“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Hebrews 2:14-15 ESV
No one has made more comical use of the anvil than Warner Bros. in their cartoons, particularly those featuring the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. I grew up with the Warner Bros. characters. I spent hours of my childhood watching the Coyote open crate after crate of ACME products, which he cobbled together in harebrained schemes to kill the Road Runner. All of Coyote’s schemes backfired, leaving him crushed and googly-eyed, often in a hole made when an anvil fell on him. The End.
Despite the Coyote’s calamitous demise in every single cartoon, by the next episode he was as good as new and busy devising a whole new harebrained scheme to get the Road Runner. Even as children we knew this was fiction. We knew you couldn’t be crushed by an anvil and live. As adults, we’ve learned that anvils come in many forms. We’ve learned that many things—that anything—can be crushed. No warning required. This knowledge is the basis for a fear we all share: the fear of death.
Oh, we might not believe we fear actual death—who in their right mind lets themselves dwell on The End? But just let our lives skid sideways a little, just let us begin to feel control slipping away, and we all know the feeling that bubbles up: Fear. Fear of what will happen next. Fear of what’s about to change. Fear of what’s about to be lost. Fear of The End of someone or something we love.
This fear is the ACME anvil that hangs over our our lives. All of us. Each and every one of us. No matter whether we’re rich or poor, beloved or despised, generous or miserly.
Dr. Richard Beck, an outspoken professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University, wrote a book titled The Slavery of Death. It’s on my GoodReads “to-read” list, and I’m eager to get to it. A friend is reading the book now, and he shared with me about some of the studies the book cites. Studies that suggest there’s a negative impact on generosity and empathy in people when they’re in the clutches of the fear of death. Studies that suggest there is a slavery—a poverty of mind and desire for self-preservation—that accompanies the fear of death. Instinctively, we know this is true, whether we believe Hebrews 2:15 or not.
We Christians call ourselves believers. This is what we believe: Jesus took the sting out of the anvil. It may crush us, but—like Wile E. Coyote—we will rise from our calamity unscathed. We will live.
The End has become the fiction.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV