John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

I Can't Save Myself By Living

It is such a beautiful day to be alive. I could be out taking a drive, or jogging, or getting a latte. I could be playing golf, or tennis, or having lunch with friends. So many things I could be doing besides sitting here right now contemplating an instrument of torture. The cross wasn’t just designed to kill someone but to keep them alive as long as possible, so that they could experience as much pain as possible without passing out, and finally die an excruciating death from suffocation as their lungs collapse from the weight of their body suspended from iron spikes.

God, that’s brutal.

What brings me to this contemplation today? What draws me? I sit here thinking, concentrating on a cross. It’s worse than contemplating an electric chair or a hangman’s noose. At least those are quick forms of death. But if you were at a rocking party and told the host you had to go because once a year you always went and meditated in front of a guillotine or a syringe holding a lethal injection, the host probably wouldn’t invite you over again.

I could be doing something else right now that was upbeat and had more to do with living. Everything out there tells us that we can save ourselves by getting on with the business of living, right? There’s not a commercial or an ad in the world that entices you to buy something that will hasten your death.

The whole point of advertising is that products will enhance your life. Take that vacation, get that new car, find the best food and stay looking young with all the wrinkle cream and hair dye available. That’s what we want: a beautiful life – as long as possible, as rich as possible, as pleasant as possible.

So why am I here – thinking about an instrument of torture – a crossbeam of suffering? Am I crazy? Are Christians all nuts? Why not get out there and enrich my life? It can’t be healthy to think about death. It’s certainly not popular.

The truth is there comes a time in everyone’s life, a time when we become painfully aware that we cannot save ourselves by living. We’re dying to live, but the allure of our own life – to possess it – if that’s our dream – can never be realized in the fullness that we would desire it. It slips away – life has a way of ebbing out of even the healthiest among us – and it becomes something so much less than what we had tried to grab hold of.

A relationship fails. A loved one dies. The opportunity of a lifetime falls through. Illness strikes. People betray us.

And all of a sudden, the life we tried so hard to create, the life we thought we had, is suddenly so much less than what we hoped for. The truth is that what draws me to the cross of Jesus is something deep inside of me that saya: Jesus’ dying was the real currency that purchased my freedom from all this “try-to-save-yourself-by-living” frenzy.

Trying to save yourself by living is like trying to buy groceries at Kroger with Monopoly money. You’ve got the wrong currency. It may be good when you’re playing the game, but it won’t work when you want some real food. All the little properties and accumulated achievements that enable us to own the board and win the game having nothing to do with God’s currency.

Somewhere along the line, you’d think someone would realize that if we could save ourselves by living we would have been able to pull our sorry little planet up by its bootstraps a long time ago. If we are going to wait until we all save ourselves by human effort and wisdom – by using Monopoly money – we’re going to be waiting a long time. As one theologian put it, from Socrates to Dr. Phil the world has taken a 5,000 year bath in human wisdom and come out just as dirty as ever.

So, that’s why I’m here. I can’t save myself by living. I haven’t, and I won’t. So God has come to save the whole world by dying.