A Pepper Grinder Post

The Final Enemy

Death, as we read in 1 Corinthians 15:26, is the final enemy. I've spent some time thinking about that enemy recently. About three months ago, my sister-in-law died from cancer. More recently, a friend from years ago also died. To top it off, my ninety-six-year-old father has been in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities recently.

My intention here is not to get you thinking in a gloomy way. But, part of what I want to point out is that I think our society has a problem with death. Time was that people were much more familiar with death. They had to be; there was nothing to insulate them from it. Now, it seems to me that we have wonderful ways to fight death and prolong life, but the downside is that so much effort is put into avoiding death that we don't know how to deal with it when it finally, inevitably takes someone away whom we love.

graveyardEven more concerning to me, though, is the attitude many Christians have about death and suffering. My wife read me something recently, written by a pastor who announced that saying something unfortunate (like a death we think is untimely) was "God's will" was just bad theology. If that is true, then Job had really lousy theology. What did Job do and say when, on one single day, every one of his children died, and all his possessions were taken away?

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:20-21 NIV)

I guess he should have said something like, "Well, you see, God gave us free will so we could freely choose him. Some people make bad choices, which explains the raiding parties that stole some of my livestock and killed some of my servants. As for the fire from heaven that killed the other animals, and the mighty wind that did in my kids, I guess that is the devil's work. I'm sure God never wanted any of these bad things to happen to me."

Now it is true that the book of Job presents Satan as being behind the calamities which struck Job. On the other hand, note that Satan could do nothing without God's permission. He was powerless to act against the will of God. (Job 1:12) If the all-powerful and all-knowing God explicitly allows Satan to attack someone, isn't he responsible?

You may think not, but if so, you are contradicting God's own express opinion. Here is what he says to Satan at their next meeting after the calamities of chapter one.

"Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason." (Job 2:3 NIV)

God says that HE ruined Job without any reason!

I will admit, this is a HUGE theological issue (it is part of the whole debate between the theological positions known as "Calvinism" and "Arminianism") and there are many passages throughout the Bible used by people on both sides to make their point. I am looking at one small passage. If you have questions about this, I would really encourage you to read the entire Bible with a completely open mind. Try to discard ideas you may already have about what God would or wouldn't do. Don't choose to just ignore passages you don't like. I think you may come away with a different view, as have many people, including my wife and (quite separately) me. I'd also invite you to write me and I can provide you with a large list of Bible passages provided by one of my Theology professors (assuming I can find it--I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have thrown it away). He had them divided into four categories:

  1. Passages Arminians like.
  2. Passages Calvinists like.
  3. Passages Arminians have trouble with.
  4. Passages Calvinists have trouble with.

You could look at all of those Bible verses (once again with an open mind and lack of presuppositions) and see where you end up.

However, this isn't really the main thing I wanted to say. I wanted to contrast how someone approaches death if he thinks God never wills bad things to happen with how someone with Job's point of view approaches it.

If you have stage four cancer, and you believe God never wills bad things to happen, it seems clear that the only conclusion is that God would not have wanted you to have that cancer. Either the Devil or our messed up world snuck in there, under cover of the leniency God provided so people would have free will, and gave you that cancer. The only thing to do, then, is to fight it. You can fight it medically, and you can pray for healing, but there is only one result which is a "good" result--becoming healthy again. If you die, the evil has won, and the good has lost. It seems to me that this position, in its earnest desire to protect God from being blamed for doing mean things, has made him into a very different type of ruler than that spoken of by the Bible. He's a nice guy, but kind of limited, even if he is limited by his own choice.

worshipThe other position (mine, if you hadn't guessed) holds that God is truly in control. We do make choices, and they do matter, but when someone is dying of cancer, he has a different type of attitude from what I mentioned above. He is still probably going to fight it*, as our friend did, but he knows that God's will may differ from his will. God may have chosen this cancer as the means to bring his life to an end. You might think this would lead to a gloomy fatalism, but I have not seen this in people like our friend. In the site where our friend and his wife were regularly posting about his battle with cancer, here are the final three sentences he posted before he left this life, only days later:

Nothing is outside God's sovereign design to make us more like Christ. (Rom. 8:29) If you pray anything for me, pray that I will work with this cancer to learn to hate sin more and love the Gospel, and love my Savior. Everything else is secondary to this good purpose God has for my life.

And, at the risk of being repetitious, here is the passage our friend's wife posted after his death, because she believed it was what he would have wanted her to share:

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:20-21 NIV)

When my time comes, those are the words I'd like to have on my lips.


*Though I also think it is legitimate for someone, especially in his later years, to come to the conclusion that God is calling him on to something better and NOT to do all the expensive and invasive medical things doctors recommend when battling a life-threatening illness.

**Photo Credits: worshiping man from .