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Posts Tagged ‘death’

I just received an e-mail from a friend of mine informing me that Todd MacDonald, a friend from seminary, passed away last week after battling cancer.  You can read his obituary here and see any other updates on his website.  This is obviously incredibly sad news for those of us who knew Todd.  For me personally it hit me because I had planned on e-mailing Todd this morning to see how he was doing.  Now I know.

I had highlighted Todd’s album, Pilgrims Here, a couple years back, and in that post I briefly mentioned the impact Todd had on my life.  I wanted to take a second and honor Todd again.

I e-mailed Todd way back in March of 2009.  I had been trying to find a way to contact him to tell him about how a random theological conversation at Brian’s (my coblogger) wedding had helped change my life.  While I was searching for contact info (on the internet) I discovered that he was battling cancer.  I’m grateful for the chance to tell him this before he passed away, and for the random e-mails we shared over the past 3 years.

This is a portion of the e-mail I sent him 3+ years ago:

Do you remember being at Brian Marchionni’s wedding a few years back (almost 5, now)?  You and I discussed theology for most of the reception, which was a pretty dorky thing to do.  But, you spent a lot of time convincing me of your reading of Romans 7, specifically that it doesn’t deal with a regenerate man but an unregenerate man.  Seems fairly innocuous, but it ended up being an important time of my life.

One thing that no one knew about me in seminary is that I struggled greatly with depression.  I felt hopeless in the face of it, and felt as if I could never overcome my sin that was largely responsible for my depression.  Basically, in my mind, in the battle between my flesh and the Spirit, I felt as if the flesh would always win.  But after our conversation, I went back and read the NT again to see what I thought about what you said.  It opened up a new world for me, one that actually had hope and I began to believe that sin actually was defeatable.

I’m not saying the change was overnight, but I can honestly say that our conversation that night was a major turning point for me in my battle with sin and depression.  It’s weird, seminary students have theological conversations on a daily basis, but only a small percentage actually make a difference.  This is one that has had a profound impact on me, and I’m grateful to you for your insight.  It truly changed my life.

I’m actually teaching on this tonight.  I’ve been telling people for years now that our conversation that night at Brian’s wedding changed my life, but about a month ago I realized that you probably had no idea; I had decided I needed to write you and tell you.  Soon after that, I found out you’re sick, and was heartbroken.  So, I’m writing to let you know how much I appreciate you and how thankful I am that God crossed our paths at just the right time.  Now that I’m on the “other side” of my depression battle, I can clearly see that you were an instrument in the hands of God, even without knowing it.  God truly is amazing!

Now that Todd has temporarily lost his battle with cancer, I reflect on that conversation (now almost 8 years ago) and can’t believe how far the Lord has brought me.  I don’t want to overstate things in the wake of his death.  Todd and I were not best friends.  He wouldn’t have put me on his short list of closest buddies.  That conversation was not the single most important event in my life.

But it would make the Top 10 major events in my adult life, truth be told.  It was a significant turning point, one, as I said, I frequently pointed to in my teachings about overcoming sin (even before I found out Todd was sick).  I know Todd was grateful that I let him know about this.  He even joked that he was probably fueled by pride in trying to convince me of his position (he didn’t even remember the conversation, as we probably had so many).  Whether or not that’s true, I’m grateful we talked.

So now we await the glorious future of Todd MacDonald.  I’m sad he’s passed, happy he’s not suffering now and excited that there is the hope of the resurrection to come.  Todd MacDonald will one day return, not in a cancer-ridden body, but one transformed into a glorious body like that of our Savior’s (Phil 3:21).  While I have no doubt his suffering was immense, and the suffering his family now endures is unquestionably heavy, I also know that those “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).  Amen and amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

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I read the following quote in Jim Hamilton’s book God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (a book I’m reviewing and have enjoyed thoroughly) during his discussion on the sentence of death in Genesis 3 (p78), and it got me thinking.

Adam, at the moment of his sin, brings death into the world.  Death is alienation from the life of God.  Death truly removes the couple from the freedom and innocence and lack of shame and fear that is found only in perfect obedience.  The moment they sin, Adam and Eve are removed from that realm of life, and in the opening of their eyes (3:7), they find themselves in the realm of death.  This spiritual reality is made a physical reality when they are banished from the garden of Eden (3:23-24).  But even here there is mercy: they will not have access to the tree of life, whereby they might live forever in a fallen state.  God gives the gift of physical death (3:22; 5:5).

I’ve italicized the sentences that give me the most trouble theologically.  This is not the first time I’ve encountered this viewpoint, but I’ve never been able to understand how one squares this with the biblical teaching on death.  Even within his own paragraph, Hamilton is holding two views that seem to me to be contradictory: death is both a judgment and a gift.  How can that be?

There are strong arguments against this view, besides the context of Genesis 3 and following.  Look at Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15.  There he refers to death as an enemy, in fact, the last enemy to be defeated when Chris himself returns (vv20-26).  Or how about these verses from Romans 5, where “gift” appears:

But the gift is not like the trespass.  For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: the judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Here, there is a true gift- grace, righteousness, life- that overthrows the sentence of death brought about by sin.  It seems odd to me that God would give a gift to overthrow a previously given gift.  If that’s the case, was the first “gift” really a gift at all?

Now, I understand the logic behind what Hamilton is saying.  The problem with it, however, is that he doesn’t (can’t?) back it up scripturally.  Death is never referred to as a gift, at least not that I’m aware of. It is an enemy that has been defeated in Jesus’ resurrection (see 1 Cor 15, previously quoted).  Death did, for a time, have reign, but that reign has been cast aside by the reign of life in Christ (Rom 5).  And its end is pictured so powerfully in Revelation 20:14, when death itself is thrown into the lake of fire.

So what do you think?  Is Hamilton drawing a valid inference from Gen 3:22?  Can death be a gift from God, as Hamilton asserts, and an enemy of God (as I’m sure he also believes)?

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On Easter Sunday, many pastors around this country will preach about new beginnings.  They’ll draw analogies with the coming of Spring; the budding flowers and chirping birds show us that life begins anew and we can start a new phase of life.  Christ’s resurrection will be spiritualized and said to be significant because it shows us that our lives can be refreshed.

And they’ll all miss the point.

You see, Easter Sunday is the time to deal with the ultimate problem of our existence: death.  Death is the great equalizer.  No matter who you are, rich or poor, strong or weak, you will face death.  Death is the one thing no one can avoid, no matter how many anti-aging creams you buy or how many vitamin supplements you take.  All these things accomplish is prolonging the inevitable.

Death, as we know from Romans 6:23, is intimately connected to sin.  In the same way, Easter Sunday is intimately connected to Good Friday.  You can’t have one without the other; they are inseparable.  Just as Christ died in our place and paid for our sins, Christ is our forerunner in His resurrection.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory over death.  Not in some sentimental sense, but in a hard reality.  In His death, Christ experienced the ultimate problem of humanity.  But death, like all other enemies before the Almighty God, is defeated.  Death has been our enemy since the time of Adam, but it is an enemy that has its days numbered.  “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man” (1 Cor 15:21).  To put it another way, Easter isn’t about new beginnings, it’s about victory.

Jesus’ resurrection points forward to the day when His people will also be raised from the dead.  We know that death is not the end of our story because it wasn’t the end of Christ’s story.  Death was, in a real and true sense, defeated on that first Easter Sunday.  And because death was defeated in Christ, all those who belong to Christ will participate in that victory, both now (see the beginning of Romans 6) and fully when He comes back.

So, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate Christ’s victory, but we also look forward in anticipation of the day when Christ returns and we will participate in the ultimate victory over death.  As Paul says, “The last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Cor 15:26).  Christ’s resurrection points towards the final resurrection, which means the restoration and redemption of what our sin has destroyed.  The final resurrection is the death of death.

Come soon, Lord Jesus.

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