the light of the sun, the earth, the sky, and animals; will not consider what he can eat to arouse his appetite and how to get his bowels to move, but will be hungry three times a day; will not toss about on soft cushions wondering how he is to escape from sleeplessness, but will sleep; he will have children and will live with them; will have free intercourse with all men, and above all will not do things he does not wish to do, and will not be afraid of what will happen to him. He will sicken, suffer, and die, as everyone does (though, to judge by the way poor men sicken and die, it will be better for him than it is for the rich) but he will certainly live more happily.

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