There is No Death in God
“There is no Death in God”
Isaiah 11:1-9 Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24
By Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla
at First Presbyterian Church, Boise, ID
July 1, 2018
(the following sermon can also be viewed on YouTube by clicking this link here.)
We go from a very familiar text of “and a little child shall lead them” and “the lion shall lay down with the lamb” to this next text that I would bet almost none of you out there even know exists. For sure you won’t find this in your pew Bible. This comes from The Wisdom of Solomon. It’s in the Apocrypha which is part of the Catholic Bible but considered deuterocanonical. Duetero meaning second, so it literally means the 2nd canon. It’s not scripture… but it’s the next closest thing.
The historian in me wants to tell you a little about where this is coming from so a bit of prelude to the reading. When the Jews lived in diaspora, that is scattered from Israel throughout the Greek-speaking world, they circulated a Greek version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. It was added to it in circulation. The Catholic Church used the Septuagint in the formation of the Latin Vulgate and considers those added books to be the secondary canon and includes them in their Bibles in what we Protestants call the Apocrypha. Protestant church stuck to the Masoretic text and the official Jewish canon in the Hebrew Bible. So we do not have, as second canon, such books as Bel and the Dragon, 1st and 2nd Maccabees, and Susanna. And of course, the Wisdom of Solomon – or just Wisdom, from which we are reading today.
When Wisdom of Solomon came us an alternate reading in the lectionary I thought, “why not?” And in a moment, I think you will understand exactly why it came up to me, but before we go there a little more background. This was probably written between 100 BCE – 50 BCE… it was among the diaspora Jews, it was written to a Greek world with very good Greek rhetoric to Greek-speaking Jews reminding them not to lose their Jewishness in this very Greek world. Remember even Rome’s philosophy is Greek. Greeks were the culture people and the language of the intellectual. Rome was the great bureaucracy, but even Rome is Hellenized and part of the Greek roots of Western Civilization. So, the author is writing about the value of staying true to the “wisdom of Solomon”, or the wisdom of their Jewish heritage, and not losing that to the Hellenized culture in which they live. In that backdrop we read this, from chapters 1 and 2:
Because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal.
For God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.
–Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24
This is… a word akin to the Lord’s? Thanks be to God.
I mean, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say there – they don’t teach you that in seminary when you are reading something we don’t claim to be canonical. That’ll have to do… a word akin to the Lord’s.
How does the Holy Spirit work?
We Presbyterians are not known for being Holy Spirit people. We get skeptical of the Holy Spirit. We like reason and rational thought. We like science. We are academic theologians… and we wear our clergy robes to reflect that. So, what do we do with the Holy Spirit?
I remember when I first came here sitting with one of our members with coffee and he told me, “Andrew, I like going to church. And I like coming here. But I don’t go in for all that miracle stuff.” He is a doctor, a scientist of a sort, and he was on board with me so long as I don’t get too mystical. And for the most part, and most of the time, I would probably stay in line with that thought. But for today – I just can’t avoid it.
The Holy Spirit is tying things together beyond my knowledge. Carol just sang Amazing Grace for us. For weeks upon weeks upon months, Carol was asking me to find a Sunday where she could sing that piece and it would be tied into what I was preaching. And for weeks upon week upon months, Andrew didn’t do that… and she just picked a date. But it’s the right date – the Holy Spirit picked this date.
If you looked ahead at the Affirmation of Faith, and who doesn’t look ahead at worship to see how long worship will go over…so, when you looked at it, you saw it and thought, “Oh no… Andrew put this one in again. We did this last week too, and it didn’t work then so why does he have us doing it again?” I used it last week because I thought it worked well with a nuance of the relationship between David and Saul but then I cut that part out of my sermon, so it didn’t relate at all.
But this week as I caught up in this idea of death not being a part of God’s will and purpose… and how awesome and fitting that the Affirmation of Faith speaks about the commandment not to murder as really about a commandment not to pursue vengeance and anger and the various emotions that lead to murder. The Holy Spirit wanted me to keep that Affirmation of Faith even though I may have thought it was me that chose it.
If that freaks you out… I’m okay with that. Because it freaks me out too.
The Wisdom of Solomon, which says some weird things that make me understand why it’s not in our Bible… also has put this very profound and important thought on my heart this week: that God has created everything for life, not death. Everything. For life. Not death.
So God wills death… for nothing. And if there is a more radical biblical strain of thought… I’m not sure what it is. Even the biblical text struggles to keep that strain prevalent… that God does not will death for anything God created. God desires death… for no-one… for no-thing.
I grew up in Wheaton, Illinois. Most of you already know that… some of you have been to Wheaton. Wheaton is the home to a strong evangelical Christian college. And that feeds the culture of my hometown and one of the interesting things I have noted from that is that many of high school friends have – in rejecting that strict evangelical backdrop – rejected Christianity as a whole. More than Christianity… they rejected God. (Christianity and God not actually being synonymous.)
I was talking with one of my friends a couple years ago and she said she doesn’t believe in God because she doesn’t want God controlling her life… but her second and bigger issue (and certainly she is tapped into general complaint far bigger than her) is that God doesn’t kill bad people before they can harm good people. Now for me, this is a fascinating argument. You want freedom from God in your life… but you want God to control other people, so they don’t do bad things. And… that doesn’t work.
That’s the rub. We are all sure we are good… so we can be given full and free will. But other people? They aren’t trustworthy, so control and stop them.
I always want to be a father of daughters… which is good because I have three of them. And I remember this moment when Elizabeth was young (before the other two were born) and we were at a playground. And in the space of a moment I lived an entire lifetime – this happens to most parents I believe –an entire lifetime as if Elizabeth had been kidnapped when through my head. And I could hear, literally hear, her screaming voice on the wind crying out for me and wondering why her dad doesn’t come and rescue her. Look, I’m crying now recalling this and it never even happened. But I could feel like it was deeply true and if felt like I was living that horrible helpless despairing reality… and then I had this weird epiphany. God is the creator of all that is… all life is from and of God. So, when any life is lost to God, God is hearing that voice on the wind crying, “rescue me. save me. Please! Where are you God that you haven’t helped me?”
Anytime we bring harm to anyone God is hearing voices on the wind. People we cannot even stand… are still voices on the wind. People who appear anathema to God are STILL voices God hears on the wind saying, “rescue me… rescue me.” And God’s heart breaks for them… because they are God’s.. and God wills no death for anything that has life.
Last night. Violence erupted close to home. 9 people, 6 children, stabbed by a madman out of the night. Their safety and celebration robbed and violated in an act that echoed violence that erupts and has erupted in our world time and again, over and over and over. Voices on the wind for us… and for God.
The trained philosopher reacts to that moment by naming that people who want to close our borders or build high walls are making a very rational argument. My philosophy professors in college always urged that in a debate we had to frame our opponents’ argument as they would make it. Not the strawman argument. Not hyperbole and a one-dimensional argument that is easy to refute. But granting them the same nuance and complexity we give ourselves. So I force myself to acknowledge that while I disagree with them on what is good and right to do, the person who wants to close down the border, build high walls, keep outsiders… outside, is make the more rational and logical argument.
It’s just not a biblical argument.
It is right to want to seek out safety. What should Jesus have done on this night? (point to the set communion table) What should Jesus have done when he knew they were coming for him? He should have run away… he should have locked the door. He certainly shouldn’t tell Peter… put away your sword.
We are called, not to a rational way of life, but to a way of life that acknowledges that everyone and everything was created by God for life. And that means that we are willing to put ourselves in jeopardy to foster life. We put to rest violence and vengeance, we put rest hard-heartedness, we put to rest the idea that we seek safety at all cost.
I fail to do that. I lock my door at night. And I would tell you if someone off the street asks for a ride you should not put them in your car and drive them somewhere. I literally failed to be “the good Samaritan” all the time in service to my own safety. But when I make that argument I know that I’m failing my biblical calling. And somehow, we are called into that tension. We are called to recognize that we are all, everything is all, God’s. We either live for everyone, or we live against them. And when we live against them… we live against God.
And I cannot do that…
But love the idea of it. I need the idea of it.
I could not imagine what it is to hear the voices of millions of your children on the wind calling for help… but you cannot help them, because your other children don’t want them to be helped.
There is no death in God… even though we wish it. And we do, we wish that God would deal death to those we see as opposed to God – those who ARE opposed to God…. but death is not of God. And God wills no death for God’s creation. God is radical, eternal, steadfast love. God is life. We are not saved so much by the cross – a death – but the resurrection, a life. And that life is stronger than death… and choosing to die in order to promote life… is the better part.
I cannot live that… without you… helping me to do that. And the Holy Spirit helping to empower us all by lacing up these fragments like Amazing Grace and the weird Wisdom of Solomon and last nights horrific violence on our doorstep. And tying them up in a single loving knot. And saying its all related. It is all of me. Love it. Love me.
This is the word of our Lord, thanks be to God.