Thursday, February 05, 2009

Faith Works 2-7-09
Jeff Gill

Death, Life, Creation, and the Cosmos

To be perfectly candid, if I were to design a world, it seems to me that it wouldn’t have 50 year old fathers die, leaving behind a couple of small children and a grieving wife. Earlier this week, just that happened among my wider circle of internet acquaintance, but was no less awful to hear for not having met them in person. It’s the kind of thing you think (especially at 47) “that just shouldn’t happen.”

Which most wouldn’t disagree with, until you started actually thinking it through: so who would die? If not this one, that one?

So then you say “ok, I wouldn’t design in death at all.” Which means that all organisms go on and on, or just humans? Yeah, I hear you in the back, “dogs, too!” To which I reply “well, and cats.”


Anyhow, it’s one thing to say that it seems as if “even in the midst of life, we are in death,” and call that a flaw, a brokenness, even a “sin” running through the heart of creation. It’s quite another to say “so why not take out this sorrow, or this tragedy?” When you start to tinker with the cosmos, let alone (say) global climate change, everything seems to be linked to everything, and you can’t take out the bad without hopelessly compromising the good.

If you stand back from life and say “then it may be just as well that we never lived at all rather than die, or experience the death of others,” you’ve captured the nihilism that is the empty heart of much modern philosophy. I’d recommend you go watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and not try to argue with you, since it would just depress us both.

The harder challenge is finding what to say to someone who sees death and tragedy as a clear and distinct argument that there is no cause, no God, no design at all, no ultimate meaning hidden in eternity or revealed in glimpses through the narrow door of Scripture.

My own answer as a Christian starts with Jesus Christ himself, “and him crucified.” The One on the cross is a sign and a revelation that God is aware of this brokenness at the heart of life, and rather than erasing the board and starting over, has entered history to show the way.

So I grieve with my friend who lost her husband, a woman I’ve never met and many hundreds of miles away, and trust in her faith (and his) that the cross has bridged the gap for him already, and we to him in the fullness of time.

And I think it right that I grieve for a father who lost a ten year old daughter, albeit in 1851; or one who lost sons at four and eleven, in 1850 and 1862. Those fathers were told to find comfort that their children died because “it was their time,” “they were called home,” that “God needed them in heaven.”

I wish there had been more who had said to those fathers that Jesus Christ came to heal the brokenness of all of creation (for God so loved the “cosmos” is what John 3:16 says in Greek, “all of creation”). I wish there had been pastoral voices to tell them that God wept with them, and shared their sorrow. Instead, they were condemned in their day for questioning the Divine Order of every death, every species, and even the necessity of slavery. To question the social order was questioning the authority of the Church and the Bible, and so Darwin and Lincoln

A Biblical worldview can and must understand that the world has a crack in it, and yet it is through that crack that Jesus entered. God could make the world so that nothing bad ever happened and no evil was in it, but that would put most of us down the memory hole.

I can’t call Charles Darwin or Abraham Lincoln Christians, any more than a fair reading of their own writings could call either an atheist. Did God’s mercy extend to them, on their passing to join their lost children? That would be up to God, but what is up to us is to learn from their experience as we try to comfort the grieving today.

Death is part of creation, but not an ultimate part of it; the passing of death is the final victory promised to the community of faith. We can and must grieve with each other, not forcing sense out of senselessness, but from a promised hope that sense and meaning and God will prevail in the end.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he promises to stop talking about Darwin and Lincoln for at least a while after Feb. 12! Tell him your ideas of something else to talk about at

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