"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

Suicide, Bonhoeffer, and Johnny Cash

Posted in Music, Theological by matt on Friday, April 18, 2008

In small group last Wednesday we talked about Mark 8.31-38 where Jesus talks about being a true disciple and carrying a cross. Before discussing the passage itself we watched the Johnny Cash cover of the old Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt”. The song is considered to be Cash’s epitaph as one commentator called it his “apology to God”. Regardless, it’s my favorite Johnny Cash song. Here it is if you’d like to watch:

I love the line, “You can have it all, my empire of dirt. I will let you down, I will make you hurt.” Powerful stuff coming from an old man who’s had a lot of ‘success’ and made a whole lot more mistakes.

So after we’d watched the clip and reread the passage we ended up discussing the meaning of that classic Christian t-shirt verse, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” But, being the impulsive twit that I am, I made a slightly overblown shock value statement. I said that Christ’s call to “take up your cross” could be understood today as him saying, “take up your guillotine” or “carry your electric chair” or (and here’s the worst) “take up your firing squad”. Then I said that Christ essentially calls us to a spiritual form of suicide.

For the sake of my conscience and a correct perspective (hopefully) I’d like to recant and restate all of that. Last night I was reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s The Cost of Discipleship and he talked about this exact verse. I’ve got mad respect for this bro. He says,

Self-denial is never just a series of isolated acts of mortification or asceticism. It is not suicide, for there is an element of self-will even in that. To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self-denial can say is: ‘He leads the way, keep close to him.’

And further down the page…

If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life.

For Bonhoeffer, taking up your cross is the ultimate form of commitment, or discipleship. It means embracing the suffering and rejection that Christ experienced and allowing him to lead you into a similar experience of your own.

Ha ha, if only I could rewind and say this instead of the goofy stuff I actually said at small group…

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