Death is Dead

Based on a sermon, “the Gospel in Chairs,” by Fr. Anthony Corbo, later retold and retitled “the Beautiful Gospel” by Brian Zahnd.

The Gospel is perfect.  We don’t need another Gospel.

But we are not perfect, so the way we tell it ought to be examined.

The Gospel is the unfolding drama of God reconciling and healing the world.  The Gospel is not an atonement theology. The Gospel is not how God reconciles the world through His Son and His cross.  The Gospel is the fact of it.

Atonement theologies seek to work backwards from the great sum of it all, hunting for systems and formulas to explain the “how” God has done this.  They are interesting, but they aren’t the Gospel.  (You don’t have to show your math in this class!)

Primarily in North America, we’re acquainted with a telling of the Gospel that honors a highly legal theme.  Think courtroom.  In this telling, sin is our disobedient behavior, and God must punish sin, because He is a holy and just God.

I want to share that Gospel with you, and then I want to make some necessary tweaks that I’m learning from our Eastern brothers and sisters in the Church.

That Gospel goes like this:

In the beginning, God created the universe, our world, a garden…

In the Garden, He placed Adam and Eve, who sinned.  Because they sinned, He punished them, expelling them from the garden.

He foreshadowed a sacrificial system by killing wild animals and giving their skins to Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness.

God came to Abraham, to Moses, to David and made covenants.  Over and over again, however, the people of God rebelled and failed this covenant, so God punished them, sending them into exile.

From their sinful place, they tried but could not appease Him, their empty works and sacrifices would never satisfy this holy God.

So God sent His Son.  His Son lived in our place, obeyed in our place, satisfied God in our place.  God sent Him to the cross of Calvary to punish him in our place.  In the dark hours of Good Friday, the Father turned His face away as the sin of the entire human race was placed on His Son, because He is a holy God and cannot look upon sin.  

Praise God! He raised His Son, Jesus, from the dead on the third day, because He lived a sinless life.  And Jesus is now seated in power.  

If you and I will believe Jesus did this, taking the punishment for us, then we can have eternal life.  But if you turn from God, He will turn from you.  And if you die in your turning away, you will be forever isolated from God in Hell.

Sound familiar?  It will be hard to hear anyone critique this telling, because for many of us it is the Gospel, and so it is our faith!  However, it truly is an atonement theory, and I have to repeat: the Gospel is not an atonement theory.

Some major concerns with this telling are that it pits God against man, and Father against Son. (See my previous post on why this is not accurate).

In the Eastern Church, however, a Gospel is shared that honors a more therapeutic theme.  Think hospital. In their telling, sin is far worse than our disobedient behaviors.  Sin is in fact a fatal disease that has caused a death in us, and you cannot punish a disease out of anyone.

That Gospel goes like this:

In the beginning, God created the universe, our world, a garden…

In the Garden, He placed Adam and Eve, whom He blessed saying “It is good.” (And who could ever imagine having the power to revoke the original blessing of Creator God.)

Adam and Eve fell into sin, and in their turning from Life, they experienced a curse called death.  God removed them from the Tree of Life, so that their sin would not live forever.  But if they have to leave the Garden, then God goes with them!

So He does, and puts clothing on them to keep them warm (What was with those fig leaves anyway?)

Their son, Cain, grew jealous of his brother Abel.  So God came to him, to warn him, saying “sin is crouched at your door, but I want you to overcome it.” Cain killed his brother anyway and fled, fearing punishment. God went after him and placed a mark on him, a sign to protect him, that no one should hurt him.

God came to Abraham, promising that he and Sarai would have a son. Abraham decided to take things (a perhaps perkier handmaiden) into his own hands. So God came to him, not punishing, but instead keeping his covenant by blessing him with a son through Sarai, and then God even blessed the child born of the handmaiden with a covenant as well.

God came to Moses.  Moses decided to kill an Egyptian, (get the project started early.)  Finding him on the backside of a desert, He says, “I’m not concerned with why you think you’re unworthy – I’m going to use you anyway. Let’s go get my people!” And so they do.

God came to David.  David decided he liked hot tubs and a married woman named Bathsheba.  David kills her husband to cover his sin. God comes after him, and fulfills the promise that he would always have an heir to the throne, and He does so by a son through his union with Bathsheba.

On through the prophets, God keeps coming after His people, and we land in Hosea where God says:

“You’ve become so unfaithful to me, so deserving of punishment…but I remember when you were just a toddler, and how I love you.  I can’t go through with it.  In fact, if you won’t repent, I will. And I’ll keep coming after you, because one day, you will understand and call me husband, not master.”

Finally, God comes to be with us in His Son, Jesus. God with us.

Jesus, the incarnate God, touches, heals and forgives humanity.  He reveals the Father to us, unparalleled by any other. 

He comes..

to a Samaritan woman by a well who has been through five failed marriages;

to a woman caught in a trap by politicized religious leaders who want to punish her for her sin;

to a tax collector in a tree who robbed from his own people;

to crippled, blind and deaf men; saying,

“I do not condemn you. Your sin is forgiven. Rise. Be healed. Come with me.”

He comes…

to a man who says “what is truth?” and turns his back on Him;

to men who scourge and flog Him beyond recognizability;

to men who condemn Him to a cross for the sake of protecting their religious and political systems of power.  

And while He is dying upon that cross, He says, “I forgive you.”

Praise God!  Because Hell attacked earth, and was ambushed by Heaven!  It swallowed a body, and discovered God!  Hell came upon what it could see, and was destroyed by what it could not!  

O, death where is your sting?! O, grave where is your victory!?

Jesus is Lord!  Jesus is God!  And because this God so loves with such beautiful abandon, He comes to us over and over again that we may have life in Him!  

And know this: even if you make your bed in Sheol, He will be there.  He will come to find you, to rescue you.

To those who love love, the presence and announcement of this Kingdom of God, who is love, will be Heaven. 

To those who hate the fire of love, it would be Hell to never be able to extinguish that fire or get far enough away.

Whatever the depths of Hell may be, God’s love is deeper still.

Hell, then, is to never be able to destroy the love of God, even if you wanted to. 

Love was buried, and the death could not hold it down.  Death was burned by its holy fire, consumed in its resurrection.

Death is dead.


One thought on “Death is Dead

  1. Could you clear up your definition of hell? I’m reading it as, hell is hating God’s love but not being able to get away from it. This seems to conflict with the idea of eternal punishment or the idea of separation in Matthew 25:31-46.

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