Posts Tagged ‘Death’

Doug Wilson is a great pastor and Bible scholar. I deeply respect him, and have appreciated his teaching ever since I subscribed to Credenda Agenda back in 1997.

As a young(er) upstart from backwater of the Evangelical world, I am reluctant to call out prominent Christian leaders when I disagree with them; and it’s extremely unlikely that he will read this anyway. However I want to point out an error that he made recently, not to make myself out to be smarter than him, but because it touched a raw nerve of mine: the need to be consistent when doing exegesis, and to avoid at all costs having our use of Bible texts influenced by our own Creed or Agenda.

Doug’s article Until Someone Unsettles It, posted on Feb 2, is a defence of young earth, 6 day creationism. I’m not going to tackle him on the big issues of this debate, but simply pick up on a text he uses where he argues for universal death (ie. humans and animals) entering the world at the point of Adam’s sin:

First, the Bible teaches from beginning to end that the plan of salvation is intended to restore the entire created order. In Genesis, we were banished from Eden and the tree of life, and at the end of Revelation, the tree of life is there beckoning us, with leaves for the healing of the nations. And in that return to the Edenic state, God includes the creatures, which means that these creatures were included in the bliss we fell from. Why would they be restored with us if they didn’t fall with us?

“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, And the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: And dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord” (Is. 65:25).

Wilson uses Isaiah 65:25 to support the notion that animals will also be renewed in the new creation, with all their predatory and carnivorous instincts removed. So, he is reading this verse literally, using it as evidence that 1. animals will be in the new creation, 2. The way animals behave now in a fallen creation is a result of Adam’s sin that introduced death, and therefore 3. The scenario painted in this verse is what we will actually experience in the new creation.

Here’s where the problem comes in. This verse is plucked from a wider passage (17-24) in which God promises a new heavens and a new earth:

17 “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.

20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,and their descendants with them.24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-25 ESV)

We see that our verse in question is a part of a bigger portrait of peace, prosperity and joy that God is promising His people as the fruit of the redemption he will be accomplishing through the work of his Servant (Isaiah 53).

The big question is: Are we to take this as a literal, actual description of the new creation – what we as Christians will actually experience, or is it to be taken as an image, described in local, cultural terms, to give us an impression of the nature of God’s saving work that leads to the liberation of all creation?

See, if we are to take verse 25 literally, we need to be consistent and take the whole passage literally. That includes:

  •  Confining the new Creation to the city of Jerusalem, or at most to the Holy Land (if ‘Jerusalem’ represents the nation) (18,19)
  • Old men dying at 100 years (20)
  • Sinners who are cursed for living up to 100 years (20)
  • People still marrying and producing more children (23)
  • Snakes remaining under a curse (25)
  • A specific mountain (probably Zion) being holy in distinction from the rest of creation (25)

All of these things, we know, need to be read in light of the coming of Jesus and the fulfilment of God’s promises in Him, for the Church, who are the continuation of God’s chosen people. We know that in the New Creation there will be no more death, no curse, no sin, and no human marriage (with the implication of no procreation). We also know that all of creation will be renewed, not just a pocket surrounding geographical Jerusalem. In fact, the New Testament presents the ‘New Jerusalem’ not as a geographic or architectural structure, but as the community of God’s family among whom He dwells forever.

What does this mean for our interpretation of Isaiah 65:17-25? I believe it means we must read it in the second sense I described above: as an image, described in local, cultural terms, to give us an impression of the nature of God’s saving work that leads to the liberation of all creation.

I actually agree with Wilson that there will be animals in this new creation, and that they will be peaceable and not to be feared. I just think this is the wrong verse to substantiate this claim, because to do so requires us to then take the whole passage literally on things that the New Testament requires us to take figuratively.  To take it one step further and present it as evidence that there was no non-human death before the fall is digging the hole even deeper.

To be consistent, if we are to take verse 25 as an indication of the result of God’s renewal of creation on animals, then we must also take verse 20 as meaning that this renewal will result in us all living to 100 years and then dying. Which kinda contradicts his thesis (which I agree with wholeheartedly) that there will be no death.

What it comes down to is that Wilson has taken a text out of context to become a prooftext for his pretext; something that he, with his usual passion for biblical truth and integrity, would reject wholeheartedly.

 

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Ecclesiastes 3:16-19 

The presence of wickedness and injustice is an enigma if we do not know of the patiently seeking, sovereign Father. But if we do, we know that He is not ignoring injustice or compromising His own righteousness when the evil seem to go unpunished and injustice seems to triumph. Because the march of time is the outworking not of blind fate but of the patience of a seeking, saving God,  we can be sure that in the end, His justice will finally prevail. “I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked,” why? because, “…there is a time for every matter and for every work.” (Ecclesiastes 3:17) The Teacher is reminding us of the poem he gives us at the start of this chapter:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

Notice that in verse 1 the Teacher uses the term, ‘Under heaven’. This phrase is used only 3 times in Ecclesiastes, unlike ‘Under the Sun’ which occurs 25 times. ‘Under the Sun’ means looking at life from a purely horizontal level, as if there is nothing beyond the Sun. ‘Under heaven’ implies a greater vision; there is something beyond the Sun – or rather, Someone. Under heaven implies the vertical dimension; to live under heaven means to live with an awareness of God and His oversight of all things.

This adds a new dimension to our poem. What at first seems like a meaningless cycle is in fact a meaningful, purposeful cycle. Nothing happens without purpose, because there is a Person behind all that happens.

Paul says as much in his address to the Athenians, after declaring to them God’s sovereign hand over all people:

‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’ (Acts 17:30-31)

The absolute sovereignty of God is the only thing that enables us to be confident of this coming Day of justice.

It is in Jesus Christ we find that these two ‘dilemmas’ of the absolute sovereignty of God and the problem of evil are both answered in one action:

‘…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.’ Acts 20:23

All the times and events under heaven had been leading up to this time. This was a time of death, uprooting, killing, breaking down, mourning, hating, war, as the human heart and its hatred of God was exposed as we crucified His Son. It was a time of silence – not silence from the crowds who mocked, or from Jesus himself as he cried out, but silence from the Father as He gave no response to the cry, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’. It was the time when wickedness was truly in the place of justice and righteousness as the Righteous One hung in the place of the unrighteous ones and all the wickedness of the world was heaped upon him and judged. If there was any work for which there was just the right time, this was it.

And because this was the right work at just the right time under heaven, this also became the time for birth, planting, healing, building up, dancing, for loving and for peace, as God raised him up ‘loosing the pangs of death’. The poem of Ecclesiastes 3 is a perfect combination of positives and negatives, of matters of death and matters of life, but it points us to the even more perfect combination of death and life; the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Maybe this is why – even without realising the full implications of his words – the Teacher used the phrase ‘under heaven’ in introducing his poem. His certainty about the ‘definite plan and foreknowledge of God’ was pointing him forward in types and shadows to that moment which we now look back on with clarity and enables us to say, with Paul,

‘What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? …in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:31-32, 37-39)