Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Positive Side of Death

In my last blog I shared from the heart some of my thoughts on death after my Dad’s tragic passing in Middlemore Hospital. I spoke of my abhorrence for death, its violation of life, and the hope of death’s end—thankfully, because Jesus has conquered death, death’s demise comes closer everyday—bring it on!
As I have reflected, I have realised I needed to add to that picture I painted. That is, the positive side of death. Everything has a positive side. Pain is very useful—it causes us to withdraw from situations that endanger us. I remember being very moved by reading in Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor of the story of Paul Brand who works with lepers and who speaks of the positive side of pain from the point of view of lepers. Lepers damage themselves because they do not feel pain. Pain causes us to withdraw to safety; otherwise we will be maimed.

In a fallen world susceptible to suffering and pain, death has a positive side too. Without death, those who suffer immensely in great pain would never find release. They would live on in their agony. I remember when Dad died, in the grief there was some sense of relief—his suffering is ended. There was also the unknown of what quality of life he would have had, had he survived. The Greeks weren’t completely silly to see death as a release. In many cases, it is. Sometimes death is timely and good.

Death is also essential in a fallen world to limit evil. Consider Hitler. Imagine him living on indefinitely in his despotic madness. What sort of world or universe would there be if those such as Hitler lived on indefinitely regardless! It would be a cosmic “bloodbath.”

Of course, the tragedy is that the good must also die with the evil. So the world is robbed of so many great people because of death. There are so many we wish would live on indefinitely because of the good they do. But they too must die, for what is corrupted, and we all are marred, cannot be allowed to live on indefinitely.
You can really see the “logic” of the Christian gospel here. When humanity became corrupted by sin due to its defiance of God in the garden, God had no choice but to limit the life-span of all people, to ensure eternity was not granted to marred humanity. Otherwise sin and corruption would live on in this world and the one to come. Death then became a good thing, it limits evil.

The point of Jesus is to deal with that corruption and our propensity to sin by overcoming it with a life that did not yield to corruption, dying for the sake of those trapped in sin and corruption, and providing the means by which all humanity can be set free from the power of despite. They can become people uncorrupted, and thus be permitted to live on. 

We can’t do any of this ourselves; we need God’s intervention to restore us to a state of goodness. It is all his work. All we have to do is yield to Jesus, say “yes” to him, trust in him, we are joined to him. Our part is miniscule, we will to be a part of it. As Luke’s Paul put it, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” When we yield, something mystical, spiritual and incomprehensible occurs. Though we are still trapped in bodies and a world subject to death, spiritually we move from death to life, and we are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In our present physical state, we remain marred by sin and corruption. We must at some point die or be transformed physically to be released, to be transformed, to become incorruptible, immortal and wholly good. Then we can live eternally. Paul describes this process beautifully in 1 Corinthians 15:50–53:

50 I tell you this, brothers and sisters: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be transformed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be transformed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality…

The Christian gospel is an ingenious. I can see no other way a God seeking eternal free fellowship based on love could have saved the world without something like this. I explore this in Chapter Three of my book What’s God Up To On Planet Earth. Such a means of saving respects God’s character, justice, and human “freedom.”

Returning to the issue of this blog—so it is that death has real value in a fallen world. It hurts like hell, it sucks, it grieves, it hurts, it violates! Yuck! But it is a necessary “evil” in a fallen world. That good news is that there is something on the other side of death and now we know it. Jesus showed us that when he appeared. History since has proved it as, despite Christian failure, life and goodness has penetrated God’s world like salt and light due to his Spirit’s work in his people in history. God paved a way. We can walk it if we want and we will know life without death. I plan to do so because I love life and God and Christ and if need be, I am prepared to die to get there. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

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