Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Works of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent lesson in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University concerning the “Work” of Jesus.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

Grudem joins most Evangelicals in affirming that the penal substitutionary theory is the primary theory and most important way to understand Jesus’ atoning work. But after sampling other biblical images and biblically based theories, pick one image or theory other than penal substitutionary and “defend” it as your new favorite: What is the full scope communicated via this image or theory? Why is it especially meaningful to you?

The lesson this week gives us much to consider regarding the “work” of Jesus Christ, i.e., His sacrifice on the cross. I’m sure most of us realize the importance of “threes” in the work of Christ. First, it is a three-day event. Jesus was taken into custody sometime around midnight (Thursday into Friday) and brought before the Sanhedrin and Roman officials for a series of “trials.” He was crucified on Friday and, after defeating death, He rose from the dead on the third day. Looking at the “work” of Christ in greater detail, “three” shows up several more times. There are three “stages” to the event itself: (1) death; (2) burial; (3) resurrection. Further, each of these stages addresses separate issues regarding atonement. In the first stage, Jesus shed His innocent blood, which correlates with the axiom “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” In the second stage, Jesus suffered actual (physical) death. This stage satisfied our moral debt. The third stage allowed our “sentence” to be served by proxy.

K.M. Kapic provides a wonderful explanation of the work of Christ on the cross. “Taken together, the images on this colorful canvas can help us see the full portrait of atonement: in Christ, God saves us as our mediator, sacrifice, redeemer, justifier, substitute, king, victor, and healer.” [1] Arguably, a key component of the work of Jesus on the cross is His taking our punishment (penal substitutionary). For this week’s discussion, I wish to focus on 1 Peter 2:24. Jesus bore our sins. However, I believe it is only because of His death and resurrection that we have been given the means through which we can “die” to sin—resist its dominion over our lives, especially the “practice” of habitual sin—and live unto righteousness in Christ. Kapic does not believe Christ paid a “ransom” to Satan. I concur. Mankind was enslaved to “sin,” not to the devil. Release from the domination of sin carried a price tag: the death of Jesus Christ.

We see in Christ’s earthly ministry many examples of His beginning to “reverse sin’s curse,” especially regarding how to stand up to temptation, the critical importance of love, submitting to the will of the Father, self-sacrifice (even unto death), and restoration. These activities point to what righteousness should look like. Human sin is in stark contrast to righteousness. Not only does sin seek its own appeasement, it causes a “failure to ‘render unto God his due honor.’” [2] God cannot overlook man’s abject disloyalty. However, I digress. Let’s stay on the matter of Jesus providing the means by which we can resist sin and seek righteousness.

Grudem defines atonement as “The work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation.” [3] Although this is slightly vague on its surface, I agree. But I must add that the term “salvation” is very comprehensive and includes deliverance from sin’s power and effects. The Hebrew language indicates some synonymous terms for salvation: freedom from constraint; deliverance from bondage or slavery; preservation from danger. From a New Testament point of view, Christ’s atonement provided release from habit and vice, a growing emancipation from all evil, increasing spiritual perfection (maturity), liberty, and peace. R.E.O. White says Jesus did not die to “win back God’s favor” for us. We had it all along. Rather, the work of the cross enabled us to move from a life of rebellion to a childlike willingness to trust and obey. [4]

I see a vital application of this aspect of the work of Christ to my life. I was subjected to severe “corporal” punishment growing up, which only served to make me fearful and angry. I was not empowered to handle anger, express love, or socialize with others, which led to rebelliousness, sin, addiction, self-centeredness, and a lack of social consciousness. While in active addiction, I fed my sin nature and ignored God’s initial call on my life. My coping mechanisms included those typically associated with addiction: denial, rationalization, blame, escape through physical pleasure. I lacked respect for authority.

Although I tried to stop drinking and getting high numerous times, this was not possible until I began to see how far out of balance my overt behavior was to the Christian worldview I claimed (pretended?) to have. I had to stop seeing myself as the “failure” my father constantly alluded to and, instead, see who I am in Christ because of His work on the cross. This allowed me to love myself and my neighbor. Eventually, I was also able to forgive and begin to love my enemies; what I call my “worst critics.” Not surprisingly, the result was an increasing alignment of my will with God’s will, which led to recovery from addiction. No human power (including mine) could ever break me free from the bondage of sin and addiction. I am convinced that without the all-encompassing benefits of “salvation” we cannot stand up to sin and put on the righteousness of Christ. The work of Christ on the cross allowed me to be forgiven and escape just punishment for my sins; however, it also provided my emancipation from the bondage of sin.


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Person of Christ

The following is a summary of my most recent class in pursuit of my master’s in theology at Colorado Christian University regarding the Divine/Human Aspect of Jesus Christ.

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I found information under the heading Biblical Perspective—Jesus Christ: Both God and Man to be a great springboard for this discussion. Indeed, one of the great mysteries in Christianity involves discerning how the two natures of Jesus (divine and human) relate to each. In fact, Paul tells us in Philippians 2:6-7, “[W]ho, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (RSV). Reading further, we also see that Jesus (while in human form) humbled Himself and became obedient to the will of the Father even unto death on the cross. To me, it seems counter to Christian doctrine to argue, as Arianism does, that Jesus was begotten by God the Father at a point in time as a being distinct from the Father and, consequently, subservient to the Father. Further, Arianism states that Jesus was the first creation of God. Interestingly, the heresy of Jehovah’s Witnesses would support this belief. In fact, it is for this very reason Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate the birth of Christ. JWs are essentially rationalists who reject the Doctrine of the Trinity and, accordingly, much of the teachings and miracles of Jesus Christ.

Arianism bases its belief, at least to some degree, on Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.” Accordingly, I will begin with this biblical verse. Quoting from a transliteration of the Greek, Colossians 1:15-16 says, “In whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of (our) sins; who is an image of the God—invisible, firstborn of all creation, because in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things through him and for him have been created; and he is before all things and all things in him consisted.” [1] My interpretation of this passage is that Jesus is considered the “firstborn” because of His divine actions regarding creation itself. It refers to Jesus as the cause of creation. It does not refer to the creation of Jesus. Matthew Henry provides a helpful interpretation. Regarding Jesus, Henry states, “He was born or begotten before all the creation, before any creature was made; which is the Scripture way of representing eternity, and by the eternity of God is represented to us” [emphasis mine]. [2] Henry continues by explaining that all fulness dwells in Jesus; a fulness of merit and righteousness, of strength and grace for us. This seems to fly in the face of Arianism’s claim that God created the Son at some point in time.

To help support my opposition to Arianism, please consider the commentary of Finis J. Dake. The Greek word prototokos, translated “firstborn” and “first begotten” is used of Jesus to mean the firstborn child of Mary (Mt. 1:25). [3] To me, this refers to the firstborn in God’s family as it relates to God born into humanity and not to deity. Acts 13:23 says, “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised” (NIV). Acts 13:33 says, “He has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.” It would appear this refers to God sending Jesus to earth (as God incarnate) which set in motion the plan through which all of mankind can become adopted sons and daughters. The Nicene Creed would seem to muddy the waters regarding this critical doctrinal question with the wording: “And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; begotten from the Father; only-begotten—that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God.” However, the Creed specifically states, “Begotten not made; being of one substance with the Father.” [4] In fact, homoousion to patri refers to the Father and the Son being “of similar substance” or “of like being,” and does not indicate that God the Father created God the Son.

D. J. Treier, in his treatise “Jesus Christ,” notes the biblical history of Jesus’s earthly ministry and inauguration of a “new humanity.” This is the very essence of the “good news.” Concerning whether Jesus was “begotten” of the Father, it is important to note that Jesus has always been, and He was with God and “was God” at the creation. Perhaps it is best to consider the remark “today I have begotten thee” to be the beginning of the Christology of Christ; the start of His earthly mission. Treier notes, “The Bible’s Christological foundation begins with the ‘incarnational narrative.’” [5]

We must also remember that Jesus said He existed before Abraham (John 8:58). Also, He claimed that He and His Father are one (John 10:30), that He is equal with the Father (John 5:17-18), and that He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit were present (together as separate beings) at the moment of creation (Genesis 1; John 1:1-3). And we must not forget that Jesus (the man) was born in the flesh through Mary as conceived by the Father. This is the only manner in which we can rightly state that Jesus was born of the Father; however, it is the incarnate (physical) birth of Jesus we’re speaking of in this instance and not His creation as God the Son. Moreover, God has always existed as a three-in-one being, consisting of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Consider the word “trinity” (tri-unity or three-in-oneness): meaning three and unity. I heard it expressed this way a few years ago: not one-plus-one-plus-one equals three, but one-times-one-times-one equals one.

Footnotes

1. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 791

2. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1164.

3. Finis J. Dake, The Dake Annotated Reference Bible (Lawrenceville: Dake Publishing, 2008), 389.

4. Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 5th ed. (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley Blackwell, 2017), 11.

5. D.J. Treier, “Jesus Christ,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 442.

 


Footnotes

[1] K.M. Kapic, “Atonement,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 97.

[2] Ibid, 97.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 568.

[4] R.E.O. White, “Salvation,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 769.

Christ Suffered and Died: To Reconcile Us to God

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I have presented seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating today with To Reconcile Us to God. Of course, there are countless more reasons for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection: To show His own love for us; to become an ransom for many; to bring us to faith and keep us faithful; to give us a clear conscience; to obtain for us all things that are good for us; to heal us from moral and physical sickness; to secure our resurrection from the dead; to disarm the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world; to destroy the hostility between races and religions, and others.

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life. (Romans 5:10)

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THE RECONCILIATION THAT NEEDS to happen between sinful man and God goes both ways. Our attitude toward God must be changed from defiance to faith. And God’s attitude to us must be changed from wrath to mercy. But the two are not the same. I need God’s help to change; but God does not need mine. My change will have to come from outside of me, but God’s change originates in His own nature. Which means that overall, it is not a change in God at all. It is God’s own planned action to stop being against me and start being for me.

The all-important words are “while we were enemies.” This is when “we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). While we were enemies. In other words, the first “change” was God’s, not ours. We were still enemies. Not that we were consciously on the warpath. Most people don’t feel conscious hostility to God. The hostility is manifest more subtly with a quiet insubordination and indifference. The Bible describes it like this: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).

While we were still like that, God put Christ forward to bear our wrath-kindling sins and make it possible for Him to treat us with mercy alone. God’s first act in reconciling us to Himself was to remove the obstacle that made Him irreconcilable, namely, the God-belittling guilt of our sin. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Reconciliation Widescreen.jpg

Consider this analogy of reconciliation among men. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). When he says, “Be reconciled to your brother,” notice that it is the brother who must remove his judgment. The brother is the one who “has something against you,” just as God has something against us. “Be reconciled to your brother” means do what you must so that your brother’s judgment against you will be removed.

But when we hear the Gospel of Christ, we find that God has already done that: He took the steps we could not take to remove His own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The decisive reconciliation  happened “while we were enemies.” Reconciliation from our side is simply to receive what God has already done, the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift.

 

Death: And Then What?

large_what-happens-at-death-uprgkuxy

Poets, essayists, researchers, and philosophers write often about death, but have rarely seen it. Physicians and nurses, who see it often, rarely write about it. Most people see it once or twice in a lifetime, in situations where they are too entangled in its emotional significance to retain dependable, useful memories of the ordeal. Survivors of mass destruction – plane crashes, hurricanes, terrorist bombings, building collapses – quickly develop such psychological defenses against the horror of what they have seen. Nightmarish images in their mind distort the actual events they have experienced. There are few reliable accounts regarding the ways in which we die.

Very few of us actually witness the deaths of those we love. For instance, not many people die at home anymore, and those who do are usually victims of  drawn-out diseases or chronic degenerative conditions in which drugging and narcosis effectively hide the biological processes that are occurring. Of the approximately 80 percent of Americans who die in a hospital, almost all are in large part concealed, or at least the details of the final conclusion of mortality are concealed, from those who have been closest to them in life. I was with my father when he took his last breath on December 9, 2014. Although I was glad to be with him as he passed away, it was a difficult experience.

An entire mythology has grown up around the process of dying. The mythologies of death are meant to combat fear on the one hand, and its opposite – wishes – on the other. They are meant to serve us by disarming our terror about what the reality may be. While many of us hope for a swift death or a death during sleep (so I won’t suffer), we at the same time cling to an image of our final moments that combines grace with a sense of closure; we need to believe in a clear-minded process in which the summation of a life takes place – either that or a perfect lapse into agony-free unconsciousness.

For many, death is a grim adversary to overcome, whether with the dramatic armaments of high-tech biomedicine or by a conscious acquiescence to its power, an acquiescence that evokes the serene style for which present usage has invented a term. Death With Dignity is our society’s expression of the universal yearning to achieve a graceful triumph over the stark and often repugnant finality of life’s last breath.

It is helpful to realize that death is not a confrontation.  It is simply an event in the sequence of nature’s ongoing rhythms. Not death but disease is the real enemy; it is disease that requires confrontation. Death is the give-over that comes when the exhausting battle has been lost. Even our confrontation with disease should be approached with the realization that many of the sicknesses that befall mankind are simply conveyances for the inevitable journey by which each of us is returned to the same state of physical non-existence from which we emerged at conception. Keeping in mind, of course, that I am speaking of physical death. In no manner to we cease to exist on a spiritual level at the time of our last breath.

Medical science has conferred on humanity the blessing of separating those pathological processes that are reversible from those that are not, constantly adding to the means by which the balance shifts ever in the favor of sustaining life. Unfortunately, modern medicine has also contributed to the misguided fancy by which each of us denies the certainty of our own individual mortality. The claims of too many laboratory-tested doctors to the contrary, medicine will always remain, as the ancient Greeks first dubbed it, an art. One of the most severe demands that its artistry makes of the physician is that he or she become familiar with the poorly delineated boundary zones between categories of treatment whose chances of success may be classified as certain, probable, possible, or unreasonable. Those uncharted spaces between what’s possible through medicine, and everything beyond its reach, are where the thoughtful physician must often wander, with only the accumulated judgment of a life’s experiences to guide the wisdom that must be shared with those who are sick.

Most people do not leave life in a manner they would choose. In previous centuries, men believed in the concept of ars moriendi, the art of dying. Those were times when the only possible attitude to impending death was to let it happen – once certain symptoms made their appearance, there was no choice but to die the best way possible, and hopefully at peace with God. But even then, most people went through a period of suffering that preceded the end; there was little but resignation, and the consolation of prayer and loved ones, to ease the final time.

We live today in an era not of the art of dying, but of the art of saving life. As recently as half a century ago, that other great art, the art of medicine, still prided itself on its ability to manage the process of death, making it as tranquil as professional kindness could make it. Except in the too-few programs in existence, such as hospice, that part of the art is now mostly lost, replaced by the brilliance of rescue and, unfortunately, the all-too-common abandonment when rescue proves to be impossible. The family of the afflicted grasps at a straw that comes in the form of a statistic; what is offered as objective clinical reality is often the subjectivity of a devout disciple of the philosophy that death is an implacable enemy. Once it is clear that someone is going to die – after all possible measures have been taken by the medical team – the crowd thins out. All that remains in the room is the dying and those that love them.

Though the hour of death itself is commonly tranquil, and often preceded by blissful unawareness, the serenity is typically bought at a fearful price – and the price is the effort and the process by which we reach that point. There are some who manage to achieve moments of nobility in which they somehow transcend the indignities being visited on them, and such moments are to be cherished. But such intervals do not lessen the distress over which they briefly triumph. Life is sprinkled throughout with periods of pain, and for some of us it is as if life decades have been bathed in pain and suffering, as we endure one illness or setback after another. In the course of ordinary living, pain is mitigated by periods of peace and times of joy. In dying, however, there is only the affliction. Its brief respites and ebbs are known always to be fleeting, and soon succeeded by a recurrence of the anguish. The peace, and sometimes the joy, comes with momentary relief from suffering.

The dignity we desire in dying, at least from a psychological standpoint, is often found in the dignity with which we have lived our lives. Honesty and grace over the years is frequently the real measure of how we die. This reminds me of the adage, “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.” It is not in the last weeks or days of life that we compose the message which will form our legacy, but in all the decades that preceded them. Certainly, for the man who waits until the eleventh hour to try living a life worth being honored and celebrated, he will be frustrated, if not downright defeated. He who has lived in dignity, dies in dignity. Antithetically, he who has lived a shameful, selfish, evil life will die in abject fear of the ultimate judgment his is facing.

William Cullen Bryant wrote these words, which I think capture this sentiment well:

So live, that when thy summons comes to join
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

Death is the one great certainty in life. Some of us will die in ways out of our control. Amazingly, most of us will be unaware of the moment of death itself. As we live longer on average than ever before in human history, we develop an increasing cultural denial of aging and dying. I find it shocking that death attitudes of our elders have not been well integrated into the fields of gerontology and psychology. In addition, gerontologists have not investigated the unsuspected and differing effects of various world religions upon the personalities of older individuals. There have been no solid comparisons of the religious beliefs of various elderly patients who represent different faiths.

Death-related attitudes and death anxiety tell us that such proclivities have a cognitive component that connects death to our lives. Older persons are more likely to be anxious about death when they have lower levels of ego integrity – ego identity versus despair, the last life stage – a high number of physical problems, psychological problems, poor sense of spirituality, or have been institutionalized for the remaining months or years of their lives. Elders who fear death seem to do so because of the unknown, possible impending wrath or punishment from God, loss of self, or lost opportunities in life. Tomer and Eliason (1996) proposed a comprehensive model of the death and anxiety scale that relates death anxiety to three factors: past-related regret, future-related regret, and meaningfulness of death.

Though in the everyday sense, death is the end of life, spirituality makes death more meaningful and less frightening. Death is, after all, merely the separation of body and spirit. Death of the physical body does not put an end to the journey of the conscious, fully-aware spirit living inside it. Being present when a loved one takes his or her last breath is a very formidable event. While death is no longer an enemy for a believer in Jesus Christ, it remains difficult for the dying and their loved ones. Romans 14:7-9 says, “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” (NIV)

The Bible compares death to sleep more than fifty times. After death, we are asleep; we are unconscious; we are not aware of the passage of time. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.” (NIV) This brings to mind the idea of legacy. Psalm 145:4 says, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (ESV) For the longest time, I gave no thought to what kind of legacy I would leave. It actually seemed arrogant to me that I should leave a legacy. What do I claim as my legacy? Our mind tends to run our stats and score board during the “final quarter.” My past is rather checkered, to say the least, containing many sinful acts and failures. What, exactly, will I be remembered for? I’ve come to understand that the greatest legacy I can leave is to show the importance of obedience. No matter who you are, or where you’ve been – regardless of your age – you can live in the same manner as Christ lived through allowing His presence to dwell in you.

Genesis 2:7 tells us, “God formed man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The man came alive – a living soul.” (MSG) The New King James translation puts it this way: God did not put a soul into man, but a spirit. Your soul is that part of you that consists of your mind, character, thoughts and emotions. The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, which translates to “living being.” The Greek synonym is psy. The human soul is central to the personhood of a human being. As God is triune (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), man is spirit, soul and body. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV) Man is made up of physical material, the body, that can be seen and touched. But he is also made up of immaterial aspects, which are intangible – this includes the soul, spirit, intellect, will, emotions, conscience, and so forth. Man does not possess an immortal body. When we die, the breath of life leaves us.

We have a soul at the moment of conception, but God knew us even before we became living souls. At the moment of sperm and egg becoming one, our complete “code”  becomes set in stone, and our entire blueprint is created. From that moment forward, our cells carry out the work of making our physical body. We are spiritually created the instant our genetic code is formulated. According to Scripture, death is not really normal or natural even though it is a persistent fact of human history. Why? Because man was initially created by God to be a unity of body, soul and spirit to live forever with God in fellowship with Him. This is the natural, normal state that God planned for man. According to the Bible, death is an enemy; the last enemy to be conquered by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Death is the result of sin and the fall of the human race. (See 1 Corinthians 15:25-26) At the moment of death, believers will be made perfect and cleansed from all sin.

Knowing that death ushers us directly into the reality of either heaven or hell should make us look up to Christ as our refuge and salvation, and should make us strive “…to have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9) Even for believers, the prospect of death is sometimes a fearful thing because death is enshrouded in great mystery as the realm to which we have never gone. But we may take courage and lay aside our fears in the confidence that we have a God who time after time says to his people, “Do not be afraid.” God wants his people to be comforted in the face of death.

Romans 8:38-39. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor death, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NASB)

And Death Shall Have No Dominion

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead man naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

By Dylan Thomas

Death

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses’ heads
Were toward eternity.

Emily Dickinson

Death, a Poem

Death.
Does it have wings,
Or just claws?
Giant talons of razor-sharp finality
Carrying us away.
Is it the end, or just a sort of limbo?
Is it fair?
A true measure of retribution and penance,
Equal in proportion to the evil we have spread.
Does it give over to eternity,
Or does it simply close the door on what was?
Can it be cheated,
Or does it always have the last laugh?
When it strikes at an early age, is it off course,
Or is death always on time?
Can it ever be bargained with?
And, if so, what would be the price?

© 2016 Steven Barto

Someone I Lost

This is my response to the Writing 101 assignment number four, Serially Lost.

We buried my father, Charles, in December 2014. The viewing was the hardest part. It was bad enough seeing dad lying in his hospital bed after he passed away. It was worse seeing him in his coffin. He was always a larger-than-life figure. He could fix anything. He gave sound advice. He loved people unconditionally. He was a Christian man who loved his country and absolutely worshiped his wife. He saved me from total destruction by taking me in to his home, driving me to A.A. meetings and counseling sessions and doctor’s appointments. He motivated me to take stock and had me prepare a written game plan and a life-saving TO DO list. So, yeah, seeing him lying there was hard.

The funeral home put together a slide show of dozens of pictures showing dad over the years. One of my favorite photos was of dad holding me on his lap when I was a baby. He was only 20 years old at the time. I always said my father had to grow up rather fast. He was thirteen when his dad passed away. (I remember dad saying to me once, “You would have loved your grandfather.”)

Dad’s memorial service was very nice. My grandmother’s pastor officiated. Grammy passed away one year ago this past August. After going to the cemetery, we all gathered at the church for food and fellowship. People shared many good memories about him. My oldest son Christopher was there, along with my ex-wife Antoinette. (I came to realize that my ex-wife does not hate me, like I always believed. Nice, huh?) Cousin Sonny came, who is 84 years old. Cousin Eileen was there. She was very upset. She and dad used to play together growing up. Dad’s history teacher from Montgomery High School, Mr. Deffenbaum, came. He is in his 90s. He said, “Charlie was one of my boys.” He said he tries to get to as many funerals of his former students as he can. This was very sweet of him.

Mom was very upset. It was hard seeing her cry. I have always been blown away by the relationship between her and dad. They got married in 1958 when she was fourteen and he was nineteen. I was born a year later, on their anniversary. Mom and dad weathered many a rough patch. Thing is, dad treated mom with tenderness, love, respect, and admiration. He once said in a letter to her on her birthday that she was the glue that held everything together. He said he was very touched by the way she handled us kids.

When our male cat Smokey got out of the house early this fall, dad was so upset. Smokey was his “buddy.” The cat would come into his bedroom every night and spend about ten minutes rubbing against him, purring, and saying goodnight. So dad was really sad when he thought Smokey was gone. Smokey came back later that night. Mom went outside one last time to look for him, and there was Smokey on the back porch. Mom started crying tears of joy. The next day, dad made mom a certificate calling her “The Hero That Saved Smokey.”

It’s really easy to miss someone as special as dad.

Let it comfort you when a loved one dies, knowing that all those who die in Christ will one day be together.

When Paul wanted to encourage Christians whose loved ones had died, this is what he wrote: “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thess. 4:17-18).  I love the word “together” in this verse. “Together” is the longing of our souls, isn’t it? We will be together with our loved ones with the Lord forever.  What an encouragement!

And when you see your loved one again, both of you will be transformed into the image of Jesus. This means that you will be able to love each other in ways that were never possible while in this life. In a sense, even love will be “resurrected” to its full potential and measure.

I miss my father very much, but I realize that he is communing with the Lord this Easter. Enjoying a feast with his father and his mother. I realize that one day we will all be together again, for eternity, without sorrow, without pain, without sickness, and without death. I long to see my father again, and I look forward to the day when I get to meet my grandfather. I will never forget the words my father spoke to me about a year ago. We were sitting in the living room, waiting through the commercials for our show to come back on, when he looked at me and said, “You would have liked your grandfather.”

The Five

Some time late in the 1990s, there was a very bad accident in a city park in Allentown, PA. Five young men were crammed in to a two-door car traveling approximately 47 miles an hour down a park road that had a posted speed limit of 15 miles per hour. As the car approached a 90-degree curve onto a bridge exiting the park, the driver lost control and hit a wooden post and wire guardrail. The car was vaulted into the air, landing upside down in a water-filled canal. The young men ranged in age from 14 to 19 years old. All five had been drinking and smoking marijuana. The driver was found to have been legally drunk at the time of the accident. All five young men drowned in the car.

I wrote the following poem in 1998 in remembrance of the five young men and that fateful night.

Five boys looking right,
Traveling like lightening through the night.
Could it be?
Would these five boys go
Down the gamut of death
On one final flight?

© 1998 Steven Barto