By Corban McKain
Our worlds are humbled when the unexpected strikes. Like news of Pearl Harbor, we were all met with disbelief as we were suddenly quarantined to our homes, visited daily by the evening news reporting developing cases of outbreak reaching malevolently towards us. Naturally, this provokes anxiety as we’re all relentlessly reminded of Shakespeare’s words, “Thou owest God a death”. Though those in Christ ultimately scoff in triumph, “Death where is thy sting?” pain has a way of removing the veil and rousing us to the egregious reality of evil. It was appointed for man to die once, as the Scriptures say, but it cannot be helped that when disease strikes we feel more than just grief and fear — we’re angered and cry out to God like the Psalmists: “Where is justice?”
It would be a grave mistake to turn this cry for justice into a pursuit for intelligible answers from this present darkness. Death is never integral to God’s blueprint. Jesus wept for Lazarus because death is alien to His creation. Why? Because if moral evil were in fact intelligible, evil would somehow be necessary to God’s blueprint of creation rather than God permitting what was meant for evil and redeeming its intended strike for His good purposes. It is the latter which makes His providence intelligible, that we can look at what was intended for evil, like Joseph’s captivity, and know that God meant it for Good (Gen. 50:20). God can and will “in all things, work for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28),” because He wills the good and only permits the evil.
This is what the story in Eden communicates. In the garden of Eden two trees were planted: 1) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and 2) the tree of life. Humans were exiled from Eden after tasting the first, lest they eat also from the tree of life (Gen. 3:22). Then at the crux of Scripture, Christ is put to death on a cursed tree that transforms the taste of death into life. The resurrected, new life in Christ descends like a dove at Pentecost, baptizing the body of His church in the Holy Spirit. It is the “continued incarnation of Christ” retroactively redeeming creation into the pattern to come in the city of God (Kingdom of Heaven). Christ is leading the captives oppressed by the corruption of death “further up and further in,” to the city of Life. The cosmic radiation of affliction is being undermined by life in Christ being breathed anew upon creation, “groaning in labor pains until now,” awaiting freedom from its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:19-23). Given the implications of the resurrection, the important question from which our actions arise in times of trouble is, “What does it mean that Christ came that we ‘may have life, and have it abundantly?’” (Jn. 10:10)
The way New Testament writers envision the arrival in full of the kingdom uncorrupted by death, is the ceremonious reception of a bride to the “hospitality” of a wedding feast (Rev. 21). Imagine fully grasping that which you have been implicitly and explicitly anticipating all of your days, unfolding in a wedding banquet. The wedding music echoing from planets tuning into the climax of time, an endless feast spreading before nations deep in translucent conversation and song, the hosting Groom, radiating such beauty that His presence is everywhere, inexhaustibly transfiguring everything before you into deeper, matchless glory. The foretaste of God’s just, undiluted, incorruptible hospitality described, is breaking through in history and it is only this which we have to give. We glimpse it in Le Chambon, in Nineveh, and in the mercy extended by Christians during the Bubonic Plagues. “Only to the degree that the church is a community of hospitality and reconciliation can she also play a role in opening the doors of the kingdom of God.” The silver lining in current events is not that some greater good will somehow arrive from this monstrosity, the silver lining is that we’re reminded of what matters. I am convinced that for all our pain on this earth, we will reflect St. Teresa’s sentiment that, “in light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”
This is what it means to be “a community called atonement”. Keep calm and Love God & Neighbor.
Boersma, Hans. Violence, Hospitality and the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker
Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing, 1962.
Lewis, C.S. The Last Battle. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishing, 2001.