Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Life from Death

Life from death is perhaps the most powerful motif in all of Scripture. It begins, of course, with “In the beginning,” and goes right on through to the resurrection of the saints and the new heavens and new earth. The image of life appearing out of death is moving because it’s absurd, eschewing reason in favor of imagination and meaning. The doctrines of Paul are wonderful and challenging and true and good, but greater meaning is found in our Savior’s resurrection from the dead and the promise that he is the firstborn among many brethren.

God saw that the earth was without form, and void. He caused life to spring therefrom. The ground itself was to produce the beasts of the field; the dust of the earth was to make man.

Moses knew the power of life springing from death. Aaron’s rod that miraculously budded, life-giving waters flowing from a stone, even the blood of the lambs covering the doors of the Hebrew people all portend the gospel.

But then there is Abraham. No mortal figure in the Bible is more stunning than father Abraham. The great patriarch of the Jews, the man who would kill his own son because he believed that the God of heaven would resurrect his boy if only he was obedient to the divine command, Abraham knew of life coming from death. And the courage that lifted his dust-caked sandals and burdened heart up the imposing mountain in Moriah came from experience. For Abraham had seen life appear from death, even in his own house.

When we read the story of Isaac’s miraculous birth, we think of it in terms of a miracle in Sarah’s womb. Indeed, it was that, but it was more. The ancient near east view of reproduction thought of the man’s semen as being a “seed” that was planted, so to speak, in the woman. It’s easy to see why they had this view, given what they saw in agriculture—the barley seed falls to the ground, where it grows into more barley. So the thought was that the woman was akin to the soil and the man would, ahem, plant his seed in the woman, thus the thought of earth as a “mother” in the ancient world. So when Abraham impregnated Hagar, it was clear at that point that Sarah was the only issue---she wasn’t fertile, but he was.

Some thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God promised Abraham that he would conceive again, this time with his barren wife. Abraham was understandably incredulous, asking how a 99 year-old man could sire a child. Paul rightly understood Abraham’s response as his recognizing that his loins were dead, as was Sarah’s womb. The birth of Isaac was a double miracle. Powerful, because it was impossible; meaningful because it was absurd.

In my own life, I have twice seen life come from death, with both the adoption of my son and the pending birth of my daughter. We cannot conceive. Yet life came into our home through the miraculous placement of a hundred dollar bill, a substitute court reporter, and a dozen other events providentially woven together to form one cohesive miracle. Life first appeared, not in a delivery room surrounded by nurses, doctors, and the sterile equipment of the modern birth, but in a run-down McDonald’s in a small East Texas town, where flies had infested the dining area, eight television screens blared some talking head griping about the economy, and an elderly woman ate a cheeseburger while her husband, donning a mesh-back ballcap perched on his head like he was a 1980s trucker, hunted one of the flies with a napkin. A miracle delivery in an utterly normal, ho-hum, everyday place: precisely the kind of miracle God seems to love most.

And life has come again, though my body was, like Abraham’s, without life, God “quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.”

Two lives where life could not be. These miracles within my household typify the beauty and majesty of the gospel. They shout, “Jesus saves” in a way didactic reasoning never could. The miraculous in our everyday lives represent God’s way of preaching the gospel to the world. This is why we are not simply told that God can win battles, we are instead given the book of Joshua. The mechanics of the resurrection are never recited; we are told of Lazarus and the magnificent-yet-puzzling, dare I say mystical, statement, “I am the resurrection.” Justification is not only explained in forensic terms; we have the life and the Passion of our Savior.  

The ancient formulation of the holy and transcendent is that which is good, true, and beautiful, elements with which we are all very familiar, though not necessarily trained to see. And we are blessed to live in a world where the transcendent can appear in our communities, our churches, and our homes and yet somehow be normal. Here we see the power of the child’s imagination. A black bunny appeared in our backyard last year. My wife and I were fascinated with it, as it came back three or four days in a row. But our son, then two years old, thought it was no more interesting than the squirrels, the birds, or the newspaper that magically appeared on our walk each morning. It wasn’t that he didn’t have an appropriate appreciation for the rarity of a black bunny rabbit. Rather, he was already fascinated by the beauty of our world. In his mind, “Why shouldn’t a black bunny hippity-hop over to our azaleas?” Our unwavering parental focus on the black bunny for a few days served to remind us how numb we had become to the robin’s chirp, the squirrel’s scamper, and the morning dew glistening on a red rose. The world is amazing, rich, and mysterious.

It didn’t have to be so. The world didn’t have to be a place where flowers bloom, where food tastes good, or where music could ring forth from a dead tree fashioned just so with some strings. The world didn’t have to be a place where the parentless can find a mother and father, or where the barren could both adopt and conceive. And it certainly didn’t have to be a place where sinners are glorified, to be conformed into the image of Christ; where we are invited to participate in his divine nature. But praise God it is!

“Thy life’s a miracle; speak yet again.”