If you’re Tasmanian please excuse me, but I think the Tassie devil is an ill-tempered and unattractive beast. It has managed to engineer its own downfall by transferring a virus that causes a deadly cancer through the bites it inflicts with alarming regularity on its peers. But this, in turn, has promoted it to the endangered species list.
What is interesting, however, is that there are many species that are more critically endangered than the Tassie devil, but the devil gets priority over them. Successive federal governments have favoured the Tassie devil’s salvation to the tune of $13.3 million.1
Why would we sacrifice to this extent to save such nasty creatures? I wonder if heavenly beings looking on at the great controversy have asked God the same question about saving the human race.
Sin’s entrance has resulted in our human race arguing, killing and inventing cruelties. In fact, it may be fair to say that humans are even less attractive in our habits than Tassie devils! However, heaven’s government announced a rescue package; a plan actually finalised before the sin virus appeared (1 Peter 1:20). Cheapness was not a consideration. Incredibly, every individual was provided for and immediately.
Humans are made from clay and will return to it, so as objects our worth is negligible. We have value only by virtue of the price paid by heaven. Heaven’s Commander gave His life to rescue humankind; the just for the unjust. The rescue mission was incredibly risky (Matthew 2:13; 4:1–11; 26:56). This giving has established the value He places on us,2 just as the millions promised the Tassie devil indicate its value.
The very nature of God, which is described as love (agape type—1 John 4:7–9), was on display. Such love is spontaneous; it does not calculate intrinsic worth to call it into action. It is self-sacrificing; it is God’s way of showing humanity. He wishes to fellowship with humanity, an enduring aspect of His character. He will dwell with the saved in the new earth just as in Eden. Now the intriguing thing about agape is that it seeks out the sinner, the lost (Luke 15:3–7: John 3:16). It is expressed to all, irrespective of location, wisdom or the morality of the life lived (1 Corinthians 1:27).
This love came down because we had nothing to recommend us to God (Isaiah 64:6; Zechariah 3:3). God alone generates it (love is “of God”—1 John 4:7). If this was understood there would be no more farewell services where the immortal soul is pictured enjoying heaven’s pleasures. The concept of the immortal soul carries with it the idea that humans have intrinsic worth because a divine element is housed in the body. We have nothing that recommends us to God except our need.3
A similar misunderstanding of agape supports the growing practice of mystical exercises in the Christian community—the Eucharist brings Christ down, it is claimed. Priests have power to direct God! And in the prayer life it is claimed practitioners may meet the “slumbering Christ” in the holy, silent place within.4 Here again a worthy element is inferred and a power attributed—echoing Eastern mysticism. Certainly, we may approach God at any time, but not within us (Nehemiah 2:4; Matthew 6:9).
So how does the Christian respond to God’s love? The only appropriate response is to accept the magnificent gift with gratitude, whole-heartedly and till life ends. A further response will come as a natural consequence—the recipient will act as a channel of this love to others (Matthew 5:16).5 We are called to be channels for God’s grace, ambassadors if you like (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Nicky Phillips, Survival of the cheapest. Sydney Morning Herald, August 11, 2011; Matt Smith, $3m Federal funding boost to save Tasmanian devils. Mercury News (Hobart), January 23, 2014; Linda Hunt, Fears for the Tasmanian devil survival program, as another funding request is rejected. ABC News, Tuesday, January 14, 2014.
Christian Service, 121; Patriarchs and Prophets, 162.
Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 206, 210, 222.
Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (London: Quaker Home Service, 1979), 27.
Acts of the Apostles, 601; Christ Object Lessons, 328, 419
Warren Shipton is an educator and biomedical scientist living in Queensland and is associated with Asia-Pacific International and James Cook universities.