That one is truly a man who, when faced with imminent danger - encircled by weapons and hemmed before and after with the din of battle, neither binds up his virtue nor hides it; one is not saved by being buried. "Truly," Curius Dentatus said, "it would be better to actually die than to live as one dead; there is no greater evil than to be counted among those who have departed this life before you have died."
-Seneca's On the Tranquility of the Soul (v.4-5)
So far as I know, everyone who reads this blog is preparing to enter into parish ministry or is already in parish ministry. For the faithful pastor, but truly for every Christian, Seneca aptly describes the situation we face as he describes the State: we are "encircled by weapons and hemmed before and after with the din of battle." What will we do? How will we respond to this situation?
With conscious allusion to the mounts of cursing and blessing that stood before the people as they entered the Promised Land, "I place before you this day both life and death." To be faithful - to be real men and those proud to be called by the name we have been given - is life itself. This is drinking the cup of human experience deeply, even to the dregs. To be unfaithful - to conceal our virtue when faced with danger - is death.
We all know tired and retired pastors who look back on their ministries with sorrow and regret. They will say, "I was unfaithful." They buried their virtue before the onslaught of church politics, cultural invasion, and open and unrepentant sin. They were not real men, and now there is no better way to desribe them than as those who, "are counted among those who have departed this life before they have died."
I knew an old pastor who preached with fire and excitement. He said he remembered as a young man preaching in the pulpit of an older, tired pastor. The pastor clapped his hand after the sermon and said with a hint of nostalgia, "I wish I still had that enthusiasm and fire." That day, the young pastor perceived what Seneca tells us; he resolved to never be forced into such an admission/submission.
You are a Christian. You are a pastor. Whoever you are, live as a real man. Be faithful and do not bury your virtue when it is most needed. Someday, perhaps, as an old man you yourself will be able to say with humility and without shame: "I have truly lived." Live every day until you die.
To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
"These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death."
-The Apocalypse (2:8-11, ESV)
Seneca's writings are available from Harvard University Press' Loeb Classical Library: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/loeb/