Thursday, June 11, 2020

There is a Higher Throne

During the life of the virus pandemic, and my lock-in on its account,  I have tried to keep abreast of comments in the media. I’m particularly interested in the comments and proposals of those in who regard themselves as Christians. Many who speak and write do so in a situation in which 40,000 or so have died in the U.K. due to the effects of the virus, in about ten weeks. There has been understandable tears and sorrow from the sudden death of a member of a family, usually an older member. Yet these deaths are hardly ‘tragic’. After all, we all have to die. In this sense death is an everyday occurrence, a commonplace. As the Preacher reminds us, ‘there is a time to die’.  

So there have been plenty of remarks about death, and about life after death in which the  loved ones  hope to join their dead relative again. And there is speculation about how society will be like ‘after’ the  pandemic, people not being entirely sure whether it will ‘go away’ in a straightforward sense, or whether it will linger on like a bad dream. Some comfort themselves by the vague sentiment that in the middle of sorrow that death  brings, we can hope. After all, we don’t get much help from a live stream, nor does the radio or television provide a virtual course, or courses, on preparing for death. At least, I haven’t heard one.

A ‘higher realm’

But if we are Christians,  can we get help  from Jesus, and the early Christians, the Apostles?  Maybe we can, and do. For if there is one thing that lingers from Sunday school, and wayside pulpits, and thoughts for the day, is that God is Love, and therefore everything will turn out OK: we shall be safe in the loving arms of God himself.
But Jesus, who is himself God incarnate,  on one occasion delivered this warning:

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear, fear him who after he hath killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. (Lk. 2.12)

We are not in the hands of God only in this life. But ‘after that’, having spent our lives,  we enter what the hymn calls a ‘higher realm’. We are all used to earthly realms, with their corruption, indecisiveness, lies, blasphemies, and the limitations of presidents and prime ministers, no doubt reflecting the lives of us the people whom they represent, and have voted them into their office. They are not as bad and disappointing as they could be, but they often pretty bad.

But Jesus in that saying that when we enter the heavenly realm warns the life to come is sure enough, but that it will be a fearful place. There is a serious side,

Jesus also said this to his disciples: 

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever  would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will  it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life’. (Matt. 16.24f.)
Is death the end?

It is not innovating when someone holds that when we are dead we are dead. That has been the view of Epicureans  and others since time immemorial. A particular moving expression of this position was given by Philip Larkin in his poem ‘Aubade’, which ends the second verse  by the poet elegantly expressing the view that when we die we face a ‘sure’ extinction. 'We won’t be here or anywhere. Nothing more terrible, nothing more true.' (If you have not read  the whole of ‘Aubade’, you ought to.)

Between the sentimentality of ‘we’ll meet again’ and the ‘when you’re dead you’re dead’ the are is the creedal vie, speaking of Christ, who ‘sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From thence he shall come to judge the quick (i.e. the living),  and the dead. Both Jesus and his Apostle Paul faced the extinction option. In the case of Christ he debated the point with the Sadducees, ‘who say there is no resurrection’, who put a question to him. (Matt. 22.23f.) And in the case of Paul, when he visited The Areopagus at Athens,  met with Epicurean philosophers (Acts 17.18) and when he preached ‘Jesus and the resurrection, to some of them at their invitation,  he said ‘now he [God] commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, [Jesus Christ], and of this he has given assurance to all, by raising him from the dead.’ The reaction later was, that when they heard of the resurrection, some mocked. But others said ‘We will hear you again about this’.  But Paul went out from their midst.’ And there was a division, as there often when the gospel of Christ is preached.  ‘But some men joined and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them’. (v.34)

So people today are not innovating when they scorn the idea of resurrection. It is a common reaction. The Bible refers to the ‘sting’ of death, and that undoubtedly contributes to its fearfulness. Paul said ‘The sting of death is sin,  and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’.(I Cor. 15, 56-7) That victory was obtained by the resurrection of the crucified Christ


Resurrection is not the only thing that is scorned. The idea of a final righteous judgment is also mocked. It is one factor that causes the fear of death, not only the parting from loved one, and from life on the earth. For as we have seen for the Christian death is not the end, for after death we meet our righteous Maker. But if we have grace to trust Jesus while we are still alive in the body, Jesus who while he was here, in the house of Mary and Martha, and said  ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ Martha said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.’ (Jn. 11. 27)

There is a higher throne
Than all this world has known,
Where faithful ones from ev'ry tongue
Will one day come.
Before the Son we'll stand,
Made faultless through the Lamb;
Believing hearts find promised grace—
Salvation comes.

Hear heaven's voices sing;
Their thund'rous anthem rings
Through em'rald courts and sapphire skies.
Their praises rise.
All glory, wisdom, pow'r,
Strength, thanks, and honor are
To God our King, who reigns on high

And there we'll find our home,
Our life before the throne;
We'll honor Him in perfect song
Where we belong.
He'll wipe each tear-stained eye
As thirst and hunger die

The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King;
We'll reign with Him.