The original question was:
The Bible teaches the wages of sin is death and I know God can bring death, but can we blame God for murder, abortion, tragic road fatality, death in house fire, etc?
Answer by John Mackay
When is death of God and when is it not? Is there such a thing as accidental or natural death? These are tough questions and the Bible has some tough things to say about this subject, because central to this issue is the relationship of the Sovereignty of the Creator God and the responsibility of created man. Therefore, a little thematic study on death from the first created man Adam down to present day mankind should help.
The Origin of Life and Death
Genesis records Adam was made in the image of the Sovereign Creator God, (Gen 1:26- 31) so it should not surprise us that God’s personal attributes are stamped to a lesser degree on his creation Adam. For example: the Creator can speak, therefore so can Adam. Man’s Maker can write – so the first man would have no problem writing. But differences in these same attributes also show. When the Creator spoke a Universe appeared. Man’s speech achieves little by comparison.
The God of Creation is a Sovereign Ruler so the one made in His Image must also have some sovereignty, and this showed when Adam was instructed to have Dominion over planet earth. Compared to His Creator’s Sovereign power, Adams power to exercise dominion is puny – a mere reflection of the Maker’s. Likewise, since Adam is a created being, he is also a dependant creature, not an independent one. The realm of Adam’s control is limited. Adam’s power was authorised, gifted and granted by the higher authority of the Ruler of all the earth. Therefore Adam is dependent on the truly Independent Sovereign Creator who made all things – Adam included.
The moral of the story thus far: since the planet and all things on it belong to the Creator, Adam’s licensed and limited sovereignty comes with both responsibility and accountability. The man was instructed to tend the Garden – a responsibility, but not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, or the wages of this sin would be death, i.e. Adam was accountable to God and would suffer consequences for disobedience. A later writer in Ecclesiastes states it this way; ‘Young man, do what you want’ – ‘but remember for all your actions God will bring you into judgement.” ( Ecclesiastes 11:9) He also advised young people to “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
Moving to Genesis 3 we discover Adam chose to sin, i.e. to reject the authority of the One who is really Sovereign. True to His word, the Creator God expelled us from His presence and spiritual death commenced. Then He banned us from accessing the tree of life so we could not eat and live forever. From that point we began to physically reap the wages of sin as we were doomed to die. The physical death penalty had been imposed by the Creator and it was irrevocable. Man became a fallen sinner and all humans beings descended from the first man will die because of our sin, you and I included.
But did you notice :Why Adam and Eve didn’t die on the spot? When The LORD slew an animal to provide coats to cover their nakedness, we usually forget the first pair of humans were left alive only because an innocent animal without blemish and in the first year of its life, had its blood poured out to produce a covering for their sin. Adam and Eve would have died there and then had not God accepted and chosen a sacrificial substitute that died in their place. This substitutionary principle reappears time and time again until the coming of Christ the final Lamb of God who died for man’s sin.
Some Useful Principles
Principle number 1: The Sovereign God has made man responsible and granted him limited sovereignty.
Principle number 2: Since the fall of man into sin, there has been a clash between the sinless Sovereignty of God vs sinful man’s rejection of responsibility. We would much rather man be sovereign and God take full responsibility, so we could then dispense with accountability. It shows in the various ways we love to blame God for our sin e.g. the homosexual claim God made him that way, regardless of the fact that the sovereign God said He didn’t! Alternatively, we make Satan our excuse and claim “the Devil made me do it”, or blame a low socioeconomic environment for our thieving. No matter what, it can’t be our fault! Men want more sovereign power to act, but less accountability for their actions.
The First Murder Adam’s son Cain killed his more righteous brother Abel (Gen 4). But keep this in perspective. Abel would have died sooner or later anyway – yet Abel’s death as a sinner should have been at a time and place of God’s choosing. Cain did not give Abel life so he had no authority to end Abel’s life. But the record tells us Abel was murdered when and where Cain’s chose. God confronts Cain with his wrongdoing yet Cain claims he is now scared of being put to death by his fellow humans and would God do something about this? Cain knows his sin of murder rightfully could result in his death. God could have slain Cain on the spot? But then he could have done that to Adam as well. Never forget that we fallen sinners see the scale of sin very differently from the God come to earth, who reminded us some 4,000 years later that if you break the least of His commandments you may as well have broken the lot. (Matthew 5:19)
The Lord’s judgement on Cain in Gen 4:15 reads; “And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.” It is this passage which gave rise to the saying ‘Vengeance is mine says the Lord I will repay’. (Hebrews 10:30) The Sovereign Creator declares He has reserved the right to put Cain to death as a sinner at a place and time of His choosing, and warns that any man acting via limited sovereignty who chooses and succeeds in a revenge killing of Cain, the seven-fold eternal consequence for that killer will be of God’s choosing and not that of the murderer.
Righteous Abel became the first martyred prophet, (Luke 11:50-51) and therefore the first in a long line of saints able to make the tragic request seen in the Bibles last book: “How long oh Lord till you avenge the death of your saints?” (Revelation 6:10) From Genesis 4 and on, Cain and Abel are listed as examples – Cain of a lifestyle we must avoid, and Abel as a demonstration of sacrificial obedience.
Soon after we read that Cain’s descendant Lamech talks proudly about killing a man, and boasts of vengeance he might take on those who attack him. Lamech builds his boast on the God’s earlier pledge; “Cain got only seven fold vengeance, but I Lamech will reap seventy- fold”. (Genesis 4: 23 -24) Man’s boastful desire to exceed Gods authority in all things – death included is now on record for all to see.
The Death Penalty
The next move in this life and death saga occurs after Noah’s flood when God demands man as dependant sovereign of the planet accepts a new, but still limited, responsibility over death. Noah is commanded that from that time on man must take responsibility for the putting to death any humans (or animals) who murder a human being. (Genesis 9:1-6) Hence Robert Menzies quoted this verse in Australia’s declaration of war on Germany in World War 2 and legitimately applied it directly to Adolf Hitler. In ancient Israel this death penalty responsibility of man is expanded later to other crimes, e.g. idolatry, witchcraft, adultery, etc. (Leviticus 19-20)
From Noah’s day to the present you see the complex interaction of sinful man pushing the boundaries of his limited sovereignty towards being an absolute authority with less and less accountability. Mankind soon commenced using the death penalty to achieve personal or political power, rather than submitting judgements to the revealed will of a holy and sovereign God. Today man’s death sentence actions vary from suicide to murder for convenience. Wars and rumours of wars are now widespread weapons of control. Man’s constant hope is that his compelling justification will exempt us from accountability to a sovereign god of God somewhere out there – and we are doing our best to evolve any such God or gods out of the picture. Current atheist alliance politicians pushing for worldwide acceptance of abortion, suicide and euthanasia are the latest examples.
Job, God and Satan
A few centuries after Noah we encounter the patience of Job, where Satan seeks permission to test Job and Satan’s boast is that Job will cave in and not trust God. Read the whole book of Job for yourself, but the important truth is that neither Job’s nor his family could die by Satan’s hand without God’s authorisation being granted to Satan. Yes, God does send both life and death, and He does authorise agents to bring this about. Yet the same God reminds us of one sad, but comforting truth in all this. Even though death is the right and due penalty for our sin, regardless of whether that death be by illness old age car accident or even murder, scripture reminds us that “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints”. (Psalm 116:15)
The Lord Jesus Christ shared with his followers that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father God knowing. ( Matthew 10:29-31) It was a simple but profound statement of the omniscient sovereignty of God the Creator albeit the same One who was standing in front of His followers clothed in Human flesh (see John 1:1-14). It was also a reminder of an age old truth stated so well in Psalm 104 that when God sends forth His Spirit creatures are born, and when He withdraws His Spirit creatures fall to the ground and they die. God’s omnipotent sovereignty as the author of life is balanced by His power to also withdraw life.
Can God send death?
Yes. Firstly as a general result of Adam’s sin, we are all going to die! God has decreed it, and none can avoid it by wealth, power or cleverness. In some cases God sends death very directly to those who have publically mocked Him. Herod’s death by worms in the New Testament is a good example. We read in Acts chapter 12 that ” … upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. But the word of God grew and multiplied.” (Acts 12:21-24)
However, sometimes God in His Grace spares even suffering unbelievers from death, so they can have undeserved opportunity to get to know Him as Saviour, rather than die straight into the even worse suffering of Gods judgement in Hell. See Joni Erikson’s testimony of agonizing quadriplegia which led her to Christ. Sometimes He spares those who are suffering, so other selfish un-suffering individuals have no option but to learn to humble themselves and serve those in need.
Do you consider death as something you should not expect to happen until you are physically worn out? Or can you see the bigger picture that your lifespan is the result of a deliberate and gracious stay of execution so you can share God’s mercy and salvation with sinners that they too may receive eternal life? We usually forget that every day The LORD allows us to live is a day more than any of us sinners deserve. Our heart attitude is we demand of God the right to life when no such privilege exists. As we study this brief history of life and death, don’t forget the two unique cases of Enoch and Elijah: the Lord God took them past death into His presence and they never died.
Can death ever be ‘natural’?
This word as currently used, particularly in science, means without reference to God, i.e. something which happens without a supreme being interfering. ‘Natural’ has become a word that denotes total independence from the Creator God. But when the Apostle Paul repeatedly used the word ‘natural’ in Scripture (e.g. in his letters to the Romans and Corinthians), it actually refers to the rules which God built into the universe, e.g. the wages of sin is death etc. Death, therefore, only ever occurs in relationship to the rules God has laid down. When we use words like chance or accidental it simply means we don’t know or don’t understand, or don’t want to admit to any rules ordained by God that we have been subject to.
The big picture was well expressed by a Romanian Pastor I interviewed who had been horribly tortured for years in communist prisons yet God kept him alive with a confident testimony to his torturers that because God is Sovereign: “You can’t kill me until God wants me dead!” He led many of his captors and fellow prisoners to Christ as a result of his faithful acceptance of Gods will in suffering for him.
The Gift of New Life
There is one last and very important point. Death is a moral penalty, not a biological necessity, and there is no way out unless the penalty is paid. That is why Jesus Christ who never sinned, suffered an unjust death nearly 2,000 years ago so that the moral penalty demanded by a righteous sovereign creator God would be satisfied, so we guilty sinners could be offered freedom from the death penalty. The offer is still open today if you will humble yourself, admit your sinful nature, ask God’s forgiveness and accept in faith that this Jesus actually died in your place for your sin, and rose from the dead so you could know for certain that death had been conquered, and you too could receive eternal life. I did!
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