The Bible on the Shortness of Life
What does the Bible say about the length of our days? It says are days are short. Here’s the Bible on the shortness of life:
“For we are but of yesterday and know nothing,
for our days on earth are a shadow.”
“O Lord, make me know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”
“The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.”
“As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.”
“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
What hope is there in the face of death? In the face of the shortness of life?
*Photo by Scott Rodgerson
In the shelter of the Most High
Sunday morning in church we were looking at Luke chapter one and my attention was drawn to verse 35. The angel said to Mary, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”1
This phrase brings us to Psalm 91 verse 1: “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. “
If we go on and read the entire Psalm. We have some serious food for thought regarding the present situation we are in regarding COVID.
“For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease” (v. 3).
“Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness” (v. 6).
“No plague will come near your home” (v. 10).
“The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me” (v. 14).
There are many other promises in this powerful Psalm but the one regarding disease and plague stands out. These promises are contingent on sheltering in the shadow of the Almighty.
So does this mean no true believers in the Almighty will get COVID? We know this is not true. Many believers have contracted COVID and been healed—100% recovery rate. Some recovered on this planet in this time and space and others are now experiencing the ultimate recovery and healing—instant healing—in eternity. In thinking of a friend with COVID, he will be healed; it is a confirmed fact, one way or the other he will be healed. The Almighty has said so—Psalm 91 ends with the final and ultimate shelter: “and give them my salvation”.
So what does it mean to shelter in the shadow of the Almighty? To me sheltering in the shadow of the Almighty means being always conscious of God’s presence and “shadow” around me. He is always there and by faith, I see His shadow. He has said, “I will never live you nor forsake you.”
Isaiah put it this way, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You! Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God in the eternal Rock” (Is. 26:3-4).
To abide in the shadow of the Almighty means to have our heart, minds, and faith fixed, fastened securely to the promises of the Almighty. Not fixed ultimately on medical science, our insurance policy, the government, our diet and health regiment, a vaccine, but fixed on the Almighty.
My prayer for all of us this season will be that we are sheltering under the Almighty—not mainly sheltering in place but under the shadow of the Almighty.
1 Using the New Living Translation for all of this.
Statistics and Comfort in Calamity
Photo by Ben White
Does the 2% death rate statistic comfort you? What does the Bible say about comfort during calamity?
Some sources are saying that the mortality rate of COVID-19 looks to be 2%. However, it is too early to say. The percentage will be bigger or smaller depending on various factors (such as the age of the people infected, access to the needed medical treatment, etc.). I think we should acknowledge a few things about the statistic. First, 2% looks like a small number. And it is. At least, relative to a larger number.
Second, to put it into perspective, 2% of the population of the world is around 140 million people. That, as we can see, is a lot of people. COVID-19 could rival the AIDS epidemic. Of course, it seems highly unlikely that everyone in the world will get the virus. But even a fraction of that number is a lot of people. And it’s important for us to see the numbers from this vantage point so that we don’t play the numbers down.
Remember Death by Matthew McCullough
“Even if your life plays out in precisely the way you imagine for yourself in your wildest dreams, death will steal away everything you have and destroy everything you accomplish. As long as we’re consumed by the quest for more out of this life, Jesus’s promise will always seem otherworldly to us. He doesn’t offer more of what death will only steal from us in the end. He offers us righteousness, adoption, God honoring purpose, eternal life—things that taste sweet to us only when death is a regular companion” (Matthew McCullough, Remember Death, p. 25)
“If we want to live with resilient joy—a joy that’s tethered not to shifting circumstances but to the rock-solid accomplishments of Jesus—we must look honestly at the problem of death. That may be ironic, but it’s biblical, and it’s true” (McCullough, Remember Death, p. 27).
“If death tells us we’re not too important to die, the gospel tells us we’re so important that Christ died for us” (p. 28).
McCullough quotes Ernest Becker from his book The Denial of Death: “Man is literally split in two: he has an awareness of his own splendid uniqueness in that he sticks out of nature with a towering majesty, and yet he goes back into the ground a few feet in order blindly and dumbly to rot and disappear forever.” McCullough goes on to say, “There is a massive disconnect between what we feel about ourselves and what death implies about who we are” (p. 68).
“Death says your less important than you’ve ever allowed yourself to believe. The gospel says you’re more loved than you’ve ever imagined” (p. 74).
“Wisdom never pretends things are better than they are. Never shrinks back from acknowledging the harsh realities of life” (p. 87).
“Death has an unmatched ability to expose the flimsiness of the things we believe give substance to our lives” (p. 99).
“Death exposes our idols for what they are: false gods with no power to save” (p. 107).
“It is Resurrection or vanity” (p. 110).
“The God who made us has come to us, entered the darkness we have chosen for ourselves, absorbed the just punishment for our sin in his death, and made new life possible in his resurrection” (p. 113).
“Loss is universal, not exceptional. It’s guaranteed, not unexpected. Every relationship is lost to time. So is every penny of everyone’s wealth, and ultimately so is every life. Loss isn’t surprising. It is basic to the course of every life” (p. 122).
“Life works like a savings account in reverse. Zoomed out to the span of an entire life cycle, you see that no one is actually stockpiling anything… Everything you have—your healthy body, your marketable skills, your sharp mind, your treasured possessions, your loving relationships—will one day be everything you’ve lost” (p. 122-23).
“It’s useful to practice paying careful attention to the experiences of people who have lived before you” (p. 123).
“We need to recognize that our problem is far worse that we’ve admitted so that we can recognize that Jesus is a far greater Savior than we’ve known… Honesty about death is the only sure path to living hope—hope that can weather the problems of life under the sun, that doesn’t depend on lies for credibility” (p. 150).
“The Bible never asks us to pretend life isn’t hard… The Bible never asks us to lighten up about the problems of life” (p. 153).
“Death-awareness resets my baseline expectation about life in the world” (p. 160).
“The brokenness I experience—the frustration, disappointments, dissatisfaction, pain—is not a sign of God’s absence. It is the reason for his presence in Christ” (p. 160).
Suffering and Our Savior
When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.
However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering.
Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.
Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.
The suffering we experience is not just the result of various kinds of sickness. It is also the result of being sinned against. People afflict others with emotional and physical pain and fail to love as they should. So we see, sin brings upon the world sickness as well as psychological sorrow. Sin is not good.
So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not all. We, thankfully, are not left there. We also see…
God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering. God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.
First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.
Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.” Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!
Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.
God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.
So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!
Actually, even now we, in Christ, have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).
Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Read More…
Sin Brings a Type of Living Hell
“A trail of mutilated frogs lay along the edge of the island.” This is the sad result of sin. In C. S. Lewis’ book Perelandra, Weston, now the “unman,” leaves a trail of mutilated frogs. Weston is the epicenter of evil. He is whole-hearted evil, a predecessor to the Miserific Vision.
Yet, Weston, the “unman,” is just a concentrated picture of what we saw with Adolf Hitler and his regime. It is a picture from a different angle of the mutilation that lays in the wake of Planned Parenthood. When we anonymously try to create our own utopia we leave a trail of mutilation. Whether we listen to the Nazi idea or the Planned Parenthood idea that says, with our culture, “have it your way,” “listen to your heart,” “do what feels right.” When we “have it our way,” “listen to our heart,” and “do what feels right,” then “might will make right” because there will be no higher authority and we may just have a reincarnation of the atrocities of Dachau and Auschwitz. We might just have people “aborting” the “clump of cells” in their womb because that is just what they want to do, it is what is convenient; we might just have “doctors” sell that “clump of cells” as human organs.
Truly, as much as we think we can, we can’t “have our cake and eat it too.” We can’t indulge in sin and also think it won’t bring consequences. Sin since the beginning has been accompanied with consequences. We can’t, for example, indulge in pornography as individuals or as a society and not have an avalanche of abominations over take us. When we make humans sexual objects to be exploited that is sadly what they become, and so human sex trafficking and child abduction ensue.
To quote an unlikely source, Friedrich Nietzsche says in Beyond Good and Evil that philosophy always creates a world in it’s own image, it cannot do anything different. When we create a world where morality doesn’t exist then in a very real way morality doesn’t exist, at least that’s how people live. In this world each will do what is right in his own eyes, might will make right, and atrocities will flourish. Various attempts at the “Final Solution” will abound, and so will death and desolation.
We reap what we sow philosophically so right now we’re reaping a whole host of debauchery. Could it be that teachings have been tainted and thus a litany of death ensues. Maybe it’s time to re-explore worldviews and their corresponding idea of human flourishing and the ability that they have to match reality to their claims.
Human bodies ripped from the womb, mutilated, and sold, and the world doesn’t bat an eye. Sad; yet sadly not surprising in our naturalistic, hedonistic, secular day. Truly, “Moral decay doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is supported by the idolatry of the society at any given time, and expressive of its worship, even if such be completely unarticulated.”[i] Moral decay happens when something other then God is our ultimate good, our summum bonum (cf. Rom. 1). Humanity spirals out of control and implodes in on itself whenever we make gods in our own image; whether infanticide in the Roman Empire, Auschwitz during the Nazi regime, or rampant abortion today. When we decipher and dictate anonymously and subjectively what is good and prospering for ourselves and society we damn ourselves and those around us. We, so to speak, eat again of the forbidden fruit and cast ourselves out of Eden. We fall into a pit we ourselves dug. We kill Abel, revel in Babel, and inculcate innumerable evils. We make life a sort of living hell; picture the living, walking, and tortured skeletons engraved in our memories from the horrors of concentration camps.
O’ for the worlds that lay asunder,
for the shalom that is slain.
We ingrain habits of unrest,
we fester and pass on spoil.
O’ for the earth to break,
for all to be made anew.
For the habits in my heart to pour out,
and for living waters to ensue.
God this world is broken,
we are altogether damaged and damned.
“Destroy the destroyers of the earth”(Rev. 11:18),
destroy what in me destroys.
Shalom was slain
but through the slain Messiah (is/will be) renewed.
O’ God, Maranatha!
[i] Noel Doe, Created for Worship: From Genesis to Revelation to You (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor, 2009), 236.
Sin is Not Good #5
Sin Looks Really Good
It is a graphic scene, depicted in the most vivid way. A recent celebrated movie shows the character smiling in glee as he takes his own life. This depiction is sad yet we see it week-in and week-out. The movie is The Return of the King and the character is Gollom. Gollom, previously known as Sméagol, use to be a regular hobbit but was corrupted, enslaved by the ring. His infatuation with the ring started slow (a weekend here and there) but ended desperately. Gollom loved and hated the ring. He was torn, he wanted to be free from the ring and yet relentlessly pursued it.
At the end of the movie, Gollom finally has, as he says, “my precious.” But in getting the ring he has destroyed himself and everyone, indeed, everything around him. Yet his refrain is, “my precious.” Gollom’s last scene is one of great joy (for him). Gollom fights Frodo over the ring, another character that was nearly wholly-destroyed by the ring. Gollom is fierce. He wants the ring at any price. He bites off Frodo’s finger and rejoices over his plunder. He embraces his cruel master as his beloved friend. He falls, seemingly, blissfully in the lava and as he sinks he rejoices that he has comfort from pain, he has everything, he has his “precious.” Then he sinks and he and his “precious” are gone.
This scene, though portrayed differently, is a scene I have seen too often. This scene is the climax and conclusion of far too many stories of sin. Sin looks good. It is so sad to see people enraptured in love with their cruel master and executioner.
Sin is ingeniuine. It makes big promises but never delivers. Truly the world and sin “promises happiness, and nothing less… It promises to satisfy our desires, but only increases them; it gives poisoned pills, but wraps them in sugar.”[i]
Satan sells us lies and blinds our eyes. He would have us contended with filth and miss the glorious Lord who is worthy of all praise and can satisfy our longing soul. Truly Satan is crafty and subtle in his lies (recall the way he talked to Eve; Gen. 3:1ff cf. Lk. 4:1). He is a lion that is crouched low (1 Pet. 5:8). We don’t always see him but his desire is to destroy.
Satan is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4; Rev. 2:13) and his worship leads to curses and hatred of neighbor. In him is death and he is the futility of man; whoever lives in his influence shall perish and not have life (reverse of Jn. 1:4; 3:16). The world sits on the back of this evil beast of death (cf. Rev. 17:3). The world doesn’t know it but all people follow the course the beast as set, and it’s a funeral procession, that leads to the grave (cf. Eph. 2:1-3).
So Satan, the lord of this age, is rightly called the “deceiver of the whole world,” the “father of lies” (Rev. 12:9; Jn. 8:44 cf. Rev. 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3; 2 Cor. 11:3; 2 Thess. 2:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:14). He is a dragon that smites many hosts yet not by the fire of his mouth but by the damning effects of his lies. And what do you expect his children to say? “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves” (2 Pet. 2:19 cf. Matt. 24:24; Jn. 8:44; Rom. 16:18; Eph. 4:14). Those that know not Christ are blind and would have us wonder around in darkness too (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4-6). Satan and his children boast of good, but it’s all tainted, and leads to death (cf. Prov. 5:1-6; 7).
Thus, sin is not good because although it can look good, it’s not. It damns and destroys the good world God made. The de-creation voice of Satan pulls us toward death and non-being. It may sound good, as it did to Eve, but it is anything but good. It destroys. It curses and creates confusion. It sends us guilty out of Eden, where our good lays, and into Gehenna.
[i] Thomas Watson, Heaven Taken by Storm, 44.
Sin is Not Good #4
Sin, Resulting in the Fall, Explains Humanities Wretchedness and yet Greatness
I think it’s accurate to say that “any viable worldview must successfully explain the seemingly paradoxical nature of the human condition.”[i] The philosopher Blaise Pascal lamented, “What sort of freak is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, the glory and refuse of the universe!”[ii]
“the inexplicable phenomenon of mankind: unquestionably corrupt, subject to inconstancy, boredom, anxiety and selfishness, doing anything in the waking hours to divert the mind from human wretchedness, yet showing the vestiges of inherent greatness in the mind’s realization of this condition. Mankind is also finite, suspended between twin infinities revealed by telescope and microscope, and aware of an inner emptiness which the finite world fails to satisfy. No philosophy makes sense of this. No moral system makes us better or happier. One hypothesis alone, creation in the divine image followed by the fall, explains our predicament and, through a redeemer and mediator with God, offers to restore our rightful state.”[iii]
Human greatness split the atom, human wretchedness uses the same to kill millions of people. A great, though wretched, leader, Adolf Hitler, will lead a nation to slaughter millions. A great leader, Winston Churchhill, will lead a nation in their defense. As much as we are great, we bare God’s image. As much as we are wretched, we bare Satan’s. Ben Carson, with his intelligence, will fight for cures; others will inject poison. Humanity is simultaneously great and wretched. What explains this paradox? We all innately sense it but why is it here?
Humanity is fallen. So “the line between good and evil is never simply between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The line between good and evil runs through each one of us.”[iv] We are made in God’s image and thus can do fantastic things and fantastic good but we have been marred by the Fall and often reflect Satan so we can also do acts of unbelievable wickedness.
Thus, sin is not good because it wreaks havoc on our greatness, on the fact that we were created in the image of God, and distorts it to evil ends.[v] How sad that we who are capable of exploring the limitless expanse of the sea, the mind, space, and biology so often content ourselves with razing and rioting. How sad that though we as humanity are capable of such good, there is such grave injustice. I’ve read for example that a woman born in parts of South Africa is more likely to be raped then to learn to read.[vi] This surely should not be!
[i] Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness” “How can one species produce both unspeakable wickedness and nearly inexplicable goodness? How can we be responsible both for the most disgusting squalor and for the most breathtaking beauty? How can grand aspirations and self-destructive impulses, kindness and cruelty, be interwoven in one life? The human enigma cries out for explanation” (Thomas Morris, “Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life” as quoted in Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness: The Usefulness of Pascal’s Anthropological Argument in Apologetics”).
[ii] Pascal, Pensees, 131/434.
[iii] D.G. Preston, New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wells, and J.I. Packer (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), s.v. “Blaise Pascal” as quoted in Robert Velarde, “Greatness and Wretchedness: The Usefulness of Pascal’s Anthropological Argument in Apologetics.”
[iv] N.T. Wright, Evil and the Justice of God, 38.
[v] Sadly, “human nature itself, with its vast and mysterious amalgam of capacities to think, feel, supervise, love, create, respond, and act virtuously—that is, with its vast capacities for imaging God—has become the main carrier and exhibit of corruption” (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 30-31).
[vi] Yet how strange and how sad that we hate the thought of this and yet many still struggle with the wickedness of pornography. Most of humanity hates the thought of human trafficking but yet enjoys the very things that feed that market.