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The Bible states in Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”
In late March of 2017, I saw this verse in a new light. My family and friends had gathered in the church of my childhood for my mother’s funeral. One of the pastors spoke from this passage.
Frankly, this verse had never sat well with me. The grief that we go through being separated from our loved ones by a force as unpredictable, unstoppable, and sinister as death—how could that be precious to God?
By all human accounts, my mother was taken unexpectedly. Her passing hurt in a way I had never felt. My father lost his wife. My brother and I lost our mother. My children lost their grandmother.
Again, I ask—how could that be precious?
But, here’s the thing…
It’s precious because it’s merciful.
Viewed from God’s perspective the whole scene changes. He sees us born into a sin-filled world with sin-filled hearts, living sin-filled lives. The Holy Spirit moves with the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we become God’s own, turning to him in repentance and faith. We become his saints.
But the battle is far from over. We spend the rest of our lives fighting the good fight of faith, failing often. We press toward the mark of a higher calling, but we stumble along the way. We live our lives afflicted at every turn, fights on the outside and fears on the inside. We see our fair share of evil, much of which is our own doing. Meanwhile, God looks on, comforting through his Spirit and guiding through his Word, but the struggle continues. God watches. He sees every moment, every tear. He sees every regret and all the sorrow. What is more, he knows how bad it all feels, because his Son went through worse.
Until one day, our Father calls us home—to himself. After all the suffering, all the trials, all the pain, he is finally able to rescue us from it all. This is not just healing; it’s merciful deliverance.
As Tim Keller wrote, “All death can now do to Christians is to make their lives infinitely better.”
There are few words more appropriate for a father’s opportunity to deliver his children from suffering. It is precious.
It’s precious because it’s meaningful.
Death means something to everyone. Philosophers have spent thousands of years pondering how to live well but also how to die well. The two go hand in hand. To quote Epicurus, “The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.”
This is particularly true for the Christian. When we say with Paul that for us to live is Christ and to die is gain, we mean it. Spurgeon once said, “The best moment of a Christian’s life is his last one, because it is the one that is nearest heaven.”
The Christian possesses real hope in the face of death. Other worldviews offer little by comparison. Naturalistic worldviews at their best offer us usefulness as fertilizer. Pantheistic worldviews at their best offer us oblivion. Other theistic worldviews at their best offer a checklist of ordinances, sacraments, and rituals by which we can try our best. However, Christ offers infinitely more. He offers us, not just healing, but resurrection. He offers not just enlightenment, but glorification. He offers not just merit, but redemption.
My mother is absent from the body and therefore present with the Lord. Meanwhile, our memories of her live on with us, pointing to he who is the resurrection and the life. At my mother’s funeral my family and I experienced a peace that passes understanding. It is a peace that is precious.
It’s precious because it’s motivational.
No matter your worldview, no matter your perspective, no matter your opinions or background, biases or intuitions—one thing we all have in common is that we ultimately have no clue what tomorrow holds. Oh, we have good guesses. We are often almost certain. Almost.
Naturalistic worldviews at their best motivate us with the urgency to not waste our few moments of consciousness between bookends of nonexistence, but they never fully explain what that life should look like or why we should fear such a waste. Pantheistic worldviews at their best hasten us on to oblivion past the illusion of this life, death being “like a magician sweeping aside a curtain, [as the] soul reveals what lies beyond.” In the Christian worldview, however, there is a Father to love because we are loved by him. There is king to be served because he served us. There is a “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
A year before my mother passed away, she did not know she had a year. Forgive me if this seems morose, but neither do we. We are charged by Jesus to not be anxious about tomorrow. Tomorrow’s anxiety will come soon enough. We are to first seek the eternal kingdom. The death of loved ones reminds of that truth. And a precious reminder at that.
Viewed from God’s perspective, the whole scene changes. My mom was a lady that had a wonderful life, but not an easy one. For over two decades she worked a demanding job. She raised two ornery boys who gave her grief every step of the way. She had bad knees and diabetes. She felt her share of pain and suffering as does every child of God. And God watched. He saw every moment, every tear. He saw every regret and all the sorrow. And he knew how bad all of it felt, because his son went through worse.
Then he brought her home. He delivered her from all the difficulty, pain, and sorrow of this world by bringing her to the next. God rescued her from a sin-cursed death-bound world and brought her into his eternal kingdom, never to hurt again. How precious that must have been. Precious indeed.
 Tim Keller, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical, p. 166
 Deepak Chopra, Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, p. 25.
Last fall, acclaimed atheist Richard Dawkins released his newest book, Out Growing God. For those familiar with Dr. Dawkins’ previous books, the book offers nothing new. However, this book has a more targeted audience: teenagers.
Dawkins dedicates the book to “all young people when they’re old enough to decide for themselves.” In the book he recounts that he “gave up” Christianity when he was fifteen years old. Dawkins offers this book as a guide for those headed in the same direction.
As I read, I stumbled on a thought that I believe has some value for Christian believers—yes, a devotional thought courtesy of Richard Dawkins!
A few times through the book thinking about Old Testament Israel. He brings into question their monotheism. Basically, he talks as though they weren’t:
“…although the Israelites worshipped their own tribal god Yahweh, they didn’t necessarily disbelieve in the gods of rival tribes, such as Baal, the fertility god of the Canaanites; they just thought Yahweh was more powerful – and also extremely jealous…” 
Dawkins is following an argument from as late as the 19th century. German theologians, namely Julius Wellhausen, reinterpreted the Jewish religion through a Darwinian lens. Wellhausen popularized the idea that the Jewish religion evolved over time from animism (the belief that a spirit lived in everything), to polytheism (the belief in many gods), to totemism (the belief one’s tribe descended from a group of plants or animals), to ancestor worship, and eventually to monotheism—well, sort of.
This idea is not new, but it is also not current and for good reason. Jewish scholar Rich Robinson explains:
“Unfortunately, [Wellhausen’s] influence was based on assumptions and philosophies which had little to do with historical evidence. The recent upsurge in modern archaeology has shown Wellhausen’s viewpoint to be arbitrary and outdated.”
(Note: I highly recommend Dr. Robinson’s article on the topic. It was concise but helpful on the issue.)
So why does Dawkins portray the Israelites this way? My guess is that he is attempting to relegate the Jewish religion to the ash heap of ancient paganism. After all, conflating the Biblical narrative with the mythologies of the past and dismissing it accordingly is one of Dr. Dawkins’ favorite thing to do. The strategy is clear: if he can disregard the Jewish religion, he can disregard the fulfillment of it, Christianity.
However, as with so much of Richard Dawkins critique of religion in general, and Christianity in particular, he acts as though his assertions are a given. When he offers evidence for his claim, which is rare, it is feeble at best.
But, here’s the thing…
On this issue, I think he kind of has a point. It’s just not the one he intended.
Think about how many times the Children of Israel turned to idols. Think of how often idolatry was in the pervasive land. There were many points in Hebrew history that worshiping the gods of their enemies was the norm. Moses and the prophets told them that there was only one God and that they were to worship and obey him alone. They were supposed to be monotheistic. But they often failed to act like it.
I am not sure what value that fact has for Dr. Dawkins other than criticizing believers for not being as consistent as their beliefs should make them. (A line of reasoning that has gotten him in trouble before.)
However, his comments prompt me to ask myself: Years from now, what evidence will a skeptic have on me to accuse me of not being truly monotheistic?
In other words, how much am I capitulating to my culture and bringing idols into my heart and mind when Christ has claimed them for himself?
Like the Hebrews, we live in a world with an abundance of phony gods. Our culture worships the pantheon of modern deities like money, power, and comfort. We are called on to show obeisance to the postmodern deities of moral relativity and individual autonomy.
The real difficulty is that our culture has an ally on the inside. The Bible tells us that our hearts work in tandem with the world in the idol making process. In Ezekiel 14, three times within four sentences, God indicts his people for setting up “idols in their hearts.” (Ezekiel 14:3-7) We do not make idols with our hands; we make them with our hearts.
Hand-crafted images made of wood or precious metals are not much of a temptation these days. Furthermore, most of us Christians avoid the worship of blatantly sinful idols that come by way of temptation and addiction. But our hearts are more menacing than that. You see, we tend to make idols out of the good things in life.
Timothy Keller explains how this happens:
“The human heart takes good things…and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”
That is to say, an idol is not defined by its inherent goodness or badness. An idol is “anything you seek to give you what only God can give.”
So I ask myself, what am I seeking to give me what only God can give? (…and probably already has given!)
May God help us to detect and destroy the idols our hearts create. That way, years from now, no one can look back and accuse us of not being truly monotheistic.
 Richard Dawkins, Outgrowing God, p. 7.
 Rich Robinson, “Monotheism of the Ancient Hebrews: Evolved, Invented, Stolen or Revealed?” (https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/issues-0505-letters-to-the-editor/monotheism-of-the-ancient-hebrews-evolved-invented-stolen-or-revealed/)
 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. xiv.
 Keller, p. xvii.
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Have you heard about Joshua Harris? Chances are you have heard more about him in the past two weeks than you have in the past two years. If not, allow me to update.
Two weeks ago, Harris and his wife announced that they were getting a divorce. This is big news for the former megachurch pastor and author of the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a book that was central in sparking the so-called “purity culture.” (See here.)
Then, last week, Harris announced, “By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian.” He went on to write,
[T]o the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality. I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.
So, here’s the thing…
We have seen people embrace a Christian identity and deny a Biblical sexual ethic in order to embrace the sexual revolution. What strikes many about Harris’ story is not simply a repudiation of Biblical sexuality but of Biblical Christianity altogether. As Christians, how are we to think about such an influential figure renouncing the faith?
I would offer three passages to guide us. Continue reading “3 Bible Passages for Thinking about Joshua Harris”
As a Christian parent, are you concerned that your children have doubts about the faith you are passing on to them? As a youth pastor or minister, are you troubled by the apathy so many of the kids in your youth group show toward spiritual things? As a Christian educator, are you worried that you are out of your depth with the questions your students have about the Christian worldview?
Being all three, I can relate. The fact is that the generation currently coming of age, Generation Z as they are called, are living a profoundly different adolescence than even the most recent generation before them. So, how do we Christian parents, pastors, and teachers help them stay grounded in the faith and thrive in the culture?
Here’s the thing…
Thankfully, we have some help.
In their newest book, So the Next Generation Will Know (set to release May 1), renowned Christian apologists Sean McDowell and J. Warner Wallace offer a guide to engaging what is quickly becoming the largest and most secularized generation. Continue reading “Book Review: So the Next Generation Will Know (McDowell & Wallace)”
Last time, I discussed the reasons why we Christian parents, pastors, and teachers should make it a goal to teach young people the big ideas about God, his Word, themselves, and the world around them.
But, here’s the thing…
That can be a daunting task, especially when the distracted kindergartner or the apathetic teenager is sitting there in front of you. So, how do we go about teaching big ideas to these young minds?
I would suggest five Es: exemplify, educate, explain, escalate, and express.Continue reading “Teaching Big Ideas to Young Minds: How?”
Just the other day, I walked in on my students doing something amazing—they were discussing calculus. They were slinging terms left and right, talking quadratics and derivatives, differentiated and otherwise. I mean, I guess it was calculus. As if this dyslexic history major could tell either way.
It is the joy of teaching in a classroom following a calculus class. I take one look at the hieroglyphics that the previous teacher left on the board—I assume out of pride—and I just laugh. The students laugh at me laughing. It’s fun.
Then it’s my turn. I get to teach them Christology, soteriology, and anthropology. I teach ontology, epistemology, and cosmology. Sure, it may be Bible class and apologetics class, but far be it from me to ease up just because the topic turns spiritual. After all, they were just learning calculus!
My first year of teaching theology to high school freshmen, I remember looking over my syllabus with a fellow teacher. Scanning all the “-ologies”, he asked doubtfully, “Do you really think that freshman can handle this? Don’t you think this is over their heads?”
With an unbearably Will-Rogers-like smirk, I replied, “Maybe, but that just means they need to sit up taller.”
Why is it that we teach such big ideas and expect such deep thinking from our young people when it comes to so-called “secular” subjects, yet when it comes to the things of God, we are content to have them read a few verses and discuss a few practical applications?
We need to teach young people the big ideas about God our creator, the universe he created, and the image in which he created us—using the mind he created in us to use. That is to say, we need to teach young people theology.
Here are three reasons why. Continue reading “Teaching Big Ideas to Young Minds: Why?”