Friday, June 25, 2010

The Cross and Death

"Jesus Christ has not only dethroned the devil but dealt with sin. In fact, it is by dealing with sin that he has dealt with death. For sin is the 'sting' of death, the main reason why death is painful and poisonous. It is sin which causes death, and which after death will bring the judgment. Hence our fear of it . . . Now that we are forgiven, death can harm us no longer. So the apostle [Paul] shouts defiantly: 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'"

John Stott, The Cross of Christ
Well, it was only going to be a matter of time before I quoted John Stott. My admiration for Stott needs no further rhetoric, but I've found that his words have resonated deeply recently following a discussion the other day. A best friend of mine and a non-Christian asked me why do I have hope? He is an anaesthetics trainee and so spends his time with the most unwell patients in a hospital and, more so than me, is surrounded by death. His admission was alarming and upsetting: he sees no point in what we do professionally or any point in life whatsoever. Is this actually the case and what would be an appropriate response? His questions brought me to reflect upon the liberation from death and the created order that the cross brings.

Death is the great leveller - it arrives to us all and returns us to the dust from whence we came. It is no respecter of reputation or status. I think it undeniable that we as humans live in fear of death - we do anything we can to avoid it. If this were not the case I doubt my professional life would be anywhere as busy or emotionally fraught. Why? No easy answer exists but I think Stott brings out a valid point: the fear of death is tied up with the prospect of meeting your maker and eternal repercussions therein (read the lyrics to 'Awake My Soul' by Mumford and Sons).

Death exists as a consequence of sin and a perfect, holy God must be as far from sin as east is from west (death therefore may be best illustrated by the Old Testament concept of Sheol). God desires us to dwell with Him and the cross is that place where we can finally be as far from sin as He is (Psalm 103:12). It was always His plan that we would dwell with Him and on His terms and in His mode of existence (Genesis 1-2). The Fall seemingly delayed that plan, but its fulfilment has been accomplished which now allows us to reap that undeserved reward.

I think it undeniable that we have this itch within us to become more than bystanders to the slow but inexorable romp of time. We yearn for transcendence above creation even if we are not aware of it - fame, legacy, acclaim. Hence the eternal question: What is the meaning of life? These are all things we hope will lift us above the created order and land us safely on Timelessness' side (something of no surprise to a Christian; c.f. Ecclesiastes 3:11). Yet we know from observing this world that this will never become the case and that, eventually, time and nature consume all (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11).

However, as Paul teaches us we have much to be hopeful for. The greatest enemy of the created is defeated and the victory imputed to us. The cross gives us the route through which we may unite our biological, created selves with the eternal form of God. Through the cross God unites the created with the Divine (the first of these beings was Christ) following which we are able to transcend this biological world and enter into eternity. How glorious a thing! God beckons us to know Him fully and in so doing leave this universe and meet Him in His true state, free from constraints this universe places on us - time, ageing and ultimately death.

We live in the now-not yet tension of Christ's return and whilst that time is awaited we will experience death and suffering. Christians are safe from its eternal pain and poison - sure we may suffer from the effects of its guerrilla warfare, but the victory is won. Christ made sure of that. The point of life therefore is simply illustrated by the purpose of the cross: to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

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