Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.
They are words from Job 14 communicating the brevity of life. We’re like cut flowers. What could be prettier than freshly cut flowers? What could be more transient? Such is life.
But actually Job goes on to say, we’re worse than severed greenery.
7 “At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. 8 Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, 9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. 10 But man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.
There’s a circle of life in the natural world but with us it’s more like a one-way arrow headed straight for the grave. So then, what’s our hope in the face of death? It’s not in avoiding death or trying to forget it. And it’s not in trusting some Karmic cycle of death and rebirth… It’s about a LORD of death and resurrection life. Job cries to Him:
13 “If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me! 14 If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. 15 You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made. 16 Surely then you will count my steps but not keep track of my sin. 17 My offences will be sealed up in a bag; you will cover over my sin.
Notice how much like Passover this is? Job writes centuries before the events of Exodus 12 but as we think of these two Scriptures they inform one another beautifully. We can imagine the believer’s burial plot like an Israelite household, sheltering under the blood of the Lamb. Through death, through the anger of God, comes hope on the other side. The LORD Jesus will “remember” us – like He remembered the thief on the cross (Luke 23:42). He longs for us and on resurrection morning He will call us out of our graves (John 5:25). On the far side of death we can know that Jesus remembers us and forgets our sins. How wonderful!
But notice the path. It’s not the avoidance of death – it’s through death (and through suffering) then out the other side.
Which gets me thinking. Often as an evangelist, I’ll liken salvation to a modern-day rescue – say, a life-saver coming to the aid of a drowning man. ‘We’re the drowning man’ I’ll say, ‘but when we call out, the Rescuer jumps in and hauls us out.’ Nice. Except that it communicates something about salvation that might not be too helpful. It communicates that salvation is being lifted out of suffering and death. But that’s not how it is ultimately.
So let me re-jig the analogy. You’re drowning. You call for help. The Rescuer jumps in and swiftly sinks like a stone before you. Oh! Then you feel a tug at your leg and all of a sudden you’re being pulled under. It’s not the way you’d planned. But this is the way he saves you. Down into death and suffering, you are hidden in Christ. Then you are raised to glory on the other side. That’s the surprising shape of Christ’s salvation.
All of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Romans 6:3-5)
Here’s why this matters. The life of a believer is not one of immunity to suffering – but actually, a deeper engagement with it. When we suffer and ask Jesus “Why is this happening? I thought I was one of your saved ones?”, what does He say?
You’re mine. I’ve taken you into my life, my death and, one day soon, my resurrection. In the meantime this world is “full of misery” and you are headed inexorably for the grave. But that’s not the opposite of salvation – it’s the way. Fear not. I have remembered you. And even in your death I will call you by name. One day soon you will leave your sins and suffering in the grave and walk into immortal glory.
Psalm 27:13-14: I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.