The Un-dead and the God Who Undoes Death

Come on! (HT: sheknows.com)

Call me a halloweiner if you want, but I’m not much of a Halloweener.  Nor am I into horror films.  The closest I’ve gotten has probably been “28 Days Later,” which my friend tells me isn’t really a zombie movie.  (OK, I saw “Zombieland” too, but I didn’t pay to see it.)  And so I don’t particularly get the cultural attraction of zombies and vampires and what-not.

I have mixed emotions about Halloween.  On the one hand, I don’t have any particular grudges against it.  I’m all for kids getting free candy.  (Probably because I don’t have any kids of my own.)  I’m all for kids dressing up as things they’ll never be, especially if it’s cute.  (Except for hobos.  Those kids have got to get more creative.)  I don’t even have a problem with adults dressing up for a night, especially if it’s creative.  (Any woman who shows up to a Halloween party dressed as a slutty nurse ought to be sent home.)

On the other hand, I do begrudge the core of Halloween.  This is a day that, in some fashion, celebrates death.  Elementary school teachers hang skeletons in their classrooms.  Our neighbors erect fake gravestones in their front yards.  People do dress up as all sorts of frightening things, including the un-dead.

And yet, I personally profess a faith that believes in a Creator who is passionate about life, who created life in the first place, and whose sworn enemy is death.  Many cultures throughout the world may justify or rationalize death, calling it necessary in the “life cycle” (odd that death would be a significant part of such a concept).  But the Christian God (and indeed the Jewish God) has never flirted with the notion that death (or anything that contributes toward death) was somehow a good or even important part of the created order.  Rather, to God, death is the very signature of disorder.

How fortunate we are to have a God who loves His creation so deeply that He would go to such great lengths to defeat it.  How glorious it is that we have this faith, at the very center of which is the story of the quintessential man died but then raised to new life by this holy Creator.  Indeed, that resurrection is simultaneously a promise to every one who believes it, who trusts in this Creator, that she too will be rescued from death, and ultimately raised in an imperishable body.

It is at times like Halloween, when our culture anoints the dark side of our fallen state, when we ought to pause and remember that death and all its friends have been defeated.  Death has been undone.

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Everything Happens for a Reason, but Sometimes You Decide the Reason

The other day I was thinking about the way we look backwards for explanations when faced with trauma.  We want to know the causes of awful events.  And sometimes those causes are truly awful.

Today I’m thinking about how we look forward from difficulties.  If we must suffer through tragedy, we want to at least know that its purpose is to bring about a brighter future.

Yet I’m sorry to say this is not necessarily the case.  There are many unfortunate cases in which one traumatic event begets another begets another.  Many of us have witnessed people who, for any number of reasons, have entered a serious tailspin stemming from one particularly terrible event.

“Everything happens for a reason,” we say, assuming the evil of the present will eventually culminate in an aggregate good.  But this is far from automatic.

Regarding hardship in all of its forms – be it abuse, witnessing a tragedy, passing through a particular trauma or difficult period – I like to say that what matters is not so much what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us.  Everyone goes through really difficult times (Some more severe than others, true.), but the truly victorious ones are those who refuse to respond with bitterness or resignation.  Most often, those who face adversity with courage and hope and forgiveness and love are the ones who see good come out of evil.

Jesus, after all, faced all sorts of trauma and hardship.  Yet he lived a perfectly healthy and productive life.  It’s not about what happened to him, but how he responded to what happened to him.

Among Christians’ favorite Bible passages is Romans 8:28, which reads, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (ESV).  Sometimes we read this to mean that we will never experience hardship.  That’s not what it says.  Other times we take it to mean that God is behind everything that happens to us.  That’s not what it says.  It does say that for those who love the Lord, which is a condition (not an automatic), the Lord labors on their behalf to bring about good, even out of evil events, whatever their original source.

“Everything happens for a reason.”  Sometimes you get to decide the reason.

Everything Happens for a Reason, but Sometimes the Reason Is Bad

HT: explodingdog.com

“Everything happens for a reason,” we like to say.  The question is, What’s the reason?

We humans have a curious need to assign meaning to events.  We seem to be perfectly incapable of living without asking the question why.  Similarly, we are altogether obsessed with the future outcome of a particular event.  Whether we’re looking back on the cause of an event or ahead to the implications of an event, we’re always asking the same question: What does this mean?

At no time do we do this more than when struck by tragedy or trauma.  There’s a death in the family, an illness befalls a friend, you lose your job – it’s in these situations that we most often wonder at the purpose of our circumstances.  More than just seeking meaning, however, it seems we’re really constantly wondering whether our present difficulties will turn out for the good in the long run.

And don’t we do this for one another, as well?  We have a friend who is struggling with a hard season and, with all the best intentions, suggest that her hardship has come “for a reason.”  Our desire is to offer solace, to provide interpretive understanding to her difficulties.

But what are we really saying when we say that “everything happens for a reason”?

For the most part, I think we’re typically saying that either (1) the sources that caused this terrible event are actually good, or (2) the terrible event is actually good for us – it will lead to something better.

But neither of these is necessarily true, and both ideas can be damaging.  I’ll deal with the first part today, the second another day.

The source of a truly terrible event can be, and often is, truly terrible.  Looking at the most awful of circumstances, like the death of a child, for example, whatever the cause, it is surely not good.

From a biblical perspective, death is never regarded as a good (or even neutral) thing weaved into the order of creation.  Rather, death is the very enemy of God from the very start.  It is the terrible consequence of the Fall (Gen 2:17; Rom 6:23) and the very things that Christ set out to overcome (1 Cor 15:26).  Death does not originate from the Father, but from the enemy (Jn 10:10).  Throughout the 66 books of the Bible, the Lord is fighting against the powers of death.  We ought not call death or the causes of death good.

“Everything happens for a reason,” but sometimes that reason is pure evil.

Building or Breaking Shalom

If you’ve known me you know that I don’t like talking about sin in the way that traditional evangelical churches like to talk about sin.  I bristled when in a seminary evangelism class it was seen as an absolute necessity to make one aware of her sin before she could be saved.  Like holding a drowning swimmer under water before throwing a life preserver, we had to be sure to pound her with her own shortcomings before we could offer any help.

I was excited, then, when I came across this fresh interpretation of “sin” over at Storied Theology.  Does it make sense to conceive of sin as those actions which do not contribute to rebuilding or actually taking away from shalom?  I don’t think that this detracts from the more common understanding, that sinful actions are those that miss the mark of God’s will, whatever that may be in a particular instance.  Personally, I’m more attracted to this more holistic shalom breaking approach.

Immediately upon seeing this new thought, I began thinking backwards.  Paul, in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, calls his own work the “ministry of reconciliation.”  He thought himself to be informing the world of the Christ’s work in reconstructing a state of shalom between the Creator and humanity.

Indeed, Paul, as well as other biblical authors, foresees an end in which all of creation, including the natural world, would rejoice in the finished work of the Messiah.  Romans 8:20-22 describes a natural order that has been in a frustrated state since the initial shalom breaking committed by Adam.  Isaiah, long before Paul, anticipated a similar restoration of creation (55:12-13).

An all-encompassing peace was shattered.  This same pervasive peace is being reestablished in Christ.  The question for me is, then, How can I get behind that?