I took my wife to see the Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Christmas day. We both enjoyed it a great deal.
It’s a love story, and an adventure story. Someone compared it to Forest Gump, but it’s never as emotional as that masterpiece, nor as funny. But it’s got some humor, I’d give it it a thumbs up for the quality of the writing, acting, cinematography, and directorial artistry. And I love the way sunrises over the water are like a character in the film … somehow Benjamin is attracted to them, and watches them regularly by himself, with family members, etc.
As I stated yesterday, what makes me resonate with the movie the most is the way it presents human growth backwards from the norms we see every day…. aging, failing, dying. Here, a person emerges from the womb as from the grave, in decrepitude, and then grows toward youthful vigor. The “youthful” Benjamin writes in his diary at one point (perhaps at 15 biological years, now with the body of perhaps a 60 year old) “Some days I feel different than the day before…” His wrinkles are disappearing, his hair is sprouting “like weeds”, his hormones are catching fire.
Does the Bible really support the idea that such a miracle is possible? That it will happen to the masses of humanity? Yes and Yes!
Jesus himself states the case as emphatically as words can say: “Don’t be amazed…. All in the graves will come forth.” Unfortunately the fog of neo-Platonic concepts like immortal soul and hellfire make it difficult for most Christians to really see what Jesus is saying here. It’s quite simple, though. The ones who enter into a relationship with God during this age, and continue walking in grace and faith, emerge in the resurrection of Life, what Jesus calls the First Resurrection in the book of Revelation. For such, their resurrection is instantaneous, glorious, and in heaven. The entire rest of mankind, who remain in their sins, emerge from the grave still in their sins, but experience a gradual resurrection, through a process of judgment or trial and testing. In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul states that God gives each a body as it pleases him. This is tremendously reasuring, because it means that disfigured, disabled, distorted folks in this life can look forward to being whole upon emerging from the grave. Then, their education will begin and it will take most of the Millennium for each person to build the finegrained righteous character that is going to be their birthright and their ticket into everlasting life as a member of the human community.
Isaiah describes the scene in several places, including chapter 35. He defines its scope as “the ransomed of the Lord” (which by the authority of 1 Tim 2:4-6 I claim means “all the human race”). He states that they return (come back). That is, they don’t go to a place they never were before, they come back to where they were before.. planet Earth. They come back joyfully, and yet they have some travelling still to do. Isaiah calls it a highway of holiness. He describes it as a place that you can’t travel if you’re unclean (dirty or sinful) … and yet he says that it exists FOR the unclean. He says that the wayfaring man (Joe Sixpack), though they be but fools, won’t err therein. They will figure out how to navigate that highway to holiness, and with the help God has provided with his powerful Son and his patient Bride they will get to that place of moral excellence, of wisdom, of forgiveness, of victory over doubt and selfishness and fear. I envision the Bride or spiritual government of that age as all the great and saintly Christians of ages past; myriads of powerful spiritual mediators working overtime to help everyone with a cloud of supernatural help and faithbuilding efforts. The result of all this effort is the process of age-reversal that Job described in the verse I quoted yesterday… returning to the days of youth.
Isaiah hints at the remarkable reversal of all that we think about in this new living (un-dying) process. He says in 65:20, “”No longer will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his days; For the youth will die at the age of one hundred and the one who does not reach the age of one hundred will be thought accursed.”
What an odd verse! I think the normative experience during the Millennium will be to awaken from the grave near the beginning of the Millennium and live under the authority of Christ and his “Bride”. Joe Sixpack will be living, learning, getting the occasional rebuke but mostly lots of great instruction and encouragement, for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Then comes the end, when Christ turns over the Kingdom to the Father, and there is one last final test, known in the book of Revelation as the “little season” when one more time an evil deceptive intelligence (Satan) is allowed to try and organize opposition to God. This will finally settle who really has love in their heart and really wants to live eternally on the earth…(see Matthew 25:31 to 46)
So I think the Isaiah 65:20 text is saying that since every person can expect the better part of a Millennium to be their minimum opportunity, anyone who dies at, say, 100 years old in that Messianic Age will be like a child in comparison to the 700, 800, 900-year lifespans that the vast majority will experience. And all those who die before the end of the Millennium would do so only as a final judgment… so after a 100 or so years of the most patient and thorough tough love imaginable, those who are executed will be truly sinners, truly deserving of the curse of death. They’ll be the few, the occasional incorrigible folks who simply refuse to buckle down to the righteous authority of the Lamb and his Bride. They will be recognized as accursed sinners by their fellow men.
The Button story isn’t remotely about any of these things. It explores the challenges and unique tragedies that would face a man whose 70 years of experiencing the hereditary fall of man if his growth pattern were reversed. So in the end his life is still a process of dying, not a real life as the Bible envisions it for all people in the future.
It’s tough for us to shake the perception that this life is LIFE. It ain’t folks. It’s death. Cradle to grave, dying we die. That’s why Jesus said weird things like “let the dead bury the dead.” Even the people he resurrected remained firmly dead … that is, dead in trespasses and sins, not released from the condemnation upon all who get their life from Adam.
Those who receive new life from Christ are indeed alive, however. Christians in this age are truly set free from death, and though their outer man appears to die, inwardly they are being renewed with an inner spiritual life that is the spark of an immortal, spiritual existence beyond the grave.
But those who do not receive Christ in this life remain in their sins, and will have to be dealt with in the next age. And of course, that’s where I differ from the main stream of the Christian community… in seeing a second age of grace for all the rest of mankind.
So enjoy a good love story… but also try to put your mind around the incredible love story of a happy God for ALL the human race. Not one that falls flat because most folks don’t respond… [SPOILER ALERT] not one in which the leading lady gets old and dies, and the leading man gets young and dies … but a love story that is reasonable, fair, and yet results in everyone who wants to living happily ever after!