“Why do we have to die?”
This is a question that many of us wrestle with for as long as we’ve understood the concept of death. It is that thing that so many of us fear above all things. But the question is why we must die?
Did not Jesus die to free us from sin and death? If that is the case, why must we endure our going hence? I’m sure I could slap on some pat biological answer to this question, but I think the problem is deeper. If Baptism removes original sin, then why must its effects remain?
Let me say at the outset that I am only going to address this problem in a philosophical way. This is by no means meant to be a treatise on how to deal with the grief of death. When CS Lewis wrote The Problem of Pain, he attempted to address the intellectual problem that Christians have with suffering. But he understood that this was only a tiny part of the mystery. He wrote: “a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”
In the same way I am not pretending to have an answer to the sorrows of that loss. I am only addressing the intellectual reason why God still allows us to die.
The better way to frame the question is not why does God allow us to die, but “why does God not allow us to remain immortal?”
This is important because I think that if we can see our current state as it actually is, we will understand.
There were two trees in the center of the Garden of Eden: The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Genesis 3:22)
This sounds like a punishment, and to some extent it is. But like any good parent, punishments are ultimately kindnesses. A parent who punishes a child for running into the street without looking is a parent who desires the safety of that child. God prevented man from eating the Tree of Life because He was saving us.
It is important to remember that sin is not something which is external to us. Often we fool ourselves into thinking that we can separate our sin from who we are. We excuse our little offenses and betrayals and gossips and jealousies and selfishness and say to ourselves, “I’m still a good person.” But what we do and who we are are inextricably linked.
Sin changes us. It warps us. And this is the state that must be cured.
Imagine I told you that I could give you immortality right now. However, that means that you would perpetually the state you are in forever. So if you are 30, you will remain 30. If you are hungry, you will be hungry forever. If your leg is broken, it will be broken forever. How many of you would take up that offer?
I would imagine very few. Now imagine if I said that at some point in the future, you will have to take up immortality under these conditions. When would you do so? I would imagine that you would wait until you were in the highest possible state, freest of pain and fullest of happiness. And it is in this state that you would choose to remain immortal.
This is exactly the fate that is awaiting all of us. We are becoming the things that we are going to be forever. If God granted us immortality as we are now, broken, sinful, selfish, then we would remain so forever until all of this world would ultimately become a hell. The reason is that as long as there is sin in us, there too is hell.
God wants us to be perpetually happy, and so we must remove all hell from our hearts. Baptism begins this process. Imagine a plaster image of your face. Original sin is like an axe that gets embedded in that plaster face. Baptism removes the axe, but the scar remains. And much can be done to heal and fix the wound, but there will remain that imperfection. That is our journey as we walk through this world. We not only are hit by that original axe wound, but we are constantly inflicting harm on our souls by our sins. And we can do much to be healed in those broken places, but the scars remain.
But even that imperfection must be done away with before immortality.
Imagine that plaster image now being taken by the master and broken down back into plaster dust and then used to remold once again that perfect image intended by the master.
That is what happens to the holy after death. If we have ruined our souls by sin, there will not be enough of our image to be reformed gloriously. But if we hold on to ourselves as much as possible by His grace, then God will restore us. But to restore us, he has to remake us.
Death is the great unmaking before the remaking. Even on a physical level this must happen. My wife has had arthritis ravaging her body since she was a little girl of four-years-old. I would hate for her to remain in that state forever. This mortal body of hers must be remade into a thing that will “run and not grow weary” (Isaiah 40:31)
And if we die to ourselves every day, then everyday we let God remake us a little at a time so that He has less work to do on us at the great remaking.
So death is simply the last step of letting go of any trace of hell in us and being remade into the heavenly beings we were always meant to be.
We have to die so that we can truly live.
Copyright 2017, WL Grayson