It is a common human reaction to blame God for all the evil in the world, especially when someone dies young or after a long, painful illness. But our first reading is adamant that, “God did not make death, and does not delight in the death of the living.” Other Scriptures back this up. The book of the prophet Ezekiel says that God takes, “no pleasure in the death of even the wicked, but prefers that they turn away from their wicked ways and live“ (Ezekiel 18:23). God is the author of all life. Everything he created tends towards life, growth, wholeness. Jesus came, he said in John 10:10, that we might have, “life, life to the full.”
So where does death come from, if not from God?
The writer of the book of Wisdom asserts that it came from “the devil’s envy.” Many scholars debate what this envy relates to. Some suggest that the devil was jealous of God’s plan to elevate mankind to a place even higher than the angels, and have the angels serve them on His behalf (cf Hebrews 1:14). Others say that the devil hated the fact that the Son of God would choose to lower himself to the level of human being, to the point of even becoming one of them. Whatever is the reason, it is certainly true that the devil hates us human beings and wishes to destroy us, or at least bring us under his power and control. Revelations 12 makes reference to the Church and how the devil makes war upon her, on believing Christians, “those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12:17). 1 Peter 5 says that, “the devil goes around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” The devil’s tactics are always the same, “to steal, and kill and destroy” (John 10:10), just as he did to our first parents, Adam and Eve, and as he has continued to do to human beings ever since. His biggest hold over us, so the book of Hebrews says, is through our fear of death (Hebrews 2:15).
The book of the Acts of the Apostles tells us that it was to, “undo the works of the devil” that Jesus came to earth (Acts 10: 38). Every healing, every deliverance from evil spirits, every raising from the dead, every forgiveness of sins, that we read Jesus does in the gospels, are all part of his campaign to set human beings free from the power of Satan. That is why the gospels are so full of such stories, as we see in our gospel passage today. To take those stories out of the gospels and claim that they are all made up, is to reduce Jesus to the level of an ordinary human being, albeit a good teacher and kind man. But that is to steal, kill and destroy from us, precisely the tactics of the devil, who is described by Jesus as the father of lies, and a murderer from the beginning (cf John 8:44). To deny the miracles of Jesus is to steal from us our salvation, to kill our faith, and to destroy our hope for eternal life. To say that Jesus is only a human being is to deny that he is also God, that he has power to overcome all our tribulations and fears, especially our fear of death, and it is to keep us under the control of Satan. The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, having become one like us, in all things but sin, endured death on the cross, so that, ”through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).
When you read about the attacks on the Church, and we are reading about so many of them these days, understand that the real source of these attacks is the devil, who hates the Church. Why? Because the Church stands in the way of the devil conquering humanity once again, as he conquered us at the first sin of human beings and brought us under his power. When Jesus broke the power of Satan at the cross and disarmed the evil powers and principalities, as Colossians 2:15 tells us, he gave to his Church, founded on the apostles,the power to continue disarming Satan’s kingdom and promised that, “the gates of hell will not prevail against” the Church (Matthew 16:18). Every time we share the gospel with others, every time we pray for or with someone in suffering, every time we do some good in the world in the name of Jesus, we are helping storm the gates of hell, set free those who are bound in Satan’s power, and help advance the kingdom of God on earth. And, as our first reading today tells us, we are behaving righteously, and righteousness is immortal. As we live godly lives, we are assuring for ourselves eternal life with God in heaven. We must expect the attacks on the Church to continue and increase, so long as this world moves further and further away from belief in God and obedience to its commands. As St Ignatius of Antioch once wrote: ”The Church is at its greatest when it is hated by the world.”
But, people may say, surely some of the accusations against the Church are true, and not solely down to the devil’s envy or anger? Yes, of course, the Church is made up of sinful human beings, who do bad things. The Church itself, in one of the documents at the Second Vatican Council, describes itself as always in need of reform, of acknowledgement and repentance for its sin, as with the residential system and the clergy abuse scandals. Yes, the devil tempts us to sin, to act unrighteously, but it is also true that we human beings have co-operated with him, in giving in to temptation, in thought, word, deed and omission. Paul’s letter to the Romans says that, “sin entered into the world through one man (Adam) and death came through sin, so death has spread to everyone because we all have sinned” (Romans 5:12) – that is the bad news about the human condition.
The good news, however, follows straight after, as St Paul goes on to say that, “just as the one man’s disobedience have made us all sinners, so by one man’s obedience (that is Christ’s) we all can be made righteous” (5:19). What we lost through the first Adam, eternal life, relationship with God, spiritual wholeness, we have restored to us through the second Adam, Jesus. So now, united with Jesus through our baptism, our faith, our prayer, and the sacraments, we can now resist the devil’s temptations, and live for righteousness, for holiness and godliness. And so we gain the eternal life lost to us through the first sin of Adam and Eve, and restored to us by our union with Christ.
Sin, unrighteousness, leads to eternal death in hell, under the eternal control of Satan. Righteousness, living holy lives, leads to eternal life in heaven with God. That is true riches, gained for us by Christ humbling himself, impoverishing himself, in the words of our second reading today, by dying on the cross for our sins, so that as we believe and accept what Christ has done for us, we are enriched by his gifts of forgiveness and salvation. St Paul puts it really well in his second letter to the Corinthians when he says: “For our sake, God made Christ to become sin, he who knew not sin, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God”(2 Corinthians 5:21). That is the exchange won for us at the cross – we give to Christ our sin, our shame, our guilt, our unrighteousness – he brings it all to death on the cross, and he gives to us his forgiveness, his salvation, his righteousness – not a bad exchange, eh, brothers and sisters?
So next time someone says to you that they no longer believe in God, or Jesus, because of the evil they see around them, all the atrocities, the suffering, the death, remind them that this is not at all the fault of God. He never intended that for his creation. It is the devil, and our co-operation with him, by our bad choices, that brought sin and his consequences into the world – all the suffering, and destruction, and death. But God, in Christ, has provided the remedy to all this evil, by his death on the cross, which brought all our wickedness to be crucified in him, so that it would die with him. And when he rose from the dead, the power of sin and evil lay broken on the cross, and we, by allowing Christ to be our Lord and Savior and Healer, can also rise into new life with Him. We do so, by asking Jesus to come and do, what he did for the girl in our gospel today, to lay his hands on us, that we may be made well, and live .