Warning: expletive below.
Yesterday, we looked at the incredible hubris it takes to pronounce that a given major calamity was God’s judgment on a particular afflicted people. We all know of prominent Christian leaders who have taken it upon themselves to stand up following a great tragedy and suggest that it was the Lord’s will. We all know it was in the worst taste to say that the spring’s tsunami that devastated Japan was the Sovereign’s judgment against the island nation.
I suspect, however, that this sentiment is not actually held widely. I could be mistaken, but few Christians I know would ever suggest something like that out loud. When it comes to large-scale horrors, few people are comfortable attributing these events to God. At least, not publicly.
In the last couple days, I’ve been reminded of friends and friends of friends who have been forced to suffer through personal tragedies at various times in their lives. All of us have. A parent or grandparent declines quickly after a cancer diagnosis; a loved one dies suddenly of an unexpected illness; a teen gets in a fatal car accident; a newborn doesn’t live past her first few days. No one wants to experience these events. No one wants anyone else to experience these sorts of things. Sadly, all of us do.
While few, if any, of us would attribute a sizable calamity to the Lord, how many of us have done just that on a personal scale? In the face of these intimate tragedies, we say things like, “I guess it wasn’t God’s will to heal your grandfather,” or “the Lord works in mysterious ways,” or “God needed your daughter in heaven,” or “God has a bigger plan in mind,” or something of the sort. We mean these as words of comfort to the afflicted.
There is a theological term for these sorts of platitudes: bullshit.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is explaining to the believers in Corinth the implications of Jesus’ resurrection. This unique event, he writes, has inaugurated a new age. The sign of the resurrection, that God vindicates the life and work of Jesus by reversing his unjust crucifixion, demonstrates that the Christ has been made Lord of all things. Of course, spend a few days in this world and we know that not all injustices have been made right. But a significant process has begun, the culmination of which, says Paul, is the very defeat of death.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. … For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. (1 Cor 15:20-22, 25-26)
Since Adam, death has been the ultimate enemy of God. We may live in an age where it still affects everyone, but Paul assures his churches that there is coming a day when death itself will be eradicated. Jesus’ resurrection is the down payment on that promise.
Indeed, we can say in the face of a tragic death that “God has a greater plan;” it is the very elimination and reversal of the reign of death on the earth. May it come quickly.