Saturday, July 16, 2005

Not Dead but Sleeping

Sometimes we may wonder about certain things the Lord says, especially if they seem to contradict the obvious. In these cases, however, we should be aware that there is a mystery that transcends our sense of the “obvious.” One case in point is what He said before He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead: “She is not dead, but sleeping” (Luke 8:52). Now it was quite obvious to everyone present that in fact she was not sleeping, but dead. What are we missing here?

Jesus sees things that we cannot see. As a matter of biological fact, the girl was indeed dead. But Jesus does not merely live and perceive reality on the biological level. Jesus sees things also on the spiritual and eternal planes, and so this momentary cessation of earth-bound consciousness was insignificant in the face of the deeper truth. For as God, “all are alive to him” (Luke 20:38). Knowing that her human, spiritual consciousness had not been destroyed—only her bodily functions had ceased—Jesus simply recalled her spirit to unite again with her body. No tragedy for Him. It was as if He had merely to wake a sleeping child.

We have to be aware that there is much more to reality than we can see or touch. Our capacity for awareness of the profound mysteries of God is not dead, but sleeping, and the Holy Spirit would like to wake us up. Beneath (or within) the “obvious” phenomena of this world, the mysterious presence of God dwells, and He would like us to recognize Him in his handiwork. G.K. Chesterton, in The Man Who Was Thursday, gives us an inkling into this when he writes: "Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind… That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front..." Similarly, Romano Guardini writes: "The earth is pervaded by a cosmic ecstasy: There is in it an eternal reality and presence that, however, normally is asleep under the veil of custom. The eternal reality must now reveal itself, as in an epiphany of God, through all of that which exists."

So if Jesus says the dead girl is not dead but sleeping, we have to realize that He is seeing farther than we can, that the full truth of this world (and the next) is ever-present to Him in its God-designed profundity and mystery. And therefore we also have to realize that we cannot be content with the “obvious,” with whatever is immediately present to our senses or ability to reason. Our eyes have to be opened. This begins with faith, grows with our contemplative experience of the mysteries of God, and is fulfilled as we pass into eternity. I will not really die, but fall asleep (a common biblical expression for death) and, making the psalmist’s prayer to God my own, “when I awake, I shall behold Your face, and shall see the light of Your glory” (16/17:15). All are alive to Him—if only all those on this side of death would believe and be awakened!