“Who Made Death?”

  1. Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

Last Sunday evening, my brother and I sat by the bedside of our mother as she reached the end of her long life.

Although she had been suffering from dementia and many other effects of Alzheimer’s Disease for years, and she had reached the stage where speaking of “quality of life” would have been a joke, her death was still a blow to my brother and me. It is hard to believe she is gone. For that matter, my father died nine years ago and it’s still hard for me to believe that he’s gone.

So today’s First Lesson has an inescapable relevance to me, today. Solomon writes, “God did not make death.”

Well, that’s good! I’m glad that God doesn’t want us to die. While death came to my mother as a comfort, and people will doubtless say it was a “blessing,” my mother’s passing was immensely sad to behold.

Christians believe that God doesn’t will death. After all, Jesus rose from the dead. He “conquered” death. The Son of God showed the world that God wants life.

As The Wisdom of Solomon notes, “God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity…” Think of that: we are made in the image of God’s “own eternity.” What could be more unlike the destructive finality of death than the eternity of God?

So if God didn’t make death, who did? Modern people might wonder about Solomon’s answer to this question. He says: “…through the devil’s envy death entered the world…”

The Wisdom of Solomon was written centuries after the actual King Solomon reigned in Israel. It is part of the “Apocrypha.” The Apocrypha is a set of writings that we regard as having spiritual value but which were composed later than the books of the Old Testament and lack the authority of the other books in the Bible.

But the Apocrypha does contain “wisdom.” In today’s lesson, we encounter the belief that the evil in the world comes from the devil. The devil is not clearly defined anywhere in the Bible; nor does Christian tradition give a consistent portrayal of who the devil is.

But the general idea behind the concept is that evil has a force beyond any human actions or any imperfections in the material world. Tradition said the devil was once an archangel. In heaven his name was Lucifer.

According to that story, Lucifer desired glory for himself that properly belonged to God. The lesson from the Wisdom of Solomon refers to “the devil’s envy;” he wanted divine power for himself. Lucifer obviously couldn’t take the place of God, so he was ejected from heaven.

Then, the first humans, Adam and Eve came to be tempted by the devil—in this story, he was named “Satan.” They are deceived by the devil’s assurance that it is ok to disobey God’s commands. So Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit and from that moment on, they condemn themselves and all future humans to suffer the pain of death.

One answer to our original question, then, is that “the Devil made death.” But that can’t be the whole answer.

After all, God created the angel Lucifer in the first place. And it’s possible that God knew in advance that Lucifer would disobey his orders.

My own view is that death is needed for there to be human freedom. But I recognize that that belief requires a lot of arguments to be convincing; I’ll save those arguments for another sermon.

Wherever death came from, though, and whatever we make of the forces of evil in the material creation, God did do something in response. God sent Jesus Christ to earth. As the Prayer Book says, “Christ came to overcome death and the grave and to open the kingdom of heaven to all believers.” There is no question that God takes responsibility for ultimately getting rid of death.

The Wisdom of Solomon predicts the ultimate triumph of God’s will over human mortality. The text goes on to say that God “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.”

A wise view of the world, therefore recognizes that life is good: the “generative forces of the world” have “no destructive poison.” They are not under “the dominion of Hades” because this dominion “is not on earth.”

At the time, some people believed that Hades or “Hell” was literally under the surface of the earth. But the point is that wherever the “location” of evil is, the life force will always have the upper hand. As the author adds, “righteousness is immortal.”

Still, for us who remain on earth, the making of death is as mysterious as death itself. That’s why it may not be comforting to think that one’s deceased relative or friend is “now at peace.”

“Well, yes,” we agree that our loved one is at peace—“but she is not here!”

In a perfect world, no one should be subject to death. That’s why people have blamed the Devil for the existence of death. And that is why, whatever we conclude about human mortality, evil is real; evil is a force to be reckoned with.

Yet, our God is a God who conquers the forces of corruption and decay. A God who—we see in the Second Lesson–responds to suffering with healing. As Jesus said in that lesson to the leader of the synagogue whose daughter was sick, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Amen.


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