I try to pay attention during sermons. However, sometimes my mind wanders down twisting roads paved with my own unanswered questions. I don’t mean to, it’s just that Sunday sermons give me a quiet hour without interruption and my heart sometimes leaps out of my grasp and goes off-roading, exploring its own questions instead of the preacher’s three point sermon. It’s no reflection on the preacher. A busy heart is bound to search for truth, as surely as a compass needle always swings north. This Sunday I had a lot to think about…this whole spring I have, in fact.
At the end of March, we buried my mother-in-law. She was a second mother to me. Her life was a blessing to everyone around her and her home was a sheltering oasis for many a soul. I know “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him,” but why take someone who blessed so many, who was such a good example of Christian virtue? Wouldn’t it be great if Christians could be triumphant over disease in this life? Couldn’t God impute His people with superpowers? Think of how powerful a force for good we could be! Why not?
Even as my mind created its vision of Mother Teresa in a cape, caring for the world’s poor, the answer can to me. As good as she was, as good as my mother-in-law was, they were still sinners. We all are. We all like to think that we are mostly good, especially Christians who practice turning from sin everyday. But our sin nature still lives beside us and still prevails—more often than we probably realize. The truth is that we wouldn’t always play the superhero—we would be the villain too.
Instantly, Tolkien’s tale of the Ring of Power leapt to my mind. Gandolf, Galadriel, and Elron knew that nobody could wield the power of the ring without doing great evil. They would try to do good, but their own fallen natures would prevail at least some of the time. No, the ring had to be destroyed…and the rest is a trilogy that has captured the imagination of generations.
Tolkien’s tale may well have been born out of his own search for answers to the same questions I was asking. Tolkien suffered the loss of both parents as a child. A devout Catholic, I’m sure he wrestled with God’s decision to allow His own to die. Maybe he realized that eternal life, eternal power with a sin nature, would really be a curse for the person themself as well as others they affected.
God Himself tells us why He allows us to die.
“Behold! The man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put forth his hand and also take from the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever, Jehovah God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground out of which he was taken. And He drove the man out. And He lodged the cherubs at the east of the Garden of Eden, and the flaming sword whirling around to guard the way to the Tree of Life.” Genesis 3:22-24
Now God’s redemptive genius shone into my mind like the sun shining through the church windows. Yes, we will die an earthly death and shed our corrupted nature. Jesus’ sacrifice pays for our sins and our spirits will ascend to the very presence of God. At the end of time, when the last convert is brought into the kingdom, the devil and his angels will be vanquished to hell. Our earthly bodies will be raised and made new. THEN we will enjoy the new creation—never to die, never tempted to do evil. THEN we will be superheroes of a sort. As the pieces of His perfect plan fell together in my mind, I saw how short-sighted my own thoughts were. My mind rested as I tucked this revelation into my heart for safe-keeping. Smiling inside and out, I refocused on the preacher’s words. I would receive a double lesson this Sunday morning, and I was happy for it.