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The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation

A Grave Perspective

Udo W. Middelmann

A hairline crack in metal may suddenly widen under stress and become a tear. A seemingly smooth surface breaks apart. What was a constant, yet distant possibility of a danger becomes a dramatic incidence. Our knowledge about death is like that. Forever present-to-be at some time in the future, it stays in the background until the day a person dies, and death's power strikes with finality. What was a kind of abstract knowledge suddenly becomes a dramatic experience. A gully is opened and sorrow, regret, pain and protest gush out.

Death hits home. In fact, the home its hits is never the same again. Death severs all that is familiar and trusted. It presents us with a violation of all we have struggled to accomplish. Continuity of established relationships, unfinished conversations and the flow of life have come to a sudden halt.

How we relate to death tells us much about our ideas, values and our place in life. Our views and attitudes find expression in customs and words. We mark the place of the dead and set it aside in one way or another. That may take the form of many rows of identical markers near battle fields to a lone bunch of flowers by the side of a highway. Sometimes it is a low wall in the corner of a field in New England. We mark it with a stone against the ravages of wind, weather and wilderness. And the day of the burial we frame with words and tears.

Whatever we do at such times expresses what we believe about this incision into life, this loss and disruption of relationships. The more we valued the whole, the more we grieve to be left with only the broken parts. Grief is a statement of protest more than a social convention. Faced with a seemingly inevitable situation, we revolt. We stretch and reach out beyond death for memories of the time when things were whole, and describe our hope by the way we look ahead.

When we find remains of human habitation, we look for and most often discover evidences of what they believed about life and death. Remarkably, human being saw themselves always as something more than a piece of nature. A museum in Gorno-Altajsk, the regional center of perhaps 60'000 inhabitants at the intersection of China, Mongolia, Russia and India, houses some early graves of men from Altay. Bones of a man and a woman, their weapons and utensils, a few pots and remains of food are exhibited in much the same way they were found. You will recognize similar arrangements from graves in Europe, Africa and North America.

Carved wooden statues in West Africa, tools of stone, bone and skin in Siberia, painted bone in Alaska or cave drawings in Southern France speak beyond our own death into the following generations of the significance of having been here as human beings. We are more than just part of natural cycles. We shape our lives in nature. That shape survives in some form through our actions, which reveal our view of our significance.

Burial customs often show how man objects to the finality of death. Through graves, ceremonies and artifacts we prolong our message and state our objections to the silence caused by death. While death is inevitable, man does not just resign himself to it. Our customs transcend and oppose death. We mark the place of death with elaborate structures of pyramids or vaults. We mark the place of a grave with a name. The human being is not like a drop of water that enters the sea and causes no ripple. Instead, we make life last even beyond death by means of references to the life, thought and personality of the dead.

In Jewish and Christian thought all human beings struggle to defy death. It is justified on the background of the account of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Death is a result of that distant and many more immediate sins, the consequence of living in a broken and unnatural world. It is not a part of an eternal natural cycle of birth and death. It is seen as an enemy. Death is neither a friend nor our fate. It is not welcome, but a cause for grief and protest.

Death is not a statistical routine or necessity. While as many people die as are born, the numbers are tilted against life, when you include the aborted. For then actually more die than are born. The sin of Adam and Eve and the foolish and inhuman choices in subsequent history are the cause of death in a broken world. In either case, death is not seen as normal to life, but as its contradiction. The struggle against death in any of its manifestations is the consequence of such a view. In divers fields as the call to work, to have dominion over nature, or in medicine and working for better social government, the rejection of death is the motivation and death's horror the justification.

The command to have children and the perspective to continue the battle into future generations are partially based on this view. For that reason the woman is called Eve, for "she would be the mother of all the living" (Gen 3:20). Human life is the purpose of our creation. We are not merely passing through life to death. A recreated, resurrected life is the hope the Bible speaks about. No-one ceases to exist, but continues forever. We were made in physical bodies, and the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ promises us new physical life. Eternal life is the norm, not a dream. After death we shall be given a new life in a material body. We are raised by the same Spirit that also raised Jesus from the dead. In this sense alone will we have a spiritual body. It is no less material than the one Jesus had, when he invited his disciples to a real breakfast after his resurrection (Jn 18:12). We will sit at the marriage supper of the Lamb and drink of the fruit of the vine.

But until then all of life now is marked by the fall. This is of central importance in our understanding of both the Bible and of our attitudes and practices in relation to real life. What appears to be normal is in fact abnormal. All of life is judged from an outside vantage point of God's word. That word opens to us the perspective of the Creator and Redeemer. Without it we would only have a collection of human observations. Left to ourselves, our attempt to cope with difficult situations by means of religious concepts or forms would not provide real answers or firm expectations. The Bible gives us the bigger picture. We have an explanation of how we got to the present abnormal situation. We also have a reason to expect a day, when the present will be changed by a restoration of the kind of world God had in mind when he created life ( I. Corinthians 15). This broader perspective sheds much light on the centrality of Christ's resurrection. Without it there is no salvation and we are still in our sins ( I Cor 15:17). The work of the Son of God is not finished in dying on the cross for our sins. That is sufficient for the legal problem of guilt and the need for forgiveness. It gives evidence of his love. But it would be useless to us, since the problem is both guilt and death after the Fall. The resurrection speaks of the additional work of God in restoring a broken world. Death, the last enemy, shall then be conquered, when the dead in Christ shall rise and shall receive a new body to live for ever in the body.

The hope of the resurrection is found in the Old and New Testaments. The Psalmist speaks of the uselessness to God of people who die and can no longer praise God. Job expects a day when he shall see the Lord in his body (19:25-27). Daniel is deeply troubled by the days ahead in history. He shall be in the grave waiting for his resurrection at the end of days to receive his allotted inheritance (12:13). At the end of this troubled history of life after the Fall shall come the time when we shall be like Jesus and shall see the Lord face to face. The Jews shall see him whom they have pierced (Zech 12:10).

This expectation of a repaired creation is central to a Biblical view of things. It colors the way we see the real world and our lives in it. It justifies every effort to resist death now. When we die, it justifies our refusal to deny its finality. Death does not shape us, hold us or determine our response. Death is tragic, an obscenity, a horrible consequence of sin working into the real world.

Our whole Western culture is characterized by this view of life, in which death is abnormal, an enemy. We do not see death as our destiny, as fate or as the will of God. We are meant to live. There is no right time to die. The time of our death is not appointed to us, only the fact that we shall die as a consequence of Adam's sin (Heb. 9:27). It is the reason for Jesus' own death. From the first sin of Adam, death, not guilt or responsibility, was passed to all men (Romans 5:12), who have since all died in one way or another. We are not guilty from conception on, but marked by sin and the reality of death.

Such a view is distinct from a far more common perspective, which borrows from the Greeks and denies the Scripture. In Eastern religions, but also in Eastern Christianity the goal in life is to become something other than a physical person. Watchman Lee also had such a distorted view of life. Here, the basic problem for man is that he is too physical. He should become more spiritual. This spirituality stands in contrast to materiality, to rationality and to a purposeful and good life in the body on earth. Biblical spirituality, by contrast, has something to do with changing our knowledge, our spirit and our goals according to the purposes of God, who tells us about them by his Spirit ( I. Corinthians 2:6ff).

Plato saw the real and lasting things to be elsewhere. Life on earth is only a reflection, something passing. The Bible, in contrast, affirms creation and places the problem of man into the moral realm. We have believed something that is not true. We are morally in need of forgiveness. We are not in need of becoming less human in our created form. The change is not a transformation from man to spirit, but from sinful to righteous, from bad to good. The physical creation in Gen. 1 was good, when God looked at it.

Therefore, the Christian's calling is to work in small increments for the good, which God will restore in full at the coming of Christ. That good is expressed by a thoughtful, informed involvement in the historic challenges in an effort to stand against evil in any form. It is wrong to call a broken world good or to call spiritual any abstention from the real challenges of material life.

Human effort results from a fundamental understanding of an obligation to act from a perspective of life against what is statistically normal: death. If death interferes against life, we resist and repel it as long as we can. Human beings are meant to live for ever in their created form. We are not spirits, imprisoned in our body for a time and waiting to be liberated. There is no reason to disregard or devalue the human body, the material world around us. For the Bible tells us that we were made to be human beings with bodies and souls. There is no disembodied spirit nor soul-less body in the image of God. Even "the souls of those slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained" (Rev 6:9 ff) ask, how long it will be until there will be judgment. They are told to wait a little longer. At judgment they will then receive new bodies and righteousness will extend again throughout creation.

Death in any form, so diversely illustrated in Genesis 3, is always an enemy, never a friend. Its rule, finality, horror must be resisted, its tear acknowledged and its results in our lives resisted and refuted.

Jesus not only wept at the tomb of Lazarus, (John 11:35). He was also furious in a gut-level reaction of anger ( vs. 33) about such a horror in the world, which His Father had declared good at creation. By his resurrection he removes the sting of death and makes very clear what will happen after death. To the repenting thief on the cross he announces that he shall be in paradise with Him that same day (Lk 23:42). Paul speaks of being clothed with a heavenly dwelling (2 Cor. 5:4) after death. But still, that same Paul speaks of death as an enemy. While there is no reason for a fear of death for the Christian, since there is a real and conscious continuity, we really grieve, yet not as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4: 13).

Both grief and comfort should find expression in our attitudes and life. Grief because of the separation and discontinuity with valuable human existence here and now. Comfort, because death has no victory. It is not final, it can not terminate what a human person has begun in relationships, efforts and work. They will follow him.

Such grief and comfort are expressed in the Bible. Christians and Jews do not see death as a solution, a release, a spiritual advantage or a tragedy to teach us lessons about the transience of life. Death is not a reminder to be free from attachments in our lives. Our views and understanding are shaped by the information we receive from the Bible. There is no attempt so sweeten death in any way. There is cause to wail, complain, to rethink how we should therefore live. There is encouragement to find ways to resist death, to heal and comfort. There is nothing good in death itself. Happy is the generation that will be alive at the coming of the Lord. For they will be changed without having to die first!

When you take a walk across grave yards or cemeteries you will find both this grief and hope expressed The tomb stones are a silent letter of protest and comfort. They are statements against oblivion. Many of the graves of people who died two hundred years ago will clearly state, with a quotation from the Bible, the idea of the "valley of death" now and the certain expectation of the finished work of Christ in the resurrection from the dead.

Newspapers announcements of that time included a reference to both sorrow and hope, realistically reflecting the range of responses from frustration to expectation.

More recently, grave stones will describe the quality of life, the example given by the deceased and the human love missed, the work admired. At times you will find only the dates of birth and death: mathematically precise, clinically clean. They were born as a baby and their coffins were sealed. A new form of unemotional matter-of-fact statements.

In Switzerland one will find comments like "Le travail fut sa vie" (His work was his life). The stones show the work of a carpenter, a mason or a smith, a mountain guide or a mother. In Marxist countries monuments will show the work of the deceased and, following the tradition of personality cults, will add a picture of the person with all decorations. In Germany, few notices since the war have Biblical quotes. This century is marked by the absence of God. Much more often you will find quotes from Goethe, Holderlin, Rilke or Nietzsche. More recently, sayings from Buddha or the Hindu texts will be cited.

This indicates a remarkable shift in the horizon of grief and hope. Both are reduced, only privately held, not admitted. Death has become a normal part of life. Perhaps this is the result of longer lives and exhausted attachments. As an adult, you have had your turn. Now move over and cede the place to the younger ones in the cycles of life. The Bible has been made irrelevant for our understanding of life and history. Its comfort is reduced to improving personal feeling. Its message is spiritual in a perverted way. It no longer remembers the tragedy of life now and a future hope. People see themselves differently, as part of the flow of things. We no longer grieve the absence of a real person. It has become spiritual to accept what has happened.

A vastly shorter life expectancy and far greater immediate hardships in the past sought the promises of the Bible. Life was more treasured and the injustice of death was more fully felt and rejected. Life was more fragile, and the Bible's condemnation of death and the promise of the resurrection were more precious. Certainly, that thinking influenced the effort to develop medical care, food supplies and public safety in an effort to combat death. The question of life and death was seen in relation to concrete threats. Ways to protest and to seek remedies were not just pursuits of personal success, progress and fame.

Even among Christians a new perspective has crept in. It represents a shift from a concern about life in the real world so rudely interrupted by death to an effort to deny the pain by means of acceptance. It is considered un-spiritual to object, to question and to complain about the evil of death. Instead, perhaps in a parallel move to the naturalist view of the inevitability of death, many Christians now hold the view that death is the will of God. It should not be resisted. It is inevitable, deserved, permitted by God and to be accepted as his choice for me. Therefore, it is always the right time to die.

The remaining questions about such a painful thought are answered in what is dressed up as a spiritual purpose. When uncle Jack becomes a believer on the basis of the funeral sermon, the death had value!. Secondary results give merit to an obscenity! When God's ways are higher in this manner, he gets landed with immoralities!

The message at a recent funeral of a relative is in many ways typical. A girl had died after struggling under her physical handicap for twelve years, supported by the intense, warm and loving care of her parents. The pastor spoke about the plan of God for each life. God does not make mistakes. He had given that child to her parents to teach them things, which they had learnt. Now it was time to call her back to himself. In his sovereignty he had permitted the handicap. Now he had decided on her death. This was good. We were all the richer for it. End of sermon. What an insult to the God of the Bible!

There was no word of grief, no admission that death stinks and is not part of the plan of God. It had all gone according to plan. Even the handicap of the child was a part of it, since God does not make mistakes. The lessons learnt by the parents had required the child to be burdened, to have lived a life of struggle and pain. The comfort comes from the belief in a plan of an inscrutable God, who makes no mistakes and teaches us spiritual lessons.

There are astonishing series of flaws in that reasoning which lead to sickening conclusions. The whole span of the Bible's teaching and example collapses as unnecessary. For if God makes no mistakes and if all that happens is the will of God, grief becomes merely a personal matter. It is resistance to the will of God. Grief is failing to see that it was all good. To oppose death is an expression of doubt about the ‘plan of God.' Human history then does not take place in a fallen world, but in God's plan. There is then no room for the word "tragedy" and no reason to argue with God about history. Yet more seriously: What kind of a God would give a family a handicapped child to begin with for any length of time to teach them something? What precisely was the lesson learnt? Earlier Christians would learn to protest, to discover ways of healing, to improve life. But these parents learnt to resign themselves to the plan of God. Happily they had not headed that teaching in their attention and care for their child.

How much love, respect and pity does God have for the child to make use of her, exposing her to the agony of her life, her struggles and frustrations to teach the parents? After years of building relationships, lessons learnt and effort expended, God takes the child away again so soon? At any time? What comfort is it to know that you have learnt your lessons? Should you perhaps have been a worse student to have the child longer? Wasn't it good that you did not learn quickly, for at least that way you had twelve years together. Anyway, what kind of God would be pleased with such a world, such a set-up? Why did God not call Hitler back to himself sooner? What were we to learn for spiritual growth from that experience?

This is no longer the view of the Bible. Yet it is a widely accepted view among Christians today. They pick and choose verses from the quarry of favorite texts, combine them with an unreflected theology and carry them into the world of their pious imagination, not into the real world of human pain. That theory has little relation to Jesus' life and work. Such inhuman pieties easily become what must appear to be a blasphemy of the God of the Bible.

Nowhere do we find such teaching from the mouth of Jesus. He never comforts the sick in this fashion. This view reflects a fatalistic piety in contradiction to historic Christianity. The understanding of God, of creation, of the Fall, of the purpose of life, of the use of the mind are all altered by such views. It is hard to recognize Christianity with its vitality, moral outrage and energy in this view. Like a spider weaves its web, a world of ideas and verses and pieties is spun together that appeals to many. It covers the pain, the questions, the anguish and the loss with such smooth words that only a few might notice how the spider then sucks the life out of victim.

That life was once characterized by an enjoyment of the God of Creation. It led to renewed effort, imagination, creativity, courage to find ways to stop sin and to defy death. It made Christians stand out of the chorus of people caught in fate, nature, traditions, and religions that teach acceptance of and resignation to the status quo, the normality of events, to the will of gods.

It astounds me how easily such a view could take hold among us. For it closes the circle of human experiences in such a way that whatever comes to pass is approved in a spirituality characterized by submission and humility, not by discernment. What was typical of Platonic thinking, Gnostic denial of the value of matter and Islamic thought has now also surfaced under the Christian label. What distinguished a Biblical view of things and gave dignity to man, a purpose to life, has been smoothed over. It is covered with the sands of fate and the vocabulary of spiritual non-speak..

Beyond this, it also denies that there is a fundamental justice to the world. The teaching of death as a result of sin has been denied. It is now the result of the will of some god, who plays with our creativity. Where we make life in our children, he takes it away. Where he made human being to live lawfully, he is credited for being inscrutable, beyond law, and arbitrary. Where we long to find restoration and righteousness, he desires to teach us a mindless resignation, to have us experience abstinence from emotions and grief.

Of course, in many cases such teaching is more a reflection of the mindset of our culture dressed in Christian religious language. They speak of the return to nature, we to God. They speak of the life we have as a natural event, we of the life God gave us. They speak of the normality of it, we see as the will of God.

Such teaching is perhaps an attempt to assuage the painfulness of death, its horror and abnormality. Comfort is given in admonitions to perceive it differently. Many dare not protest about death and disease for fear that this might sound like a complaint against God. They fail to see that God himself grieves over what men have done to his creation by sin in the first place. The Bible's comfort is grounded in the expected resurrection, when the Messiah and his people will once again walk down the street together.

Only the Bible lets you conclude that God is good and creation is flawed, shattered and broken. Other attempts to deal with the problem of death and suffering must either deny the goodness of God or his existence or the real evil which exists in the world. The Bible alone lets God remain moral, not the author of very real evil. God and I can and must grieve, protest, judge and restore what sin destroys.

The hairline crack of death in our lives must be attacked and mended. Neglected, it will tear out our compassion, effort and our soul. We do not take death lying down, no matter how spiritual that seems. At the end of the battle we are to be found still standing. From the vantage point of God's word we stand and look for the day of justice and the resurrection.

prophet." It even unites all religions by absorption, with its idea that Jesus was an earlier prophet, now superseded by Mohammed. Islam denies the Trinity, because there is no room for real personal existence, for discussion before and after creation. There are no loose ends, no reality of prayer effecting anything in God. Moses, had he been a Muslim, could not have interceded for the people. Therefore, there is also no Savior and no compassion. Job would have had to be satisfied with his pious, but immoral friends. Allah is therefore never described as weeping over Mecca, while Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. Jesus reaches out and touches the sick, He delivers those in the hands of demons. He lets the rich man go away, but still loves him. He stilled the waves on the Sea of Galilee. The Church took its cue and obligation from this distance between God and nature, His holiness and the fallen world. She stood up to what is seen as fate, sin and a fallen nature to improve the intellectual, spiritual and practical life of Man.

This is made possible, because in the Bible God is not identified with what happens naturally or statistically. We must therefore argue with reality before God. Wisdom is not drawn from nature, but from revelation rightly understood. There are false and true prophets, good and bad priests, just and unjust judges. Discussion leads to discovery to make wise and moral decisions.

The appeal of Islam lies in the call for an uncritical submission to whatever comes to pass. Each thing and event has its divinely appointed time and place. The group acts communally. All doubt is removed, all discussion silenced, all loose ends tied up. It is a way to approve of what happens, to seal the box of doubt and query. There is something deeply satisfying in such a world. We learn to take one thing at a time, while being able to approve it without reservation. Where our doubt crop up, we remove them with the belief in our finiteness, our ignorance and God's superior wisdom. 2) Harmony in Theology

When life gets tough, we have all heard here and there in Christian circles one or the other of the following comments: It was the right time for her to die. God must have had something better in mind. God in his grace took him home to himself. God allowed it to happen. He made it come to pass. God must have wanted it that way.

Wait a minute! Are these comments typical for Islam or do we hear and read them in wide circles of the contemporary church? They have a ring of familiarity about them. They are the comments made in the face of what we used to consider tragedies. People comfort each other by these words!

To the extend to which we agree with these statements and find them a comfort, we have ourselves moved over from a Biblical perspective to an Islamic one. The change can be gradual and insidious, but we have redefined God for the sake of our peace, our longing to make life in a fallen world less absurd existentially. We have found a way to make the experience of brokenness acceptable: we assume that it was acceptable to God.

Worse, we have redefined God. He now becomes the one who authors good and evil. We declare our inability to understand, then turn around and suggest that he must have thought it to be good. We are no longer partners of a God who is a war with a fallen world, who grieves over death and who has pity and compassion for people caught in a horrible situation after the fall. That God has been banished by us.

We may not have noticed this subtle, but radical change in our thinking. It leads finally to immoral consequences. If Islam considers doubt and questions a blasphemy, it is equally blasphemous for Christians to stop the complaint about death in its many forms and to assume that God identifies with everything that happens. Many have in fact become friends of the friends of Job. They overlook that much on earth is not right. It is even absurd. There is a war going on in heaven, with consequences in the life of Job and each believer. Life in war is a mess, and the just suffer without cause.

The will of the Lord is precisely not yet being done on earth in the same way it is already being done in heaven. The Lord's prayer encourages us to pray for a future time when there will be no such discontinuity. In the world today it is very real and painful. There is no tidy world in the Bible. We are not allowed to bow to fateful circumstances, but to question them and to resist them, where that is morally demanded. Even Joseph did not resign himself to being sold to Egypt. Though God would turn to good what his brothers had meant for evil, Joseph rightly asks the steward to remember him before Pharaoh, lest be left to rot in prison alone. The cause of the tragedy was not the will of the Lord.

The view that God wills all things on earth is often the result of a genuine search for spirituality. We want to obey, to believe correctly and to give God the glory. Trouble is that this is the wrong way to go about it. Obedience is not blind, but informed. Faith is believing certain things about God and the world, informed by Scripture. The glory of God is identified with his holy character, a distinct, moral and resolute personality, who fights evil, death and confusion.

Spirituality is not the opposite of thoughtfulness. It is not an embrace of alternate categories and priorities. Spirituality is not irrationality. It is also not an antithesis to material concerns. Spirituality in the Bible is the response with our sprit to what God's Spirit has told us in the Scriptures (I. Corinthians 2:6 ff)and confirms to us by His presence. We are filled with the Spirit, when we have more, not less discernment (Eph. 5:18). The Spirit of God will lead us into truth, not away from it. He will make us more sensitive to wrong as we read his word and compare it with the reality of life. This includes wrong ideas about God. He will remind us of what He, the Spirit, has revealed through the prophets and apostles (2. Peter 1:19ff).

Christ was grieved, deeply moved in the Spirit(John 11:33)to weep, to be troubled about such a hideous reality as death in his created world after the fall of Adam. To be spiritual then involves the courage to oppose the results of the Fall and to complain to God, not against him. You will show your submission to Him in your refusal to accept the outworking of man's rebellion in reality as final , inevitable and good. God's world is spoiled. History is not holy, normal or approved. God is at war against it, and He will win.

There is no way to make peace with normality in a fallen world. The church has brought forth through its teaching doctors, judges, teachers, soldiers, journalists and others, who dare to stand against the silence of nature, of the normal. They make no trouble except to those who want to have a quiet public in silent resignation. Justice is our concern, not peace at any price. There is a warning against those who call :Peace, Peace, when there is no peace! in a number of setting in the Old Testament. The temptation is great to find a way to approve of what happens. Were one to do so, one would embrace a closed, sealed and finished situation. None of us likes an unresolved situation. But life in the fallen world will remain unresolved until Christ returns. Only then will there be everlasting righteousness.

We want to have a program that would explain to us why things happen. It is easy to find a mechanical explanation for mechanical problems. Open the operating manuals of any machine and you find the solution to the problem. We want something or someone to be responsible. Little wonder that we would like to find a similar manual to explain human tragedies and to resolve them.

It is more than sad that we make God be the author of that program. We assume He approved the events. We readily accept the version that He allows it to happen. He could have stopped it, but didn't. Therefore, though we do not understand, it must have been right. For a higher purpose, inaccessible to us, rooted in the inscrutable counsel of his holy will, he has determined that... the child should die and Hitler should live a little longer with his program of genocide.

We cringe, but are told to accept it in deep humility. We don't understand, but must see it spiritually. We argue with it, but are told that we are face to face with a mystery! We are told that is all part of the sovereignty of God, as if that left no questions unanswered. The Bible demands that we reject this submission to tragedy. There should be no insidious acceptance of Islamic thought by way of resignation. This line of thinking identifies God with whatever comes to pass. Yet the God of the Bible is removed from what comes to pass in two ways.

First, God created a universe outside himself. He is not in it and does not identify with it. When he made it, it was good. It was an unfinished world. Adam was to name the animals and to have dominion over it. He could and would arrange things differently. Apple trees would have apples. People would have children. But much was left to the creative work of men and women. Therefore to discover the way of nature and to find ways to change it is part of the original creation and not an act of rebellion. Secondly, that good creation has been affected by the sin of man. It is no longer good, but broken. It is not in all its parts the reflection of the character of God. Consequently we must ask God to what extend he agrees with the way things are now. What should we do about life in a fallen world? What is He willing to invest anew? Does He approve the ways of history?

Certainly the Bible reveals a God, who does not have other gods beside or behind himself. There is noone else to call the shots or to whom God needs to bow. He will accomplish fully what He has planned. He will do this in His own way. All details are known by Him. He is intimately, personally and directly involved in the whole process. He is not surprised by anything that happens. He knows the end from the beginning.

But, and this is an important "but", God's sovereignty in no way implies a functional control. There are events which occur without God's hand the only one at the tiller. Our prayer can effect a change. At no time is God's sovereignty limited by free moral agents. But His ways are effected. Prayer, like anything else, changes things no only for us, but also for God. In the same way, our actions change all of history.

Sovereignty does not suggest that God can do all things at all times, only He chooses not to. Some things are impossible even for God. His infinity is not a characteristic, but a measure of his personality and existence. His love or justice will never come to an end. But He can not lie, and still continue to be God. He is able to direct all things, but will not be able to bring the resurrection until the return of Christ. His sovereignty does not imply that He could do all things by tonight. But He will be able to do all things in time, as He continues to work on our behalf and His.

Some things He can do now, others later. He could raise Lazarus from the dead, but He could not give him a resurrection body yet. He can not yet create a world in which 5 year-old do not get run over by a truck. We wait for the return of the Lord. Until then we weep, but not as those who have no hope or those, who doubt the sovereignty of God. We test all things and accept only what is good. We oppose evil with concrete measures, without opposing God or defying His will.

Sovereignty is not a control mechanism. The Bible speaks of God being accountable to no one. He is able to bring about what he has planned. He is the victory over sin and death. But the Bible does not leave a doubt about the agony, the effort , the tears of God in the midst of the battle to bring that about in the end. There is a prince of this world in the meantime. He has real choices, as do we. He is not yet bound as he will be at the end.

We do God no honor, when we deny the tragedy of the human existence in this world. He considers much of our life that and more. We are bound to the results of sin from the past. We live in the world partially also shaped by Adam's choices. Why do we deny it, or at least belittle it by our approval? It is a false comfort to make God responsible for what happens. He is the real comfort as the one, who will correct, not merely add to, the fallen world with the resurrection.

I suggest that the reason why many like to identify God with what is happening in their life is a fear of a loss of control. They make themselves believe something, for they do not like anymore than anyone else the unfinished situation found in a fallen world. Consequently they advocate the control of God over the events in history, but abandon God to immorality. He becomes the author of whatsoever comes to pass. At least He allows what, in their eyes, He could prevent, if only he chose to. But since it happens, He must have decided not to want to help...even though He could have.

We abandon the basis for much personal and social effort in the fight against sickness, death, injustice and fate, when we submit to an idea about God wanting every situation we experience. Perhaps the diminishing interference, the guilt about real grief or the lack of passion in general in the face of any evil by sections of the evangelical church in the course of normal, but tragic events of human life explains that in their heart and mind they have become Muslims. When all events are the will of God, the only remaining effort is to make people believe that.

Perhaps that is the explanation why so much of the church focuses on personal faith and private spirituality, following some discipleship program for personal growth. The weighty issue of making a statement by our words and life for the existence of a God at war with a fallen world is easily neglected. If the solution is sought to find a way to accept the status quo or to embrace normality, the focus will be on psychology and meeting personal needs.

If our focus is on being disciples, we will declare the existence and character of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came in the flesh to oppose evil, dispair, false teaching and death itself. The freedom of the children of God is not one found in indifference to the reality of a broken world. It is rather the freedom to stand up and to enter the battle with spiritual armor, and to be found standing.

The world does not need one more way to teach resignation in life and death. Christ did not model for us a way of accepting death. Healing comes when we recognize the difference and exhibit God's moral stand for life against death

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