Friday, June 22, 2012

The Debt of Death - Lessons From My Paper Route



Mail men like to brag about their delivery prowess, arriving at your mailbox whether it's raining or shining, but they have nothing on newspaper delivery men. I should know, because for a year and half I delivered the New York Times to the driveways (and the occasional ditch) of Tallahassee. It didn't matter if it was raining or shining (we delivered so early we never saw the sun anyways), nor did it matter if it was Christmas morning or New Years Day, the New York Times gets delivered 365 days a year.

We didn't receive the benefit of vacation days nor did we earn any sick days, it was our responsibility to arrive at the paper depot and deliver our stack of papers to the right houses within the right time frame. That was our contract, that was our job. It was like waking up at 4am everyday with a debt owed. Until my papers were resting soundly in the right driveways, I had not paid my debt. This was how I felt as a paper carrier and it has provoked a lot of thoughts in me; thoughts about debt, death, and ultimately gratitude.

Six times a week my delivery route would take about an hour to finish, but on Sunday mornings (my papers tripled for the Sunday Times) that time would balloon to a little over two hours. I filled much of that time by listening to the radio (sports talk or some kind of music), but often I would use that extra hour or two in the car to pray and think. With the papers and delivery on the brain, the idea of indebtedness constantly came up.

Often it would make me recall a quote that I had always liked from the film The Green Mile, "We each owe a death — there are no exceptions. But, oh God, sometimes the Green Mile seems so long". In this quote, Paul Edgecomb, the main character, was remarking on how we all of us must die eventually, but that his own death seemed to had taken so long (he was 108 years old). The quote is remorseful about living so long and being unable to fulfill the debt of death he felt owed for mistakes he had made earlier in his life. I find thinking of death as a debt owed fascinating. Yet, although it might just be for rhetorical aesthetics, I find myself wondering that if death is a debt, then to whom is it owed? What have I done that I must give a death? It stirs my mind to consider what other things in life we owe and to whom?

In other words, if our lives were a paper route and we awoke at 4am and headed off to the paper depot, what would we find waiting for us to deliver? What debt hangs over our head when we awake to existence?

I don't know how I would've answered that question before I became a Christian. I imagine that most people would answer it by saying that the idea of debt is just a rhetorical flourish, not meant to convey philosophical truth. However, in my experience with Christians and non-Christians alike, I find that we all seem to feel indebtedness in one capacity or another (I'm not here talking about being indebted to a bank). We feel indebted to our parents who raise us, feed us, and teach us. We feel indebted to the mentor or friend who shares advice with us or challenges us. We feel indebted to the state that protects our freedoms and provides for us essential services. Throughout all our lives we seem to experience a sense of debt to others. When I boil it down, it strikes me that we feel indebted mostly to those whom love us in one form or another, to one degree or another. So where does our debt of death come from? And here, it's not just a feeling that might be fleeting, but death is assured of arriving at all our driveways.

  (On a morning route trying to take my own picture)

It's here that my Christian worldview cannot help but barge in and begin talking.  I think it's telling that we feel indebtedness to the ones whom show us love. To the ones who show us great love, we feel a strong urge and dare I say, responsibility, to respond likewise towards that person. We have a responsibility to give them honor and to also return to them love. This responsibility is like a debt, owed to the one who originates the love. If we feel this way towards humans who show us love, and mixed love at that, how much more should we feel towards the God who created us?

What responsibility do we have toward the One who created us? Is not your own creation an act of love? Don't we feel this to our biological mother and father? It strikes me that creation is an act of love, but not necessarily an act of great love. For many people have created things out of inferior motives to love. Let's go further then. What if you were not just created, but created in the image of something that is LOVE ITSELF? The Christian scriptures tell us that we were all made in the image of God. The one whom is the embodiment of love is the one whom we were created in the image of. Let's go one more further.  What if the one created in the image of God was also created for the expressed purpose of communing with the One who created them; the creation allowed to enjoy and experience loves embodiment in God. What would the creation then owe its' Creator?

In light of this immeasurable love, I think we have an immeasurable responsibility to respond in likewise. Yet, we haven't. The papers remain at the depot. Day after day, we fail.  In fact, the Christian scriptures tell us that we have responded with disobedience, with running and hiding, and ultimately with hatred and contempt. Time and time again we have rebuffed the responsibility to respond to our Creator's love. What have you done?

It's because of our lack of response that all of us owe a death (Romans 3:23, 6:23). I am here talking not just of physical death, but spiritual death as well. It would only take one day of my papers remaining at the depot for my contract to be ended. With the paper route we are just dealing with delivering papers, how much more weighty is our failure respond to the immeasurable love of the One who created us? That death is owed to God. I see no ways around it. Each of us owes a death and this debt is always paid.  

Yet, what if someone paid that debt for you? What if someone took upon themselves the punishment and debt that is owed for every single act of disobedience, hatred, anger, and worst of all apathy directed toward the Creator? I believe that Jesus Christ, the son of God, did this for us in his crucifixion on the cross and by his resurrection from death three days later. None of us responded rightly to God's love the first time; yet, it seems we are given another chance to respond. While God's creation of mankind in his own image was one heck of an act of love, what then is the redemption of mankind from their debts? Debts that they rightfully owe. Would the debtor accept it?

It is because of Christ's act of redemption that the debt of death (here now speaking of spiritual death) is no longer something we all owe, for it has already been paid. Now, in its place is a debt of GRATITUDE, which is the proper response towards love of that magnitude. Instead of longing for death as some atonement for life's mistakes, like Paul Edgecomb does in The Green Mile, death is conquered and life becomes a longing to show gratitude and love towards the Redeemer! How wonderful that when we arise at 4am we no longer have the debt of death hanging over our heads, but the debt of gratitude instead. How splendid to make deliveries of gratitude to our Creator? Each extra paper we are given on our route is an extra opportunity to show gratefulness towards the one who has redeemed you.

Which debt hangs over your head when you arise in the morning? Gratitude or death? If the answer is the latter, then there is Someone I'd like to introduce you to. Give me a call. 
(At the paper depot trying to look cool)

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