The Death of Innocents

Innocent people die.

In a world of disease, people who don’t smoke and don’t drink and eat the best they can, feel strange pains in their abdomen.  “It’s cancer,” the doctor says.  Where did it come from?  Why me?  Was it due to pesticides and hormones in food that I did not make?  Is it from the genes I inherited, but did not choose?

Innocent people die.

In a world of disaster, people who are trying to make ends meet and keep their families together see their whole life unravel when “the rains fall and the floods come and the wind blows.”  Houses are beaten down.  Children are swept away.  Is this the hand of God?

Innocent people die.

In a world of destruction where bombs drop and bullets fly there is “collateral damage.”  Real people doing good things, maybe thinking bad thoughts, but usually trying not to hurt anyone, are destroyed.  A bomb that is supposed to fly with pin-point precision strikes slightly off target and kills a group of women staining scarves.  Bullets that never should have been shot in the first place fly into the heart of a little girl playing on her porch.

Innocent people die.

In a world of discrimination, people are executed for the color of their skin or content of their faith.  Sometimes it’s at the hands of the state who believes the wrong version of the story in order to tally another conviction.  Sometimes it’s at the hands of vigilantes or terrorists who need an outlet for their frustration.  Either way, we eventually find out that the death was arbitrary and unnecessary.

Innocent people die.  How does anyone live in a world like that?

I could numb myself to the reality.  Drink.  Drugs.  Sex.  Work.  But they only seem to speed up the process.  Use me up and toss me out.  Flesh and blood seems so frail and feeble.

I could strive to avoid that reality.  Work out.  Eat right.  Pray twice a day.  Avoid stress.  Surgery when necessary.  But, there is no formula to avoid the death that is crouching at the door waiting to pounce.

I could accept that reality and be totally selfish.  Strike first.  Hoard resources.  Shut myself off to the world around me.  Close my eyes to the needs of others.  I could harden my heart and tighten my grip on the things I need to survive.  I could “bite, devour, and consume” anyone who stands in my way.  Sin would be happy to help.

The world groans with the death of innocents and the next one could be me.

Into this world of sin and brokenness, God’s Son comes to save and to heal.  Jesus welcomes in those who have been cast out, lifts up those who have been passed by, and takes notice of those who have been overlooked.  Sin hates him for it.  Sin and death collude to use God’s law to kill God’s Son.

This innocent person died.  But he also lived.

“Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” – Hebrews 2:14-15

The answer to how we live in a world where innocent people die is: resurrection.

For some it’s religious superstition.  For others it’s delusional hallucination.  I don’t know if you believe in the reality of the resurrection, but I’ve read that we should all at least want to believe in it.  Because innocent people die and we need to know that God cares, that God hears our cries, and is coming to save.

A lot is made these days about “belonging before believing,” about finding community.  I’m all for it, but this belief seems to trump the whole thing.  The potential for true community seems to hinge on the truth of this belief.  The resurrection draws our attention to Jesus who shows us that there is a kind of life that goes on forever.  A kind of life that cannot be stopped.  Not even by death.  It’s a life that he is pleased to share with all those who will believe.

Death has lost its sting.  Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

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6 thoughts on “The Death of Innocents

  1. Amen, Peter!

    Or, as Isaac Watts said:
    “Where reason fail with all her powers,
    there faith prevails and love adores.”

  2. Thanks be to God and thanks.

    I think I’m at a point now where I’m becoming more of an evangelical again. That is I rejected the whole “believe in Jesus so that you don’t go to hell” idea and found Jesus as an advocate for justice and reconciliation. I really like that Jesus, but there was something missing. People can’t be reasoned with to be more just. Through all of that it just seems that death and the tight grip on life it causes is the real enemy.

    Jesus shows us that there is a kind of life that goes on forever. It’s good news. It’s not something that begins after we die, but begins when Jesus’ life comes alive in us through faith (and communion!). Of course, that’s nothing new. I’m just grateful to have found a way to say it without sort of feeling bad about it at the same time, without having to make excuses for it.

    • Peter, it sounds like we find ourselves on fairly similar journeys with a fairly similar theological trajectory. I’ve played around with the idea of resurrection as a metaphor for redemptive arcs in our lives. But too much bad shit happens and is left unaccounted for. I have tried to think of it in terms of the soul’s life after death, which seems to be the ubiquitous notion in “liberal” and “conservative” Christian circles. But all of the bad things that have happened: all of the young girls snatched from parents and forced to work a life in sex trafficking, who die while still in that life, all of the slavery to addictions, the lives consumed by overdose, the innocent victims of war, the child beaten to death by a parent. All these transgressions happened in the “body” It seems to me we can’t really talk about justice unless we talk about a day of reckoning and a day of all things being made right and renewed unless we are willing to talk about it in some sort of material terms.

      However, I am not ready to reclaim the title of evangelical for myself. I won’t cease to call myself a Christian in favor of “Christ follower” or anything like that. But for me evangelical, sadly, has become too equated with American fundamentalism.

  3. Peter, your post reminds me so much of one of my favorite verses: 1 Cor. 15:16-17, 19: For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

    Of course, Paul is narrowly on the resurrection, and outlining its importance for this new Christian faith, and you are not focusing on just the resurrection. But when I read this passage in 1 Corinthians, I am filled with hope. It is Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that make my life worth living. Without Jesus’ life in particular (for me), my life would be a complete crapshoot. Jesus was no stranger to pain, difficulty, and suffering–a fact that I find just as evident in his life as in his death. Because Jesus knows on an experiential level the pain and suffering we all experience, and even more than that–redeems it– I have hope. I hope I live in a way that displays that hope.

    I also love how you said this: Jesus shows us that there is a kind of life that goes on forever. It’s good news. It’s not something that begins after we die, but begins when Jesus’ life comes alive in us through faith (and communion!). Of course, that’s nothing new. I’m just grateful to have found a way to say it without sort of feeling bad about it at the same time, without having to make excuses for it.

    I going to steal this when I start working for InterVarsity. Just so you know.

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