The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Death

Scripture Reflections: Making a Name for Ourselves

In this loose series of Scripture Reflections, I am sharing brief thoughts spurred on by my Bible reading this year. By way of reminder, my goal for these brief posts is two-fold:

(1) To remark on aspects of the biblical text that I find to be of interest that the reader may or may not have thought about previously.

(2) When possible, to point ahead to the work and person of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus, which means that He is frequently alluded to or foreshadowed in some way throughout the biblical canon.


Genesis 11.1-9 relates the fascinating story of the Tower of Babel. You are probably familiar with it: in those days, everyone spoke the same language, and people settled in a plain in the land of Shinar. There they decide to build a city with a tower that would stretch into the heavens. God does not approve of these plans, and so He confuses the language of the people so they cannot understand one another, with the end result being that the building project is suspended and the people are dispersed throughout the earth.

The Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

What was the big deal about people building a tower? Why did God act so decisively to frustrate their plans?

Part of God’s strong negative reaction to the Tower of Babel was certainly located in the disobedience of the people: in Genesis 9, God had instructed Noah and his sons to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and Genesis 11 makes it clear that the people did not want to carry out that command, as 11.4 indicates that they wanted to establish a city “lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” It seems that they no longer wanted to obey God’s command to disperse and instead decided to try it their own way instead.

Furthermore, in light of the sad realities that had plagued the world since the failure of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), this also seems to have been an effort on God’s part to limit the potential for human oppression and domination. Human wickedness was so bad that it prompted God to flood the earth (Genesis 6), but this “reboot” of the system didn’t actually resolve the evil taint in humanity (Genesis 8.21). What if human ingenuity, human power, and, yes, human malevolence were all concentrated in one urban center? Clearly, this would have been undesirable, and God prevents it from happening.[1]

But there was also a significant amount of pride involved in the Babel tower project, and God would have taken exception to this attitude as well. Again in Genesis 11.4, the people say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves…” Did you catch that? Part of the motivation to build a tower to heaven was self-glorification, as the people wanted to make a name for themselves—a permanent, lasting legacy.[2]

It occurs to me that people have been wanting to make a name for themselves ever since. Surely this is a universal impulse, but I think it is especially exaggerated in individualistic cultures. The ambition of making yourself into something impressive and praiseworthy isn’t even looked down upon in our society; you could argue that it’s a significant aspect of the American Dream: “Make a name for yourself! Accomplish something that others will admire you for! Turn yourself into something special!”

As someone who has lived his entire life in the United States, I cannot help but drink deeply from my cultural surroundings, and I would suggest that, in this particular respect, my cultural surroundings have been harmful to my Christian identity. After all, as far as I can tell, the Bible teaches that I shouldn’t worry about magnifying my name at all.

In Romans 15.20-21, Paul says something interesting:

“And thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’”

These verses display Paul’s keen missionary mindset, as he desired to preach to those who did not know about Jesus, but they also show something about the central task of the Christian life: our lives should be centered on the proclamation and magnification of the name of Jesus Christ. We should be all about making Him known to those who do not know Him.

The impulse that was prominent in the Tower of Babel incident remains prominent in our world today, but all of our efforts of self-glorification will lead to a similar end: meaningless babble with no lasting effects. Better then, to dedicate our lives to the spreading of Jesus, the Name above all names.

May God be praised and glorified, and may the name of Jesus be known.

As Christians, our lives should be centered on the proclamation and magnification of the name of Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet

[1] See John C. Nugent, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016): 47-48.

[2] In our last post, we talked about the tragic reality of death as a part of the human experience. One very common response to the reality of death is the obsessive striving for a sort of immortality through the building of legacy, the making of a name for ourselves. Of course, God understands our quest for immortality and promises it to those who belong to Him; but it is of a very different sort than human accomplishment and the remembrance of a legacy.

Scripture Reflections: “And He Died.”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am sharing brief thoughts spurred on by my Bible reading this year. By way of reminder, my goal for these brief posts is two-fold:

(1) To remark on aspects of the biblical text that I find to be of interest that the reader may or may not have thought about previously.

(2) When possible, to point ahead to the work and person of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus, which means that He is frequently alluded to or foreshadowed in some way throughout the biblical canon.


If you start at the beginning of the Hebrew Bible, by Genesis 5 you’ve already witnessed many important developments. God has created everything and stamped His image on humanity (Chapters 1-2). He watches in heartbreak as man rejects that image and brings sin into the good creation (Chapter 3). In Chapter 4, sin, already a part of the world, is brought to new depths as Cain kills his brother. And we have some other indications of the further progression of sin later in the chapter with the character of Lamech.

Then, Genesis 5 recounts the generations following Adam. Usually, genealogies aren’t all that interesting to us. These particular genealogies are somewhat novel because of the length of the lifespans recorded, but other than that we don’t think too much about them. If you pay close attention, though, you may be struck by three words that occur over and over: “and he died.”

Generation after generation, we read about different men—their names, how long they lived, their children—but their stories all end in the same abrupt way: “and he died” (Genesis 5.5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27). All of this repetition has a real point: it hammers home the truth that, because of the sin in the Garden of Eden, death is now an inescapable part of the human experience. It was true for the men in Genesis 5, and it’s still true today, thousands of years later, despite all of our technological advances and our obsession with cheating and avoiding death.

And that is truly tragic news: Death is the enemy of all of us and it is a part of our existence because of the consequences of sin.

But in Genesis 5, there is a glimmer of good news as well. For one man, the story did not end with “and he died”:

“When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”

(Genesis 5.21-24)

It seems to me that, in Enoch, we have a foreshadowing of the Gospel: for those who have a relationship with God, death is overcome. Not in the way that it was for Enoch (I fully expect to die someday, unless Jesus returns before then), but still, in a True and Eternal sense, the power of death is nullified. It does not get the last say:

“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

(1 Corinthians 15.26)

Death may be an inescapable part of the human experience, but it is also inescapable for Death itself—Death will die. Resurrection is coming. Come, Lord Jesus.

Lament For A Son: The Demonic Awfulness Of Death

This is part of a sub-series of posts under a larger, loosely-united series entitled A Theological View of Suffering.


I have been writing some reflections on Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Lament For A SonOne of many elements of the book that I appreciated was Wolterstorff’s emphasis on the “demonic awfulness” of death (p. 54).

All too often, I think that Christians can lapse into a very naturalistic worldview where we say things like, “death is just a natural part of life.” We say this to help bring perspective to our circumstances, and in the sense that, yes, all humans die, this statement is true.

But it is decidedly untrue in the sense that death is not a part of God’s plan; it is not a feature of life as God envisioned it and is, thus, wholly unnatural. Death became a reality as a result of sin (this is, in fact, precisely what God warned Adam and Eve about). Paul describes death as the “last enemy to be defeated” and in John’s Revelation, Jesus is depicted in magnificent glory as the Living One who was dead but is now alive, and who holds the keys to Death and Hades: through His resurrection, Jesus has cracked open the tomb of Death and declared His mastery over this ancient enemy, and the Day will come when it will be no more.



From a Christian perspective, we can realize that Death does not have the last say because of the victory of Jesus and that the sting of death is minimized in the face of this reality, but Death is still an enemy. It is not something to be civilized or sanitized with platitudes about it being a “natural part of life”.

Referring to sentiments similar to this, Wolterstorff says:

“I find this pious attitude deaf to the message of the Christian gospel. Death is here understood as a normal instrument of God’s dealings with us. “You have lived out the years I’ve planned for you, I’ll just shake the mountain a bit. All of you there, I’ll send some starlings into the engine of your plane. And as for you there, a stroke while running will do nicely.”

The Bible speaks instead of God’s overcoming death. Paul calls it the last great enemy to be overcome. God is appalled by death. My pain over my son’s death is shared by his pain over my son’s death. And, yes, I share in his pain over his son’s death.” (67)

But, although death is awful, Jesus tells His disciples, startlingly, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” From the perspective of a society that champions youth, achievement, and happiness, and where people put on a smile and declare that things are “fine” while they are dying inside, this seems like a bizarre statement from Jesus. Why would He say such a thing?

“Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is no one blind and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one hungry and who ache whenever they see someone starving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who fails to see God and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one without dignity and who ache whenever they see someone treated with indignity. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries.

Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them. And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted.

The Stoics of antiquity said: Be calm. Disengage yourself. Neither laugh nor weep. Jesus says: Be open to the wounds of the world. Mourn humanity’s mourning, weep over humanity’s weeping, be in agony over humanity’s agony. But do so in the good cheer that a day of peace is coming.” (84-86)

Death is awful. It is an enemy, and it should drive us to mourn. But as Christians, we mourn with the knowledge that the days of death are numbered, and the Day will come when mourning will be no more.

Twilight


For the second time in just five years, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves mourning the loss of one of their own.

Josh Hancock, a 29 year-old right-handed reliever who was in his second year with the Cardinals, was killed instantly early Sunday morning when his SUV struck a stationary tow truck on Interstate 64. All of the details surrounding the wreck have yet to be sorted out, but Hancock’s untimely passing brings back memories of another Cardinals’ hurler who died too young.

Darryl Kile died unexpectedly during the night of June 21, 2002 due to a coronary disease. The death came as a shock to the baseball community because Kile was just 33 years old, and seemingly in the prime of life. He was married with three kids, a three-time All-Star, two years removed from a 20-win season, and making millions of dollars a year.

The idea that death is the great equalizer is not a new one; from Ecclesiastes to Shakespeare, it is a point that has been well-made many times over.

But maybe the point is never driven home quite as hard as it is when someone like Josh Hancock or Darryl Kile dies unexpectedly. It’s at these times that we are reminded that death comes for each of us, whether in the form of a car accident, or heart attack, or old age, and that neither wealth, nor fame, nor physical ability can save us from it.

During times like these I’m also reminded of the words of Jesus in John 9.4:

“We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”

Daylight is fading for each of us, and none of us knows for sure when night will fall on our lives. Make the most of the daylight.

Steve Irwin: 1962-2006

I was saddened to hear that Steve Irwin, famous worldwide as the “Crocodile Hunter”, died Monday morning when he was fatally stabbed in the chest by a stingray barb while snorkeling near the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

Irwin was famous for his commitment to conservationism and his passion for wildlife, and ever since he came onto the scene in the U.S. in the late 1990s, I liked him for the childlike enthusiasm he always displayed for animals, the unbelievable courage he had to get as close as possible to animals that most of us choose to stay away from, and his funny Australian accent.

Spending so much time around dangerous animals like crocodiles and poisonous snakes, Irwin avoided death on such a regular basis that he almost seemed to be impervious to it. Sure, hanging out with an angry crocodile would be a hazardous endeavor for you or me, but for the Croc Hunter, it never really seemed to posed a threat; he was always in control of the situation.

Or at least, that was the case until Monday, when I was reminded that, despite appearances, none of us is really in control of the situation we find ourselves in, and none of us can escape death forever. One of the realities of life is that it is ended by a physical death that comes for all of us, and can come at any time.

But fortunately, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. The Bible teaches that for those who live for Christ, death is overcome by resurrection, and then eternal life.

I am not impervious to death; it will claim me someday. But it will not be the end of my story.

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