Mark 8: 34-38
“Whoever instead will ἀπολέσει their life on account of me and the gospel will σώσει it.”
This statement and its use of the verb ἀπόλλυμι has occupied my thoughts for weeks. Try to picture what’s happening in the Syrian city of Aleppo after more than four years of civil war, and you’ll get the gist of ἀπόλλυμι. Fighter jets, tanks, and machine guns have reduced this seven-thousand-year-old city to piles of debris. The city’s schools were the first targets hit. The only bakery for miles was the most recent casualty. That’s the definition of ἀπόλλυμι -- to entirely destroy something.
Just to be clear, Mark 8: 34-38 isn’t about a city or a nation or a civilization being destroyed. Jesus is talking about the lives of his followers -- that’s what’s destined for ruin. Their place in society, their carefully constructed lifestyles, their preferred pastimes, their sense of themselves, the things they surround themselves with, who they are, what they are, what they are striving to build . . . all of this will be blown apart, according to Jesus.
Shockingly, the forces causing this devastation will not be enemy armies, but the individual followers themselves. They will dismantle their lives of their own accord.
I’ve been stuck and struck by this verse for several reasons.
First, I haven’t experienced the gospel as an annihilating force. I experience the power of God as a force that unravels. As I try to practice my faith, the urge to give and help others grows stronger while the impulse to accumulate and impress dissolves. This hasn’t left my life in shambles; it’s made it less complicated.
Second, any pushback I’ve experienced on account of my faith commitments hasn’t wiped me out. It has been upsetting to lose jobs and change career paths, but these events have felt more like detours than explosions. I built a life, it fell apart, I felt discouraged, and then I constructed something else. It didn’t work out either, I felt disappointed, I moved in a different direction . . . repeat, repeat, repeat. Maybe this is the advantage of being white and middle class in the United States. Privilege insulates me from utter ruin and enables me to stay true to my moral standards and begin anew again and again.
So while I can understand the logic of Jesus’ statement that we will lose our lives for the sake of the gospel, I can’t claim to know what he means.