In Raymond Feist’s book Shadow of a Dark Queen, the “Kingdom” is looking for the right kind of desperate men to carry out a desperate mission. Agents of the Kingdom find these men by sifting through the criminals who are about to be hung, looking for those who fit their profile. When the men they select are brought to the gallows, the rope is put around their neck, and the box kicked out from beneath their feet. Rather than strangling at the end of the rope, these men crash on their faces, because the rope was not tied to the gallows. But they endure the full soul crushing horror of execution. They are gathered up, bathed, fed, clothed, and then subjected to a brutal training regimen. But the noose remains around their neck to remind them that they are dead men living on borrowed time. They are bullied and subjected to continuous humiliation to remind them that their lives were spared for the benefit of the Kingdom, not their own. If they manage to survive the mission, they will be pardoned and allowed to begin a new life. In the story, of the original seventy-five, only five survive.
While I suspect that Feist did not intend to create any parallels with the Good News of Jesus, they are there. The court room language used in the New Testament suggests that each of us is condemned to execution, with no appeals, because each of us behaves as if God, the King in whom law and justice resides, does not exist, or does not matter. We are fit only for death. Yet, even though condemned, Christians are rescued from the gallows (more appropriately, the cross), and then given “on the job training” to serve The Kingdom as effectively as possible.
Fortunately, God’s Kingdom doesn’t employ the methods of bullying and humiliation to break us down. More importantly, God’s love is the force behind rescuing people from “execution.” But metaphorically, as a believer, you have a noose hanging from your neck. You are a dead man, a dead woman, walking. Like those condemned men in the story, whose lives were owed completely to the “Kingdom”, yours is too. Consider these verses from the New Testament: “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.[i]”; “You have died with Christ”[ii]; “For you died to this life”[iii].
Fortunately, God’s promise of a new life isn’t conditional on first surviving some desperate task. The Good News is that new life begins seeping into us right away, and continues seeping into us every day. But the biggest parallel between Feist’s story and Christian reality is this: The men in the story were not spared execution so that they were free to go about their own business; they were spared so that their lives belonged to the Kingdom, to serve the Kingdom. You were not saved from “execution” – complete, total destruction forever and ever – so that you could keep on going about your own business (see Gal. 5:13). You were saved at the very high price of the life of Jesus, so that your life would belong to him, to serve the Kingdom of God. Like those condemned criminals of Feist’s imagination, as a believer you go about Jesus’ business with a noose hanging from your neck, in a sense, because you have been rescued from the gallows in order to serve The Kingdom. You are already dead, you have nothing to lose.
If in fact, you wear a cross around your neck, let that serve in place of a noose.
[i] 1 Co 6:19, Holy Bible : New Living Translation. 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S.
[ii] Col. 2:20 Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S.
[iii] Col. 3:3, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 2nd ed. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, S.