“‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:55-57
Two weeks ago I attended my mother’s funeral. Today, that of the dear wife of a close friend. Mona in Scotland and Yura in Bulgaria. My wife and I knew them both in different capacities. We loved, laughed and shared lives with them in differing but equally precious ways.
Both expired quite differently. Mona had a period of steady and marked decline over five weeks and was a very elderly lady. Yura, a sudden and unexpected death. She was six years my junior.
So you will understand, I think, why I might want to share a personal reflection on God’s will. I get tired, at times, at how people talk about God’s will: as if the things we happen to like or specially appreciate were instanced by God and to be causes of thanksgiving; and everything else remains unmentioned. Or worse, where we attribute every act and accident of life to God’s sovereign pleasure, as if God were some sort of sovereign despot.
When I read across the books of the Bible, I’m glad I meet neither of these perspectives on our Maker. I’m glad of the positive tension which some medieval theologians noted and called (in Latin), ‘the double knowing of God’: the knowledge of God, one the one hand, as Creator; and the knowledge of God, on the other hand, as Redeemer. I’m glad that when I look at the rhythms of birth (I’m six months a grandfather), life and death, of what I see – but also, that what I see there is not the only thing that reveals God to me. I’m so thankful that the final Word on what God is really like is pronounced in the birth, life, death, resurrection and present reign and expected return of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1.1-3). Redemption making sense of Creation.
When people die, I never say it’s God’s will. Through Jesus, God defeated death. Death is horrible. An enemy. Death is a poison that leaves people bereaved and grieving. It is a terrible thing to say that God wills that which Jesus has already defeated and overcome.
But when I look at the Cross of Christ, I see how God uses what is utterly repugnant so wonderfully redemptively. What is so terrible is turned into a triumph through the bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. For this is God’s will for us: life, in all its fullness (John 10.10).
So please, when you speak about God’s will, be careful of what you attribute to Him. Remember ‘the double knowing of God’. And speak well of what Jesus has done and continues to do, through those who receive Him in faith, for us all.