The ancient Syrian city of Palmyra may be next. The destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq is spreading; from burning the National Library, pillaging the National Museum, and bulldozing Hatra and Nimrud, the Islamic State jihadists have advanced on Syria. It’s a violation of the Hague Convention, the Geneva Convention, social and ethical convention. And that destruction pales in comparison to the human destruction being wreaked. Investigations of one month alone (November, 2014) show that 80% of all death in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria and Afghanistan were the result of jihadist violence. That the ISIS-led reign of destruction appalls us is a good sign, though. It reveals that we have deep within us a sense of fair play, a knowledge that although this reign of destruction is all around us, it is somehow foreign to our inner moral code.
There is a more fundamental issue in the realm of earthly reigns and destruction than what ISIS or any violent group or individual is doing, though.
“Death,” explains Paul in the fifth chapter of Romans, “reigned…” He is explaining the moral situation of which all of us, Adam’s hapless descendants, have found ourselves both perpetrators and victims. We are all morally culpable not only for our own personal continuation and version of the Great Rebellion against God. At the time of Moses, Judaic Law was introduced. Was this a crossroad, a solution to the age-old problem? No, explains Paul. “The law was added so that the trespass might increase.” Our situation was moved from bad to worse. Our problem was simply highlighted to draw our attention to it. So death continued its merciless reign.
Study the history of the human race. Pore over the documents and archives of our sad story. Watch the news. Beneath the innovations and revolutions that emerge intermittently, something deeper permeates the journey of our species: Inequities, cruelties, and atrocities stain the social fabric of our history across time, place and culture. In a word, death reigns. That path is descriptive of the movement of humanity’s masses even today.
Picture it. Imagine a huge highway absolutely plugged with people jostling and rubbing shoulders with one another, fights breaking out occasionally, some being trampled by the many, a rare helping hand reaching out to another. This is the picture that describes us.
Now picture a gift—not a box wrapped in tissue and ribbon, but an opportunity to escape the mad wanderings of the death reign. This gift is mentioned five times in three verses—Paul must be trying to make a point. It’s a “gift…not like the trespass”; it’s a “gift of God (that) is not like the result of the one man’s sin”; it’s a “gift (that) followed many trespasses”; it’s a “gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ”; and it’s a gift that allows “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness (to) reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.”
Did you catch that? At this crossroad, we step from the road where death reigns onto the path where life reigns, where those who accept the gift reign in life.
It’s a noteworthy crossroad. It’s the same crossroad we’ve been exploring through the first four chapters of Romans, and now we hear it in yet another way. We’re reminded yet again of this uniquely central intersection Jesus created for us two thousand years ago to be current today. It is no wonder the cross is the paradoxical symbol of life for those who have chosen to follow Him. It pictures death being crossed by life. So take the gift and treasure it – and move into the reign of life.
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Voice of America News; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvOZnXeJs3M&feature=plcp)