“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
preface: I felt like writing something tonight, but wasn’t sure what to write. So I opened my embarrassingly large folder of unfinished articles and random thoughts and came across this one begun (and abandoned) on November 17, 2017, when Alice was in her fourth or fifth week of radiation. It seemed like a project worth finishing, so hopefully two years late is still better than never. Oh, and Dad, you worked really hard for a lot of years teaching me not to mock stuff, and I promise I’m getting better in general. Hope you’ll be okay with this one.
Because of our current family situation with Alice, I spend a lot of time these days pondering life, but to be honest, a lot more time pondering death. For the last 20 years I’ve never steered my mind away from thinking about death; it is coming to a boy named me at some point, and I’d just as soon make my peace with that, and understand the best way to manage whatever time I have until that day comes. And now, facing what feels like the inevitable departure of my dear daughter, death at least feels like it’s standing at our doorstep. I hope it turns around and goes away – but even if it does, it’ll be back. Maybe not for decades, but it’ll be back, and for all of us at some point. It is, after all, appointed unto us once to die.
This morning about 4:30, as I was showering,* I started thinking about death again, and the idea of mocking the grave. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” I was struck by the imagery of standing before one’s own tomb, making fun of it.
Mocking stuff is fun. Little guys in big trucks, people who say “soda” instead of “pop” or eat mushrooms on purpose, Packers fans, “Christian” movies, CNN, Canadians, people like me who wear socks with sandals, soccer, the Kardashians, the supply of mockable material is endless.
What makes mockery so much fun? I think it’s largely something like this: Mockery is an element of conflict, or battle, and battle is the occupation of warriors. Warriors love winning. Mockery is a form of a victor’s song, and it feels mighty fine to be a winning warrior. We mock things we are at odds with, but either have or soon will defeat. We mock because it calls attention to the (real or perceived) impotence of the object of our ridicule while glorifying our own (real or perceived) strength.
The Bible is full of mocking. That tells me it’s an old and ancient art form – and I love the classics!
Goliath mocked the Hebrew army using what must certainly be an ancient version of “we want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher.” “Am I a dog? Are you coming at me with sticks?” I’d mock too, if I were him, facing the lily-livered pasta-spined Israelite giant Saul and his faint-hearted army who elect to rest their hopes on a teenager who just showed up one day with some snacks for his big brothers and a bag of rocks. Come here little guy, so I can “feed the birds,” to anachronistically poach a line from Mary Poppins.
In Proverbs, wisdom mocks the fool: “I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you.” My own personal version of The Message would read something like this: “Hey moron, I told you not to be an idiot! But since you wouldn’t listen, I’m gonna enjoy the stupid show!” There is something darkly entertaining about watching some dim bulb who, despite all evidence and counsel to the contrary, overestimates his own brilliance and crashes and burns. American Idol made bank on this weird kind of glee.
One of the spoils of victory is the right to mock. There was a fellow named Adoni-Bezek in Judges 1, a mighty warrior of his day, who used to take the kings he conquered, cut off their big toes, and basically turned them into foraging house dogs. “Hey buddy, wanna come over have a few drinks and have a few laughs watching some kings I conquered fight over the slop under my table?” Good times.
It’s a bit risky mocking before a battle, though. We have to give that wretch Ahab a little credit for some wisdom: “Let not the one who puts on his armor boast like the one who takes it off.” If you mock and lose you end up ashamed, and big time. Reminds me of the prize fighters that talk smack, and then get smacked – better to hold your mockery until the fight is over. Mocking a mocker is one of the sweetest pleasures known to man.
Sometimes, though, the battle is in the bag, and you can mock away. Elijah is my favorite for this. “Yell louder… Maybe your god is on his other throne…” It’s funny. It feels so good, too. And it makes the other guys mad. It’s the gift that keeps on giving! The sarcastic seer kept at it too – “How about we douse the altar? Let’s do it again! Shoot, one more time. Soak it good. Oh, and let’s make a moat, just to give God a little extra challenge. Besides, it’ll make it all the more fun to show what a lousy Boy Scout your constipated god is.” Or something like that.
God Himself occasionally enjoys a bit of mocking. “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.” Those kings thought they were big-time, but before the Lord of Hosts, turns out they’re nothing more than miniscule monarchs in oversized britches. Let that be a lesson to you, political class.
Then there’s this wonderful bit of tag-team mockery: “He (the Father) disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Christ).” Oh Devil & Minions, you think you’re something else. But God just whacked the only weapon you had – accusation of sin – clean out of your hand by sending Jesus to the cross to pay the debt for the sin of the Children. Just for grins, they left the receipt nailed to the cross so your defeat would go public. And yes, they’re laughing at you. Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?
Still, mocking death is a risky business, because death strikes us all. Spitting on his grave might leave a man looking mighty foolish when that second date gets carved into the stone – and it will. But those who are “in Christ” really can mock the grave and not end up looking like idiots; not because they won’t die, but rather because they won’t and can’t stay dead. We have been promised an eternal inheritance, and, not to get all scientific, but a pretty basic qualification for taking possession is to not be dead. God’s not terribly troubled when His children die, because Jesus’ voice can pretty effortlessly call into the grave and the occupant walks out of it apparently having a bigger problem with his clothes than, say, being dead, which is usually the more difficult thing to manage. Loose him and let him go for goodness’ sake!
One day what happened on a little scale will happen on a big scale: “an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out…” When my stone or Alice’s stone says “here lies…” and has the two dates on it, but we find ourselves standing on the top side of the grass, a trifle more mobile and upright than that outdated petrograph might suggest, we just might point and laugh.
Big bad grave, into you I’ll limp
But you can’t hold me, you giant wimp.
Feels good. Try it, you’ll like it. Or mock my poetry – that’s fair.
In the name and for the glory of Jesus Christ, Mock On!
* Since I’m rarely up and about, much less in the shower or thinking at 4:30AM, this must have been because I had to get up early to get ready to bring Alice to radiation. I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m one of those quality people who are early to bed, early to rise, healthy, wealthy, or wise, because I’m not!