There is something deeply unsettling about biological threats. The very idea of unseen but deadly toxins or viruses is a modern nightmare. The sad thing is that we have too many actual examples to fuel our fears. For multitudes in the industrial town of Bhopal, India, a normal working day turned into a catastrophe of biblical proportions as people were poisoned and killed by gas leaking from a local factory. Similarly catastrophic, the events surrounding the reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine combined the worst of leftover Soviet era paranoia and secrecy with a calamity of truly mind-boggling proportions. Hundreds of young men were ushered in to fight a fire, knowing nothing of the deadly radiation saturating the area, and as a result, thousands died. And of course, the recent chemical attacks in Syria were heartrending.
The weight and power of these deadly issues grips us. We feel it acutely. There are things in our universe that are invisible, but real and sometimes deadly. And there are few guaranteed fail-safe mechanisms to protect us, in all circumstances, from harm. This feeling of vulnerability, this sense that there are things beyond our control, this notion of powerlessness is something the modern mind finds repulsive. We want security, we demand certainty, and we feel entitled to assurance. But what is this assurance, and where is it to be found?
Several decades ago, Ernest Becker wrote a very challenging book called The Denial of Death. He showed how society works to create hero-systems and elaborate ways of suppressing or altogether avoiding the reality of death. Woody Allen adds degree of humor to the problem: “It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Here the Christian story speaks clearly to the human dilemma. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes, “As in Adam, all die.” There are no exceptions, no escape routes, and no exits. It is as inclusive as it gets. Death is the great leveler. It respects everyone.
However, the apostle does not stop here. He goes on to say that in Christ will all be made alive. This is the great distinction. Death occurs on a hundred percent scale. To put this in theological terms, our link to Adam is inviolable. We are all descendants and inheritors of all that this implies. Like those infected with a deadly virus, the issue is not morality or effort. We need a solution, an antidote beyond us. What Christ embodies is an answer that is a transfer.
What do I mean? We are all subject to the outworking of death, brokenness, and suffering that is a part of the human condition. But there is an invitation to a deeper humanity in the invitation Jesus embodies for us. What does this mean? Several things. It means the risen, human, incarnate Jesus provides what we cannot provide for ourselves—namely, healing and help. It means we can surrender our failings and seek his face. And it means we can open ourselves to receive a new kind of life within and without by means of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
These two great antagonists, life and death, are at play in the Christian story. As I watch ageing, decaying people, I recognize something sad and good at the same time. Death is unyielding, but the grave is not the end. Jesus is even now at work making all things new but we will also one day pass through death and into the fullness of resurrection. Joni Erickson Tada brought this home to me some years ago as she spoke from her wheel chair, testifying of a love for Jesus and her great expectations as a believer, despite her very real suffering and restrictions as a paraplegic. She announced to us all that when she sees Jesus face to face, she will dance. I believe it. This is a resurrection hope that brings assurance today and certainty tomorrow. There are many unseen but real threats, but there are also unseen but real promises. “Behold, I make all things new.”
Stuart McAllister is global support specialist at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.