Americans born after World War II, for most of that time, have experienced prosperity and medical progress hitherto unknown in human history. We have been led to expect that, given enough resources, medical science can conquer virtually anything. In an undated story (why do publishers do that?) Becky Little highlights four diseases about which we have largely forgotten because of vaccines: Smallpox, Polio, Rabies, and the Flu. To be sure, people do still die from the flu but, until Covid-19 we have not faced anything like the Spanish Flu, which killed approximately 675,000 people in the USA and 50 million people globally. To date the CDC reports 463, 659 deaths in the USA and 2.3 million deaths globally from Covid-19. Though the number of deaths in the USA might be beginning to approach the total number of deaths from the 1918 flu, globally the 1918 outbreak was much more deadly. Be that as it may, when we add to the effects of Covid-19 the aging of the American population, we are living through a time of great loss. Psychologically this sense of loss is intensified by social media and changes in the way the news is reported. The media generates revenue by clicks and so they report (market would be a more accurate verb) news from outside their local area with with headlines designed to get the reader to click, if not to read. The old newsroom maxim, “if it bleeds, it leads” was never so true. The media have embraced death and destruction as part of their business model so we are bombarded with reports of deaths from our own town and from places across the globe. Then there is social media, on which friends and acquaintances seem continuously to be reporting death and loss.
We grieve these reports and these losses, as we should, because death is not normal—at least it was not supposed to be. We were not created to die. We were created for endless fellowship with God. He put us a paradise, a garden, a temple. We were created in righteousness and true holiness. We were endowed with all needed to obey and to enter into blessedness. The Lord even instituted a sacrament of life, the tree of life, and a sacrament of death, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:15–17). We were authorized to eat from the one and forbidden from the other. Our first parents had fellowship with God even before the consummate state, which loomed before them. Their week was organized around the weekly Sabbath—remember this is beforethe fall and who knows how many years before the institution of the old, Mosaic covenant (Gen 2:2–3; Exod 20:8). The Sabbath was a picture of future blessedness and fellowship with God and with one another (Heb 4:9).
Spoiler alert: We did not obey God. At one point in our life in God’s paradise-temple we freely chose death and God kept his promise (Gen 3:6–7). Death entered the world (Gen 2:17; 3:19). We began to die and promised misery began to manifest itself everywhere, from food production to childbirth (e.g., Gen 4:8). There has been man-made attempts to overcome finitude and the fall (e.g., Gen 11:1–9), but those ended badly too. Eventually life became so horrible that the Lord, as it were, started it over. He destroyed “the world that then was” (2 Pet 3:6).
Death is normal for a fallen, corrupted world. The marvels of modernity have given us the illusion that we can, through will and technology, conquer the consequences of sin but it is just an illusion. The holograms that Hollywood is about to produce, bringing back your favorite entertainers from yesteryear is just an illusion. Elvis is still dead and so shall we all die, no matter how successful the Covid-19 vaccines may be, should the Lord Jesus tarry, we too shall die.
We are not exactly living through “The Great Mortality” of the 14th century, when a third of the world’s population died of the plague. Now that was a time of great loss. We are not even seeing the sort of suffering and death that the world experienced during World Wars I and II. We forget about the 100 million people murdered by the totalitarian Communist regimes in the 20th century alone. On reflection, we should not deny the very real medical progress made in the 20th century and we should be hopeful for the good the Covid-19 vaccines and therapeutics may do, but we should also look at the big picture. Death remains. We are going through a time of significant loss both by objective measure and subjectively, emotionally and psychologically. We are alienated from one another by isolation and by a culture war that sets neighbor against neighbor and splits families down the middle.
There is hope. There is good news. The Lord offered eternal fellowship to us before the fall. The original condition was obedience to the law of God: love God with all our faculties and our neighbor as ourselves. After the fall, the Lord graciously renewed the offer of eternal fellowship but on a different condition. The original terms were still in force. Just as our representative had failed so we needed a representative to succeed, to obey, to enter into blessedness. He promised that he would send the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45; Gen 3:15). According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus, the Last Adam (Rom 5:12–21) came as our representative and did for us what we originally refused to do for ourselves and we are incapable, after the fall, of doing: he obeyed. He suffered the penalty of our disobedience: death. He did it for us. He bore the punishment, the outpouring of just, divine wrath for us. He turned away that wrath from us. The condition, or better, the instrument by which we benefit from Christ and his obedience is faith. When we trust him we receive him and all that he earned for us. That is the good news. Now, for those united to Christ by the Spirit, through faith, our death is not a payment for sin but only the end to sin and entering into eternal life. The process of dying is miserable but the promised eternal life is wonderful beyond words. This is not pie in the sky by and by. This is the very communion with God promised in the beginning. Jesus has earned it for us and he gives it freely to needy sinners, to all who trust him. We were made for communion with God. It is our greatest need and it should be our deepest longing. That we are so often unaware of that great need is a testament to the effects of sin on our heart, minds, and wills.
If you are reading this and you have not yet trusted Christ, death is coming for you and apart from Christ you shall face it all alone. Outside of Christ there is only judgment, wrath, and hell. You may have heard that hell is the absence of God. That is not true. Hell is being in the presence of the unmediated, endless, righteousness judgment of God. Run to Jesus. Confess your sins and your need. He will receive you. You may trust him utterly. He alone is completely faithful. He lives, he hears, and he answers the earnest prayers of needy sinners. It is not too late but our time of great loss is a warning. Do not trifle with God. Listen to Noah, who warned the world that was. Listen to Moses, who warned Pharaoh. Listen to Jesus: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be vindicated, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:36–37). The number of times our Lord Jesus warned us about the coming judgment is truly impressive. He knew because he not only had to face the judgment for all his people but it shall be he who conducts the final judgment (Rev 20:11–15). If you are in Christ, i.e., united to him by the Spirit through faith alone, your name is in the Lamb’s book of life and eternal fellowship shall be yours. Respect death. Mortify your sins. Grieve and mourn the loss of life but rest in the promise that the end belongs to him who walked in the garden with our first parents, in whose image we are being re-created.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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