‘the sting of death’

A couple of weeks ago I posted a pair of ruminations on death — insisting, in the first, that we should never make peace with death or otherwise imply it somehow belongs within God’s intention for human life; and, counterbalancing this in the second, by exploring some of the ways in which we refuse to confront the reality of death (and our own mortality) to our detriment.

Alongside this, I feel there’s a need to uphold the Bible’s teaching about how God (positively?) uses death as a good and just judgement upon human sin.

John Martin, 'The Seventh Plague'

I take it that Paul means something like this when he says that ‘the sting of death is sin‘, reflecting much wider biblical testimony to the deep connection between sin and death. Although we may not be able to draw direct lines in every instance, death is God’s punishment for sin.

But we need to be careful here too. We shouldn’t let this clear sense of death being an instrument which God uses to judge obscure the fact that it’s fundamentally an enemy he longs to defeat. For, in an important (and I think theologically primary sense), God does not desire the death of the wicked.

The way I think I want to do that at the moment is to remember that with God judgement is always the flip-side — or the means — of redemption. This is certainly the case in the Exodus: judgement upon the Egyptians is just part and parcel of how God redeems Abraham’s family. And this I think is part of Isaiah’s overall emphasis. Indeed, some have spoken of the writing prophets as all proclaiming a message of ‘the death and resurrection of Israel’ — judgement (death) in the service of redemption (renewed life for his people).

Perhaps a helpful way to hold all this together is to consider God’s judgements — especially death — as advanced tremors anticipating (or even helping to bring about) the final redemption, the renewal of all things.

What do you reckon?

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