Monday, 30 July 2007

Death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered

Following a recommendation by a former church pastor, Stuart, I've been reading Athanasius' wonderful On the Incarnation, written in about 318AD and available in full online here.

I'll probably write more about Athanasius of Alexandria in days to come. However, I wanted to immediately share a fantastic extended quote. Here he is arguing for the destruction of death (in Chapter 5 Sections 29-31):

If you see with your own eyes men and women and children, even, welcoming death for the sake of Christ's religion, how can you be so utterly incredulous and maimed in your mind as not to realise that Christ, to Whom these all bear witness, Himself gives the victory to each, making death completely powerless for those who hold His faith and bear the sign of the cross? No one in his sense doubts that a snake is dead when he sees it trampled underfoot, especially when he knows how savage it used to be; nor, if he sees boys making fun of a lion, does he doubt that the brute is either dead or completely bereft of strength. These things can be seen with our own eyes, and it is the same with the conquest of death. Doubt no longer, then, when you see death mocked and scorned by those who believe in Christ, that by Christ death was destroyed, and the corruption that goes with it resolved and brought to an end.


If, as we have shown, death was destroyed and everybody tramples on it because of Christ, how much more did He Himself first trample and destroy it in His own body! Death having been slain by Him, then, what other issue could there be than the resurrection of His body and its open demonstration as the monument of His victory? How could the destruction of death have been manifested at all, had not the Lord's body been raised?

But if anyone finds even this insufficient, let him find proof of what has been said in present facts. Dead men cannot take effective action; their power of influence on others lasts only till the grave. Deeds and actions that energize others belong only to the living. Well, then, look at the facts in this case. The Saviour is working mightily among men, every day He is invisibly persuading numbers of people all over the world, both within and beyond the Greek-speaking world, to accept His faith and be obedient to His teaching. Can anyone, in face of this, still doubt that He has risen and lives, or rather that He is Himself the Life? Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds and bow down before the teaching of Christ? If He is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if He is dead, how is it that He makes the living to cease from their activities, the adulterer from his adultery, the murderer from murdering, the unjust from avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious? If He did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that He routs and persecutes and overthrows the false gods, whom unbelievers think to be alive, and the evil spirits whom they worship? For where Christ is named, idolatry is destroyed and the fraud of evil spirits is exposed; indeed, no such spirit can endure that Name, but takes to flight on sound of it.

This is the work of One Who lives, not of one dead; and, more than that, it is the work of God. It would be absurd to say that the evil spirits whom He drives out and the idols which He destroys are alive, but that He Who drives out and destroys, and Whom they themselves acknowledge to be Son of God, is dead.

Like Peter in Acts 3-4, Athanasius could see that the acts of the risen Lord Jesus were proof of his victory. Oh that, like the believers that Athanasius wrote about, Christians today would grasp the extent and the magnitude of Jesus' victory! I was reminded as I read of Richard Dawkins' claim in The God Delusion that he couldn't really see heavenly-mindedness in the lives of Christians. Perhaps an exaggeration on his part but, oh, that we would be more heavenly-minded! Oh that we would know and live in the light of the fact that the last enemy, death, has been defeated by Christ!

I pray that my life might be an apologetic that could have been used by Athanasius to prove that Jesus is alive and active in his world.

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