It doesn’t happen to me very often, in fact some of my friends may be surprised to discover it happens at all. But on Sunday I fled from a service, desperate to maintain my carefully crafted illusion of being unaffected by things. I disappeared through the door in fear that people would see the tears that were pushing themselves out of my eyes, despite my repeated, internal instructions for them to stay away. Luckily I managed to get outside without any drama and quietly found myself a dark corner in which to try and calm myself down.
So what exactly caused just an unexpected, undesired response? Before I tell you, I guess I better explain the background. I’m very blessed with the most wonderful wife in the world, and two gorgeous, beautiful daughters. I thank and praise God for all three of them. Words can not explain my love and passion for each of them. So I don’t share this to get sympathy. I’m a lucky, lucky man.
However, like most of us, there has also been, and is, pain within my life. For me the hardest and most difficult has been losing two unborn children. I still find, at unexpected moments, and without warning, they’ll jump into my head. It’s a funny feeling, missing two people you never actually met. How can a hole be left, when there was never anything to make the hole in the first place? I don’t know, but I know the hole is there none-the-less. I believe those holes are now part of me, because those children are (not were, are) part of me. They always will be.
Anyway, back to Sunday. The person preaching was sharing some of their story, including their own heart-rending loss of a still-born child. Most of what they shared was helpful and expressions of feelings which I shared. However, one thing got to me. Got me angry. Got me raging in pain. Fighting back the urge to shout and argue. What was said? … The simple statement that God was responsible for the death, God holds the power of life and death.
Since then I’ve dwelt on the thought, churned it over in my head and viewed it from different angles. This was made even more astute yesterday. Yesterday I heard the dreadful news that one of the people I started theological college with, who left last year, died unexpectedly the night before last, leaving behind a wife and three young children. Is this God’s doing? Is this what God wants? To have those three children grow up without their father? Really?
I’m sorry, but I don’t agree, I can’t agree! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not denying God’s sovereignty. But, just be careful what you’re saying, what you’re implying.
Death first comes, in scripture, after the fall of Adam and Eve. In the garden there was no death, but this all changes. Genesis goes on to list Adam and Eve’s descendants, each time concluding with the clashing note, “and then he died … and then he died … and then he died”. The beautiful symphony which begins in Genesis 1-2 suddenly gets interrupted by these harsh and jarring notes, as the inspiring vision of God’s perfect world slowly descends into the noise and mess of the fallen world. I simply don’t get why so many Christians fail to grasp this. They say things like “death is just a natural part of life”, when scripture shouts out that death is decidedly “unnatural”. Whether someone takes the early accounts of Genesis to be historically true, or not, the theological truth rings clear that death is not supposed to be, it is not the way God wants it to be.
This is the funny thing about death, and about evil and suffering in general. The Bible doesn’t give that much clue as to how it started, or how it fits in with His sovereignty. BUT, what it does do, what it does make clear, what the whole scripture is about, is what he plans to do about it. This is basically what the whole Bible is about, God’s big plan to get rid of it, to route out the evil in this world, to bring the world back into the state he always wanted it to be in.
This is clear when God ultimately reveals himself in his Son, Jesus Christ. Do we see Jesus, God incarnate, going round arbitrarily handing out life to some, and death to others? NO! Instead we see the kingdom of God, the world renewed, the earth restored, come crashing in. Those who are ill are healed, those who are hungry are feed and, wonderfully, Jarius’ daughter is brought back to us and Lazarus emerges from the tomb. As Jesus goes round, death flees from him. Death is the enemy, the enemy which Jesus takes on in the ultimate battle, the battle of the cross.
As Jesus dies, Matthew tells us, the graves of saints burst open. death is literally reversed. And then … and then, Jesus triumphs, he destroys death, leaving it in shatters at his feet, as even the grave cannot hold him. HE IS ALIVE, resurrected, renewed and the world will never, and can never, be the same again. Death has lost its sting.
Death is not what God wants, nor is it a natural part of life. Death is an enemy, but an enemy who as been defeated. Because, Jesus has reversed death and promises he will do so for us too:
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he has put everything under his feet. Now when it says that everything has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. 1 Cor 15:20-28
This is our hope. Not that death will be ok. That death will turn out to be “nothing at all”, so we can float off and be with God. NO, our hope is that Jesus will reverse our death, destroy death for us … just as he reversed his own death and destroyed it for himself.
So when Jesus returns and puts the whole world right again, then death is no more:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. 5 He who was seated on the throne said, I am making everything new!
How dare it be suggested that God wants death. No, God, ultimately in the form of his Son, sets out to destroy death, and wins. God did not want my children to die, and he doesn’t want those three children to grow up without their Daddy. And he was so determined to stop this unnatural act that he became one of us and defeated death, bringing resurrection power to this world.
God is not the one who wants death, he is the one who defeats it.