Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Problem of Death

1. God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living (Wisdom 1:13).
2. The problem of evil, suffering and death imposes itself on each one of us eventually. For some people in the modern world, the reality of suffering is enough to convince them that God does not exist. They might say "if there was a God, He would certainly not let this thing happen"... whatever it is. Such a statement does not really disprove the existence of a Supreme Being. Maybe those who deny God’s existence see suffering as proof that the universe is irrational and meaningless. Of course, how then could one reason to that conclusion? But not to get sidetracked.... Maybe those who deny God are just treating Him like they would any other relative or acquaintance who they perceive is offensive- they simply ignore Him.
3. The biblical view of suffering and death however is that God did not create it. (The book of Wisdom (1:13-15; 2:23-24) reiterates the book of Genesis (first two chapters) in reminding us that creation is essentially good because it has being. God created all things and declared them good. Death, however, is the result of sin (the envy of the devil and the disobedience of Adam and Eve)- that is the failure to do God’s will. Saint Augustine would say that evil then was the lack of some aspect of goodness which God had created and intended. For example, illness is the lack of health. Hunger is the lack of nutrition. Sorrow is the lack of joy. Death is the lack of life. Since God made all human beings in His image and likeness, to have being, to exist, to live is God’s most basic intention for us. Only through failure to live in God’s image and likeness can death intrude.
4. The book of Wisdom continues by saying they who belong to his (the devil's) company experience death (Wisdom 2:24). This is not to say that since everyone is dying that we are all in the company of the devil. But rather It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it, and made a covenant with it (Wisdom 1:16). Those who follow the devil will experience the second death of being permanently alienated from their true destiny which is union with God.
5. God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the death of the living. Rather, our Lord confronted suffering and death in His earthly life. He healed the sick and raised the dead back to life. On the one hand, these miracles were signs of who Jesus is- that is the all powerful God- and signs of the salvation He won for us- namely the ultimate freedom from these evils which His death and resurrection obtained for us. These signs are evidence to us that God does not rejoice in our destruction. Our Lord permits us to suffer because it is the result of free will. But at the same time, our Lord opposed death and still opposes it.
6. Our Lord has a healing will, but not everyone who saw Him or touched Him was healed. In Mark 5, The disciples noticed that many touched Jesus, but only one was healed of her illness. Likewise, many people in those days had one of their children die. But not all did Jesus bring back to this life. What was the difference? Did Jesus freely decide to heal that one and let another suffer and die? That is not how the Bible portrays His ministry. The difference is in those who turned to Him in need. The woman with the hemorrhage believed and trusted that Jesus had the power to heal her. Even though circumstances looked bad, the synagogue official trusted that Jesus could heal his daughter. Their trust was more powerful than their sorrow and suffering. And as a result of their faith, they received the healing which they ardently desired.
7. The lesson which Saint Mark is trying to teach is that we must believe and trust in Jesus, putting fear aside, if we want to experience His power in our lives. Others may ridicule us- no matter. Others may appear to be doing exactly what we are, but with no effect- we cannot let that stop us from trusting.
8. Of course, many of us may have prayed sincerely and trustingly for a healing which we have not obtained. Does that mean we just do not have enough faith? We might not, but the failure to receive the miracle is not an indication of our lack of faith. (We ought to remember that Abraham and Sarah had to wait 24 years for God’s promise of a son.) Jesus’ conquered death, but He did more. He changed its meaning. Our suffering makes us like Him (that is, suffering and death can make us more like Jesus Christ). By changing death, Jesus made death different not just for those who would believe in Him later, but even for all those who lived before His time. All have the offer of union with Christ the Lord. Only those who reject Jesus and His passion, death and resurrection truly experience death in all its horror and emptiness.
9. In the Sacrament of the Sick, many times people are healed of their illness. But much more often they are healed spiritually or morally. And this kind of healing is far more important than physical healing because it can last forever. But we have to trust, for God will not force His love upon us. Nor will Jesus make us live in the home of His Father if we do not want it. No, we must put ourselves into His hands. Do not be afraid; just have faith! (Mark 5:36).

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