(The Deluge, by Francis Danby)
In the last segment, I addressed the world’s secular view of death and the afterlife, or lack of view rather, and what that view leads to. Annihilationism leads to the destruction of human morals, religion, and therefore, humanity itself. In this segment and the next however, I shall address the worldview that matters, and the one that makes sense of the death and destruction of this world; that of the resurrection. In order to rightly explain this, it is necessary to go back to the beginning; Genesis.
In the first few chapters, the creation of all things is poetically explained, as well as presented in philosophical detail. Much of what is written there is written not so that we could know the details of how things looked, sounded, felt, or how things happened, but rather so that we could know how to think about God and His intentions for creation in a theological, philosophical way. What gives rise to an unrealistic, humanistic, or nihilistic worldview, is a misinterpretation of these passages of scripture.
The first error, is reading it symbolically, that the things stated here are meant to convey metaphorical, or “spiritual” realities. An example might go thus, “God did not literally make the universe in six days, Genesis says that so that we would have a framework for a weekly Sabbath day of rest after six days of work so that we don’t burn out in ministry” or some such nonsense. God actually did the things it says. He is to be credited with the creation of all things in six 24 hour days of creation. Creation of the planets and stars, of male and female, of angel and demon, of plant and animal, and more to the point, He is the creator both of life and death.
The hackles rise on the necks of many conservative Christian denominations nationwide when that phrase is heard. “God is responsible for death? That is blasphemy! Death is the fault of Satan and the sin of Man, not of God! God gives life! Not death!” This reasoning, while Biblically wrong, has a logic to it. They are trying to uphold the holiness and arbitrary goodness of God, while ignoring the justice of God, and they do not realize that they are creating a paradox. The reason why this is so important to oppose, is that by interpreting the Bible this way, they are unwittingly giving more credit to the power of the Devil, and the Power of Man, and the Power of sin, than to God Himself.
The question I always tend to bring up in the conversation about why God allows so much suffering and death in the world, (I admit with something of a devilish grin) is this; who is responsible for bringing death to the world? I grin at them maniacally until they answer me, and almost always they answer with the good old argument that “It’s Satan’s fault” or “It’s the sin of man’s fault,” sometimes with an impudent “of course,” thrown in there for good measure. That idea, while long held to be true in Sunday schools around the world, is a simple misinterpretation of the Word, a seemingly insignificant error which in fact causes the entire foundation of the grand masterpiece of the Gospel to fall apart with a deafening crash if believed in unconditionally.
So who caused death to come into the world? The answer is simple; God did. It was God, and no one else, who chose to make death a consequence of sin, and He instituted this consequence before ever man sinned, and before Satan ever entered the Garden of God. Not only that, it was He and He alone, who intentionally caused sin to be taken into effect once man sinned. I hear death and sin spoken of as basically interchangeable, or that death is just a symptom of sin, like the ripple that is caused when a stone is thrown in water, “it affects everything it touches.” This is bad theology, but even worse, it is sacrilegious to think of death as the product of sin, because according to the scriptures, sinners would live on forever in sin, unpunished by the consequence of death if God had not decided to make the rule of law that those who sin will also surely die, and then also enforced it by banishing men from the tree of life. That is the only true, and right way to view death, as God’s punishment for sin, as well as the inhibitor for man’s sinful ways.
People die every day because God chose for them, in His perfect will, to die. This is a hard truth to deal with because death is so negative, and we tend to attribute all negativity to Satan, and all positivity to God. It grieves Him to put man to death, but it is the wisest choice when faced with a disobedient, and depraved humanity. That was not His plan in the beginning, and Man did make an avoidable mistake when He ate the fruit of The Knowledge of Good and Evil, but ever since then, God has willfully enforced the punishment on all of creation that “By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”
Later in Romans 8:20 it states, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope…” It was God who did this of His own accord, and it was just and right for all men to die for the sins of Adam, and it still is. It is God’s own goodness that He subjects man to death, for can you even imagine a sinful human race, who are both hopelessly sinful as well as immortal, continuing to live for themselves while hopelessly flawed? We can see a taste of that in Genesis before the flood, a time when men lived anywhere from 300 to 900 years of age depending upon how well they lived, and it says of that powerfully vigorous generation, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
What did God do then? He did not allow this sort of evil to continue unchecked. So how did he stop them? His answer was death. God’s answer to the blight of sinfulness, is the intervention of unnatural death, for men was meant to live forever, but by the grace of God, the punishment of death was instituted over every immortal human, that men might learn to fear the Lord. Pagans and atheists both argue with perceived authority that because there is suffering in the world, God does not exist. My argument, is that if death did not exist in this sinful world, then I would agree with them that God does not exist, and in this way, death itself is a testimony of the existence, and goodness, of God.
But the type of death that we see in the world, is not the only death that there is. All we experience on the earth in our mortal generation is the death of the body, and the passing of the spirit of those we know and love. The body breaks down, either by disease or killing (yes, those are the only two sorts of death there are, because dying of natural causes only means dying of diseases which we do not have a cure for) and the personality of the person we knew is no longer there. They are, for all intents and purposes, gone, and there is no one else like them in all the earth. This experience of ours understandably gives rise to this simplistic notion that when death comes, the spirit is destroyed, and they no longer exist. As I mentioned in the last blog post, Christians cannot, if properly informed by the Word, believe this however, for Christ’s salvation is not salvation from non-existence, but from that which Christ Himself calls “The wrath of God against sinners.”
Those who believe upon Christ are saved from the wrath of God, as the gospel states. If that is true, then why do Christians still die around us? This is a very apparent phenomenon. The most holy, devoted, and astute Christians still experience death, and their bones are in the ground where they are buried. So what Christ meant when He said “the wrath of God” must mean something other than physical death. So what does He mean by it?
The fact that all men die is one that cannot be argued against, the wicked and the just fall prey to it, and as I mentioned before, death or the destroyer is seen an actual angel who comes to take away the life from our bodies multiple times in the Bible. This is Christian doctrine, although one which is never spoken of much from the pulpits. How the angel of death does this, and whether or not he, she, or it comes to every human in turn is not told to us specifically, but I think it is safe to say that the angel of death/the destroyer would not be named as such if he, she, or it were not in charge of bringing death itself. This is simply an interesting aside, and one which is only meant to show us the power of God over His angels, any one of which can destroy an entire army of humans without our knowledge.
My point is, that the Gospel is not meant to save us from immediate physical death. God may grant us miracles which could delay death for a time, for which we should definitely pray and expect an answer, but God’s salvation, and His Spirit, are not given to us for the purpose of health and wellness. What He saves us from in this age, and what He subjected His own son to, and what His son knowingly put Himself through, is the experience of estrangement from God, and the suffering of the curse which will follow us into the afterlife if we do not repent and cling to Christ as the sacrifice for our personal sins, and our eternal Bridegroom, King, and Judge. There will be a day, when Christ returns with the multitude of His Godly ones to destroy evil and bring the Kingdom to earth, and then there will be no more crying, dying or pain, but that day has been coming for over 2,000 years, and while the time is nearer than before, we will experience this cycle of death and pain all the way up until that day comes. Christ’s sacrifice made a way for the transformation of the heart now, and the transformation of the body then.Until that day, we must struggle with this issue of death, and strive to understand it.
So what is the Gospel meant to save us from? Well, in this interim period between the fall of Adam and the Second Coming of Christ, we have a choice to make as to how we shall live, and what we believe. This choice will determine the way in which God shall judge us when death comes. The choice is obedience, or disobedience, pride, or humility, love or hate, to believe in the Words of Christ implicitly, or disbelieve Him and believe the words of men and our own minds. This life we have is both a test, and a chance. A test as to whether or not we deserve to make it to heaven, and a chance to get there even though we do not deserve to. This is the goal of salvation; intimacy with God, and if God is in heaven, then that is where we will want to be.
So even if we do believe in God we still have to reckon with this painful thing called death, which is both a hindrance to, and an aid to our intimacy with God. This shows us what is most important to God. If what He cared about most was our immediate health and comfort, then we definitely would already have it. (This is the mental framework from which atheists and agnostics begin when positing the opinion that if God were good then suffering would not exist, that God is meant to make us immediately happy.) What He cares about, is that He have a corporate Bride, a group of people who will choose to love Him rather than ourselves, and to accept physical death, and the death of our sinful desire, gracefully, and lovingly, so that we might be shining denizens of love and light who continually shine brighter for all eternity. That is His goal, and that is what He gives to those who follow Him through the trials and pains of life and death.
What follows then, is the explanation of what happens to those who do not follow Him, who do not love, who do not believe, and do not die to themselves gracefully. This necessitates it’s own blog post, and the explanation of both of the Old Testament ideas of Sheol and Gehenna, and their references in the New Testament.
So in the next blog post, I will continue to speak on this topic of death, but this time moving on past burial and the grave, and ascend (or descend) to the afterlife, where men even there, can still find the mercy and goodness of a moral God, who still has it in His heart to speak to those souls with grace and compassion