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November 07, 2014


Mark Thomas

Dear Jim

I don't know if you'll receive this message, it being a comment on something you wrote last year. But I will press on, in the hope that you do.

Having read your blog for many years, I'd like to thank you for the insights and words of wisdom that you share. They are constantly an inspiration to me and I'll freely confess that occasionally I share one of your insights with my congregation (I always give you the credit).

To the point of this comment. I read again this entry from 7th Nov 2014 a few days before last Remembrance Sunday and came to it from the context of a family bereavement - the unexpected death of my 50 year old sister.

I know that we each read Scripture through the lens of our particular context, and the experiences of life form part of its makeup. So,a number of your comments have been really helpful, and I just wondered if you might be willing to 'expand' on them a little for me.

Two of your comments in particular struck me:-

1. But for all that I don't believe the dead are happier than the living or that it's better for a human being never to have been born. Why? Because I see the world differently, through the lenses of love incarnate, love crucified and love risen.
Could you expand a little on the 'why?' here

2. The Christian response to Ecclesiastes isn't to prove his perception about the world and human existence is wrong; but to challenge the conclusion that death is better than life.
Sometimes I hear folk allude to Paul in Phil 1 as though the 'deceased one is better of now', especially if they have suffered in life. I've never been entirely happy with that. I'm very struck by your phrase 'challenge the conclusion that death is better than life' and just wondered if you might add a little to that.

Apologies that this comment is overly long. But it comes from the heart of cone very appreciative of your wisdom.
The Lord Bless you,

Jim Gordon

Bob asks two questions, but they touch on the same experience for people of faith - how we think of death, ours or those we love in the light of our faith in Christ and the promise of eternla life. My post was an honest argument with Ecclesiastes and the underlying weariness of that 'gentle cynic'. A human life is a precious and unique gift, initiated and called into being by the creator God. Each human life is an unprecedented act of creative love. We are created for life, and Jesus said I have come that you might have life and life more abundant. Yes, that saying looked to what John the Evangelist called eternal life - but eternal life is not about duration or location, but about the deepest fellowship with the Father through the Son made possible by the Spirit. So I believe the life we live is to be lived, enjoyed, endured, experienced through the lense of a love eternal that created us for this, for life. To ever say or think it would be better not to be born, or death is better than life is to return the gift of ourselves to God, unopened.

As to Paul's words being universalised as an attitude that says the dead are better off than when they were alive, that is to overlook two things I think. First, Paul knew his life was a story nearly finished; his dilemma of whether to stay or go is one of those holy soliloquy's in which he imagines the moment of being in the presence of Christ in heaven, and then looks at his chains and thinks of those Philippian believers. But remember, when push came to shove, as it were, to stay and live for Christ was the better choice. But it wasn't his choice - and I guess I am simply saying that the well meant 'she is in a better place' doesn't always mean, or need not always mean, that any Christian is entitled to devalue or wish to abbreviate the time that God gives.

There is a fatalism in wishing ourselves in heaven prematurely, or privileging death as if life was mere prelude, or preface. We were created to live, to image the Creator, to walk in the new creationand new life that is in Christ, and to do so in the life God has given. Ecclesiastes is a book that shows why, exactly why, the revelation of God is in a person whose life is the source of life, and whose love, incarnate, crucified and risen, calls us to live out our days in life abundant. But when those days are completed we are called into the life of God...I don;t think that is 'better', I think it is different, and the next stage of what it means to be 'In Chrst'.

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