‘Til Death Do Us Part


This piece is part of syndicated series in collaboration with Yale Logos for Lent 2021. You can read the original piece at https://www.yalelogos.com/home/til-death-do-us-part.

“Die to live.”

The words had been running through my head since before Lent—since before I moved back to New Haven to finally start my senior year. After a gap semester spent living at home, I prayed for guidance into spring and tried to be genuinely open to whatever God might ask of me. Would I be called to continue serving my family at home without a career-building job? Or would I be allowed to return to friends and a sense of purpose at Yale? I held out the “sacrificial” and “selfish” options before God… and breathed a sigh of relief when I felt His permission to go back to school. 

The week before I left home, however, the words of this anonymous 16th century text unsettled me:

“All that in Adam fell and died, was raised again and made alive in Christ, and all that rose up and was made alive in Adam, fell and died in Christ. But what was that? I answer, true obedience and disobedience. But what is true obedience? I answer, that a man should so stand free, being quit of himself, that is, of his I, and Me, and Self, and Mine, and the like, that in all things, he should no more seek or regard himself, than if he did not exist, and should take as little account of himself as if he were not, and another had done all his works.”
(Theologica Germanica, XV)

Reading this passage, I thought of the “grain of wheat” in John 12:24, Paul’s call to crucifixion in Galatians 2:20, the entirety of Jesus’ life on Earth, and I wondered whether I had ever faced the reality of His mandate to “die to live.” 

Suddenly, everything I read seemed to convict me. The most godly saints and mystics, theologians and poets echo Paul, who echoes our Lord, that the Self must disappear for true, obedient, loving union with God. I realized I had never even come close to this kind of self-forgetfulness and felt the smallness of my faith.

I had long held dear the belief that my talents and desires are glimpses of the person God is continually shaping me to be. “He is the Great Sculptor, and you are His masterpiece,” my dad often says. But had this doctrine been a veil to hide my own will and plans, justifying a desire to “save my life” rather than relinquish it to God? Perhaps I must put to death not only sinful desires, but the passions and callings that feel central to my identity—all the “Me, and Self, and Mine, and the like.”

But how to give up my very sense of self, when to strive after self-forgetfulness is already to fail? As I entered the season of Lent, figuring out how to “die to live” became an obsession, an urgent theological question, a daily prayer of frustration. What could I give up that would be big enough to take Self with it? What sins, what idols of identity was I clinging to? I wracked my brain—how blind I must be!—“sifting and sorting, separating motive from motive.” [1] As guilt and doubt grew, so did indignation at the sense of something impossible being demanded of me. 

Then, a jarring realization hit. “Die to live” is not from Scripture—it’s from Shakespeare. I had mistaken the words of a play for the true Word. “Come, Lady, die to live,” says Friar Francis in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (IV.i.271). [2]  The man of God lifts to her feet a young woman, Hero, slandered as unfaithful and spurned by both fiancé and father. He tells her that he will spread the report that Hero has died from sorrow, which will motivate her fiancé to repentance. Only then will Hero be revealed alive, the marriage redeemed, and all set to rights.

Oh, what insolence! A manufactured resurrection could never redeem anyone. The marriage at the end of Much Ado feels all wrong. In the final scene, the priest brings forth a living Hero to the amazement of her fiancé, and Hero herself proclaims her death and rebirth:

“And when I lived, I was your other wife:
And when you loved, you were my other husband...
One Hero died defiled, but I do live,
And surely as I live I am a maid.” (V.iv.61)

Yet Hero never was “defiled” except in the minds of her fiancé and father. The sham resurrection left the real relational wounds of mistrust gaping. For no mere pantomime of Christ’s sacrifice could salvage human tragedy. 

I see myself in Shakespeare’s sacrilegious friar: trying to replace Christ’s sacrifice with my own cheap imitation. I am humbled. Yet, if “die to live” is not the true Word, what is? Paul does say “to die is gain,” but first he says “to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). And to live in Christ, according to I John 4:16, is to love. 

True love, though, hardly seems easier than dying to Self. Indeed, perhaps true love is the real death to Self, in the sense of a marriage, where individual selves join to become one. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” says Jesus—not as a master, but as a Husband (John 15:5).

“For I cannot be
Mine own, nor anything to any, if
I be not thine.” (The Winter’s Tale, IV.iii.50)

Jesus, the one True Lover, “loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Striving to give myself up, I have been ignoring my Lover’s gift of Himself. To receive Him, I must instead give up the pride that says my own efforts will win me union with God. Christ bought that union with His life, the Love that He poured out freely unto death. 

And oh, I do so long to give my whole Self in return! Not by trying to empty the “Me” of my soul like dirty water, but by pouring it out as a precious perfume over His head. [3] For to receive His Love is also to believe that “his desire is for me” (Song of Songs 7:10). Even in our unity, there is a distinct Me that He loves. To reject it is dishonor both Sculptor and Lover.

I do not mean to mistake—I know that union with Christ my Husband entails a true sacrifice of Self. But for now, I must first sacrifice my very sacrifice, trusting God to lead me step by step. I pray for ears to hear the true Word prompting me to small daily sacrifices—of time, entertainment, planning, pride—which are really habit-building sacrifices of Self for Love.

At the end of Much Ado About Nothing, the lovers are divided not just by the original wrong, but by the attempt to smooth it over with a charade of death and resurrection. If I am to be united with Christ, it is not by imitating sacrifice but by partaking in sacrificial Love; by receiving as well as giving up; by entering into marriage before death.

Raquel is a senior at Yale studying Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces, p. 290.

[2] Folger Shakespeare Edition, Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine.

[3] Mark 14:3.

[4] Further reading: “The Sacrifice,” “The Thanksgiving,””The Reprisal,” and “The Altar,” poem cycle by George Herbert.

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