In a previous post, I wrote about the Christian concept of God as the eternal source of all being, and later I wrote about our Christian idea of God as a creator who loves His creatures and who enters into relationship with us. It might be a little startling to think of God that way but it is also very appealing. In fact, looking at the beautiful world in which we live, when the sun is shining and flowers are in bloom and butterflies flit around, the soul wants to believe that all this is an expression of love, and respond in gratitude, saying ” Yes, God gave us this beautiful world, how much He must love us!”
Yet the sunshine and the flowers don’t last forever. In a few hours the sun drops behind the earth and darkness covers the planet. After a while, the winter comes, the flowers whither, the butterflies die, and it is easy to feel a certain creeping sense of depression or despair. “All good things must come to an end,” we say as philosophically as we can, and yet somehow we feel cheated that beauty is fleeting. However, as we get older, we sense a certain pattern to the world that helps us overcome that sense of unhappiness and gloom. The pattern is precisely the surprising truth that, despite the presence of darkness and cold, life emerges once again.
The sunset doesn’t bother us so much because the darkness is not forever, and we firmly believe the sun will rise. The winter, cold and bitter as it might be, is not able to destroy the flowers and the butterflies because of the miracle of life, which hides in the roots of plants and in tiny seeds, waiting to emerge once the ice and snow has retreated. I remember being amazed that, after a devastating forest fire, little shoots and trees could begin to grow right in the burned-out forest. Here we sense a deeper truth, and in the world itself we discover a kind of promise that death is not the end. We can begin to believe that despite the struggles, the creator of the world must be someone good and clever, who loves life and loves beauty and has arranged it in such a way that life quietly perseveres no matter the obstacles. This, which we learn as children, is how we can believe that this world was made by a God who loves life.
Yet as we grow up, we begin to be exposed to a darkness far more smothering than the night time. First, there is the inevitability of death, that no matter how long we live, or how rich we become, or how good we are, we always die. Everyone dies. Death takes each of our pets one at a time, it takes our grandparents, our parents, and many of our friends. We watch them being snatched away one by one, and it challenges our faith. This is especially true when death takes someone little and fragile, a child just born or still in the womb. How could a loving God allow this kind of darkness? Yet there is an even greater darkness that we sometimes touch, or that sometimes touches us. That is the darkness of sin and evil. The exploitation of the poor, the murder of the innocent, the abuse of the weak, cries out to Heaven for justice. This is especially the case when the person who suffers is particularly small and innocent. We can easily be tempted to despair, feeling that darkness and evil and death has the last word.
When we discover the brutality of death and the naked horror of sin, we feel cheated. Why is that? Because, as we discovered when we were little children, the sun rises again, the ice melts and the flowers blossom again. There is something in the very foundation of the world that promises us that life should triumph over death and good should triumph over evil, and we feel horribly betrayed when a friend has died because we feel like that the promise was broken and that order of the universe was violated.
And in fact, the order of the universe was violated. Death violates the order of life, and evil violates the order of goodness. Our intuition is that the God who has allowed the night for a limited number of hours, and who ensures that winter does not kill the flowers, should also provide an answer to the problem of death and to the presence of sin, or this God is not a very great God. In fact, He would be a weak and impotent God, who cheats us with pretty dreams of good and fairy tales where people live happily ever after when he cannot construct a reality that is truly good or a world where happiness truly lasts. The Christian faith teaches us that God made this world good, that evil is an invasive parasite, but that God will not allow evil to endure forever. Yet, where is our proof that God’s plan will really work, and good will triumph?
The Christian proclamation of the Good News, the Gospel message, is exactly the message that “Jesus Christ rose from the dead,” that life has triumphed over death, that good has triumphed over evil, and that trusting in the power of the Risen One we can share in His triumph. In another article I will talk about the mission and message of Jesus Christ, but we need to keep in mind that God does not owe us eternal life, nor can we earn it, because a life which does not fade is completely beyond our power. We want to believe this, we really do, but there are two obstacles for us. First, we cannot see beyond the cross – we clearly see the darkness, but we do not see the Son rise. The other difficulty is that, to receive this Eternal life, we have to receive it on God’s terms. We have to let Him give it to us, as He wants to, and this means being vulnerable, dependent, and weak.
Here is the central question that face every human being. Either the resurrection of Jesus Christ is true, and by humbly trusting God we will triumph over death, or the whole world is a farce. Either Jesus has truly risen, or the universe is a lie, and we’ve all been cheated. Either the builder of the universe has invented a marvelous way to allow love to conquer sin and life to defeat death, or death has the last word and in the end there is nothing but darkness and cold as the sun burns out.
Either we accept Jesus Christ, or we live a pointless existence without hope.