Thesis 14: Sicknesses Unto Deaths

This post is part of a series of meditations on each of Luther's "95 Theses." You can view all posts in the series here.
14. The imperfect health [of soul], that is to say, the imperfect love, of the dying brings with it, of necessity, great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater is the fear.
Luther seems to be describing different ways that humans can be filled, either with love or with fear. The absence of one, he implies, means the presence of the other. How interesting, too, that the opposite of love is not hate, as we often say, but fear.

By this logic, some synonyms for love might be boldness, courage, fearlessness, outspokenness, bravery, or conviction. Jesus-followers might say the best synonym for love is God.

And it is the dying, those closest to literal death, whom he is concerned with describing here in order to flesh out his argument against the selling of indulgences. I love the parallel between having too much fear in one's soul and being in imperfect health: Being too fearful is equivalent to being ill.

It's been interesting over these past couple of days as I've started seminary (though classes were canceled today...booooo) that I've felt like I'm getting sick.

However, and this is hard to describe, it doesn't really feel like I'm getting sick, and I'm aware of this. I'm simply exhibiting symptoms. Only a few times a year, maybe, I become overwhelmed intellectually or emotionally, or both, by life's circumstances and start exhibiting symptoms as if I have a cold. It's entirely psychosomatic, but I'm conscious when it happens. My body is essentially saying, "Slow down there. You're getting really worked up about this stuff. We're gonna go ahead and shut down a part of the system as a mild alarm. Please take note. Get some rest." During these days, I become aware of my imbalance of too much fear and not enough love (or boldness, or courage, or conviction, or...).

I am afraid of not being a good pastor. I am afraid of not using my voice wisely. I am afraid of leading people astray. I am afraid of being too human for God to mold. I am afraid of a schism in the middle of my ordination process. I am afraid of simultaneously loving and not giving a shit about the United Methodist Church.

I am afraid.

Because of these fears, I realize that my love is too small. Perhaps a more tangible way of saying this is that I don't pray enough or lose my ego enough. I don't harness the sanctifying grace working in me in myriad and minute ways even in the midst of my fear. I allow humans to make me afraid instead of God.

I wonder if it's fair to compare love of God to fear of God? If that were true, and we were to empty ourselves of fear of earthly things, couldn't we open ourselves up to fear of God? Couldn't that coexist with our love for God, a fear of whom contains an attractive quality rather than a repulsive one? And though we are not all literally dying, we should all be dying every day, every moment.

I cannot imagine a nicer lesson from death than clarity of my own imperfection, so that my next death is one of more love than the last. Let us take a bold choice towards that hope.


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