Dying While They Live

Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon starred in a critically acclaimed 1995 film, Dead Man Walking. The film was well received and remembered largely due to the superb writing and acting. But it was memorable for another reason as well — what a title!

The power of that phrase, dead man walking, is quite profound. It is reminiscent of a passage Francis Schaeffer penned years ago, found in The God Who Is There:

“These demonstrations which we have been talking about are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions…These men are dying while they live; yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.”

Dying while they live. Is that how you see non-Christians? It is an uncomfortable truth that if the Bible is true, if God’s words are trustworthy (and I believe they are), then there really is only one way to heaven (through Christ) and there really is only one other option for eternity (hell). The Bible says we all stand under a death sentence because of the sin that permeates our lives and our hearts. The decisions we make, the words that spill from our mouths, the thoughts that enter our brains, these are all evidences of our sinful condition. In that manner, we were all dead men walking.

But Christ’s sacrifice has opened the way to salvation, to spend an eternity with him instead of an eternity separated from him. We’ve been saved. But in our world, there are millions who are still under that death sentence. They are literally dying while they live.

But what is our reaction? What is our attitude? All too often we are a people lacking in compassion.

This is the part of the blog where I share something shameful and embarrassing. In St. Louis, near Chesterfield, the mid 90’s brought the community a gleaming white Mormon Temple. Much hoopla surrounded it at the time. And for good reason, it’s gorgeous. With my travels to seminary I have the pleasure of passing and admiring the architecture four times a week (not to mention the eye to detail in landscaping and floral gardens).

However, as a wise and brash 15 year old, my attitude was a little different as I would pass it. I can recall a trip with my parents which took us past the temple shortly before its completion. My mother commented on how beautiful it was. On the other hand, I was busy not admiring the beauty, but instead saying, “Too bad they’re going to hell.”

May God forgive me. Looking back I’m surprised my father didn’t choke me. How insensitive? How selfish? How prideful? But this is Schaeffer’s point exactly. We lack compassion for the lost.

It is right for us to see reports on the news of murder, abuse, and robbery, and have genuine anger well up inside of us because things are not as they should be. But is anger the only emotion that ever wells up in you? Do you ever feel sorry for them? Do you ever pray for their souls?

What about your mother? Or sister? Or dear friend? Or some other relative that isn’t trusting in Christ? Do you pray for them? Do you mourn them? Or do you move about your life without batting an eye at the fact that they are literally dying while they live?

May we as a church, and as individuals, not be what Schaeffer loathed (and by the way, I’m pretty sure God does as well). May we not lack compassion. May we not lack understanding. For the world around us is truly dying as it lives.

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