The Great Enemy

“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.
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5 Responses to The Great Enemy

  1. Kim says:

    I think the idea that bad things aren’t supposed to happen to us (especially us Americans) is the driving force behind the litigation crisis in medicine. And the litigation crisis in every other area as well. We have the attitude that doggone it, somebody is gonna pay if something bad happens to us.

    And regarding your thoughts on death: I am picky about what kinds of contemporary music I embrace — very little of it appears to have lasting value — but Chris Rice’s “Untitled Hymn” surely will live on for generations … here’s the final verse, which I find poignant and meaningful:

    And with your final heartbeat,
    Kiss the world goodbye
    Then go in peace and laugh on Glory’s side …
    And fly to Jesus,
    Fly to Jesus,
    Fly to Jesus …
    and live.

    Death is an unnatural thing to happen, still after all these generations … I went to a beloved ACU professor’s funeral a couple weeks ago, and as I always do in such situations, I sat there and thought how much it stinks that we learn to love somebody and then they die. And how not loving is worse. And how infinitely grateful I am that this world is not all there is.

  2. JAy. says:

    I reconcile the God vs. World debate in light of the fact that God gave people free will. Yes, God is all powerful, but God amade man with the ability to choose. From the earliest time, man has chosen poorly, so sin and death have taken hold over humanity. While God has the power to reverse course and make the world perfect, he does not do so because he would have to take away that which made mankind special.

    The gift of Jesus is to show that God does love us and wants us to be able to join him in his perfect kingdom one day.

    The only nit I have to pick with the post is that you said, “Death has not been entirely defeated.” The possibility of eternal life with God has defeated death. It has not removed death, but the power of death is what it can do to you mentally here on earth. Jesus has taken the fear out of death for those who are willing to accept him.

    And great comment, Kim. That is one of my favorite songs, also.

  3. rheyduck says:

    “The possibility of eternal life with God has defeated death. It has not removed death, but the power of death is what it can do to you mentally here on earth. Jesus has taken the fear out of death for those who are willing to accept him.”

    As a pastor I see what death does to people. Yes, Jesus has defeated death. But it’s still out there wreaking havoc. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation (trouble). But be of good cheer – I have overcome the world.” We have that and numerous other promises to stand on.

    Though I don’t hear it so much anymore, I still like Oscar Cullmann’s illustration. Looking at the ETO in WW2, he says that the Normandy invasion was the decisive moment in the war, the event the marked the defeat of Germany. But there was still a lot of serious mopping up to do. In the same way, in his life, death and resurrection, Jesus won the victory. Now we’re in the business of implementing that victory.

  4. Kim says:

    Also … I think it was Martin Luther who first used the phrase “the now and the not yet.” (not in English, of course!)C.S. Lewis put it this way, “When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over.” We live suspended between the “now” and the “not yet.”

    If you want to read foreshadowing into the Old Testament stories, you could find foreshadowing of our plight in God’s gift of the Promised Land to the children of Israel. The land belonged to them … but they had to set their foot upon it, to take it, even though “legally” (in God’s sight) it was theirs.

    Or, as Jesus said, God is waiting to separate the wheat from the chaff to give the crop time to mature … the final threshing (cleaning death out of the world) will happen “when the play is over,” at the final harvest.

    Just my thoughts.

  5. Ramon says:

    Thanks for the insight on death. Totally opens up my eyes about the whole event. I love the
    fact that it is not just “life is tough and then you die”. I think that is what trips many
    people up even Christians. We do not really hope for life. All we see is “heaven”.
    This place that has been painted wrongly and distorted by bad theology and cartoons.
    I think the biblical writers had something far more substantial in mind than harps and halos
    That is what gives me hope every morning.

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