“God needed him more than we did.” Have you heard that before? Sometimes it’s modified, “God needed another lawyer, doctor, plumber, nurse, good person, angel” – the list goes on. I’ve read the Bible several times and I still can’t find that sentiment in it. Personally, I find that kind of God alien to what I see in the bible.
I suppose since people keep saying it, at least a few take it to be expressing a good and comfortable thought about God. I’m not in their number.
The notion is predicated on the assumption that everything that happens is God’s will. First, I reject the trajectory in theology- at least since the rise of nominalism and its emphasis on God’s potentia absoluta – that focuses on the centrality of God’s sovereign will. What I read in the Bible sure looks like God doesn’t always have his way. God’s will is not always effectual. Thus when someone days – whether young or old, in due time or way too early – that death is not necessarily because God desired it.
Second, I reject the opposite notion, framed at least partially as a response to the absolutizing of God’s power, that God is just a part of the universe, wanting better but not able to do much of anything about it. Sure, God can call, and summon and desire, but that’s about it.
So if I reject those positions, what am I left with. Here are some initial thoughts.
- Instead of merely exercising (or not) power in an abstract impersonal manner, God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, entered history, that is, human life, lived among us, bore our sins on the cross, died a wretched death, and then was raised on the third day. The starting point for the Christian understanding of death is not the tragedy as we experience it, but the reality of God’s embrace and defeat of death in Jesus.
- Death has not been entirely defeated. It is still, in most cases, an unwanted intrusion in life. Though the looming beast is always on our horizon, sometimes its forays in our vicinity are too close to home. We feel utterly powerless. From the perspective of those left behind, the monster always wins. He may be cheated a couple of times, but never for long. But that’s why Jesus is our starting point. We need the perspective we gain from walking with him. Only when we see things from his perspective can we see the mortal wounds on the beast.
- When we walk with Jesus, we can learn that death is not the worst thing. While from the world’s point of view, “Life is tough, then you die,” from Jesus’ point of view, “Life is a blessing, death is an enemy, God gets the last word in for us. And his word is Live!”
- The reality of death makes a mockery of our views on the perfectibility of human nature and institutions. However hard we try, however we perfect our methodologies and rationalities, they don’t eliminate death. They do, however, make death more shocking. After all, we’re Americans. We’re not only the world’s only Superpower, we’re also God’s chosen people, have the biggest economy, and most importantly, the best medical system. Death (and other bad things) isn’t supposed to happen to us.
- There is no point of despair, fear, anxiety or suffering in which God is not with us. No situation in which we find ourselves is so horrible that God will retreat from us.
- We are better off in times of hardship and suffering if we have walked with God in the happy and peaceful times. While it’s usual in the latter times to think we can make it on our own, our reliance on God – and commitment to follow Jesus – in the good times, builds our strength to stay with him in the hard times.
- I have no answer to the reality/problem/question of death other than God’s answer: Jesus.