“The Souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them. They seemed in the view of the foolish to be dead; and their passing away was thought and affliction and their going forth from us utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if before men, indeed, they be punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble; they shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord shall be their king forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love; because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect.” (Wisdom 3:1-9)
One to two hundred years before the coming of Christ and his resurrection, the writer of Wisdom anticipated the grand news of the gospel: the righteous may die, but they will live again, and that new life shall be glorious!
How did he know? Others in his day were as confident of it as he. Was it just wishful thinking?
Absolutely not! It was a firm hope based on all they had already known and experienced of God. Though they only saw it dimly, they were certain it must be, for they were certain of God.
First, they had known God’s love and care through generation after generation and were convinced that what he said was true: “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever” is one of the most oft repeated phrases in the Old Testament, appearing nearly thirty times in Psalm 136 alone. Could death separate them from such a love? They were convinced it could not. God’s love for them would endure forever and, in that love, so would they.
Second, they were certain that God had not created them to die in the first place, but to live. Death was brought by sin, not by God’s plan, and it was still not what he wanted for them. Listen to the verse immediately before our passage:
“For God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil’s envy death entered the world” (Wisdom 2:23)
They were made for life, not death, and God would surely restore it.
Finally, they knew that God was just, but that this world was not. Here the evil do as they please and often oppress the poor and the righteous. The writer of Wisdom and others were certain, though, that God’s justice would prevail and in the end all things would be put right. There would be punishment for evil and reward for righteousness.
This was no wishful thinking, but the firm assurance of those who had experienced God’s constant concern for and commitment to righteousness and justice for hundreds of years. He would not let it end this way.
How beautiful that they could be so certain! As yet God had not come as man and spoken, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
As yet there was no empty tomb.
As yet there was no cry, “The Lord is risen!”
As yet….. And yet they believed.
We who have heard Jesus’ promise and are able to shout the Easter greeting, “The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed!,” should be able to live with even more confidence than they. We should be assured that, indeed, “those who trust in him will understand truth and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and he watches over his holy ones”(v9). We should be assured that, “the sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us”(Romans 8:18). We should be confident that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus” (II Cor. 4:14).
Even in difficulty St Paul speaks with that same confidence that is our birthright in Christ and which I pray will be embraced each who reads this post:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is renewed every day . For this slight momentary affliction [life] is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison….For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal with God in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling…. so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life!.” (IICor. 4:16ff)
Indeed, “The souls of the just are in the hand of God.” Is there any safer place to be?
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.