We all die. Death always wins.
Everyone who’s ever lived has died and everyone who lives now will one day be dead. Some will die young others old, some will die ‘naturally’, others of disease, or of an accident or as a result of an act of violence. Death is always all around us, never more than a few feet away.
It has always been so.
As long as people have lived in the world and observed it, it has been so. In every history book ever written death has had a starring role and it upstages even the most notable of men. From Caesar to Napoleon, Alexander the Great to Michael Jackson, Princess Diana, C.S. Lewis, the Apostle Paul, Cicero and Plato; all dead. Saint and sinner, prince and peasant, we all die.
King David once wrote about ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ when death seems to be close at hand. But it is true for us all; we are all always living under death’s shadow. We ignore it, we run from it, we create medicine to keep it away but it always catches up with us eventually, eventually and suddenly.
We are never prepared for it. Never do we think ‘now you can take her.’ Never do we find ourselves saying ‘I have lived enough, death you are welcome to do your worst.’ We never appreciate death because we know that death cannot be undone, its effects are irreversible and its judgements cannot be appealed against. It is the great leveller that strips us of our pride, our achievements and our shortcomings. Death is no respecter of persons and the moral make up of a man is of no concern to death. The good and the bad die alike.
It has always been and will always be so and yet it seems that death always comes as a surprise to us. Death is all around us and yet still we are caught off guard by it. Death always feels like a cheat as though it doesn’t play by the rules. We feel as though we are entitled to live longer, to live forever.
Recently I’ve been thinking a bit about the people who wrote the Bible. Every book was written by real people who managed to hold to faith in a loving God despite the pain that they had to suffer, despite death’s constant victory. How did they do it? For the Bible writers’ death, suffering and sickness were always all around. Paradise didn’t pen scripture, people did. It wasn’t written by people living a utopian existence; real people who lived in the real world and who experienced real sickness and real hurt, wrote the words we have in our Bibles. Men who knew what it was to lose a week old infant and who suffered rejection at the hands of those closest to them. People who suffered disease and disillusionment alike and who knew how it felt to cry through the night in search of answers and who had felt their world fall apart before them. The Bible writers were soldiers who’d looked their enemies in the eye on the battlefield and who’d watched the grave lay claim to victim after victim. It was written by fathers who’d lost children and by children who’d been abandoned by their fathers; individuals who’d watched mothers die of starvation whilst their children were left to live without anyone to care for them.
The world the Bible was written into didn’t have an NHS, indoor plumbing and central heating. There was no police force patrolling the streets and no guarantee that any of your friends would live beyond their teenage years. In fact their was no such thing as ‘teenage years’ no period of time in between childhood and adulthood, no time to prepare yourself for the world. The world was brutal and abrupt.
The ‘stars’ of scripture all knew what it felt like to be rejected by the world, hated by those closest to them and seemingly abandoned by the God they’d put their hope in. They knew what real hunger felt like, and vulnerability and homelessness and poverty. Theirs was not a world of comfort and warmth and wardrobes full of clothes and fridges packed with food. They wrestled with the same questions we do and they too looked at the world and tried to call its creator to account. They saw the victory of death and the rampant destruction in the world and they asked ‘is anyone in control of this?’
When we stare into the dark and our faith in a loving God seems nothing more than a fairy tale we need to know that we are in good company. The questions we ask and the issues we wrestle with have been asked and wrestled with by every person and every generation that’s ever lived.
Over the next few blogs I’m going to look at three people presented to us by scripture who each give a different answer to the pain of the world. The Bible isn’t full of formulas and it doesn’t pretend that the world is a fair place. Instead it documents the real lives of people who seek to follow God and remain faithful to the revelation of his nature even in spite of what appears to be evidence to the contrary.
The Bible presents a God who doesn’t stand apart from the pain of the world he cannot be accused of not knowing what life is like. Instead the Bible makes perhaps the most outrageous claim that’s ever been made by any religion or philosophy in the history of the world. God, we’re told, became a man. He became one of us. God dressed himself in humanity, with mortality, frailty and weakness. God climbed down, rolled up his sleeves and tackled the problem of pain head on. God went through death and came out the other side.
Seeing this doesn’t remove my pain but it does silence my accusations. Seeing Jesus die a shameful, bloody, gory death in order to identify with me and to see life through my eyes I realise that God cares. I have, we have, a God who understands and who offers to be with us as we walk through this world. This is so outrageous it might just be true.