Death Isn’t Always About Dying

The word inhuman with a pencil erasing "in" leaving "human." Paul's concept of Death isn't about dying as about losing our humanity.In a previous post, “The Serpent Didn’t Lie About Death,” I asserted that the true consequence of The Fall in Genesis 3 was not dying, which is actually a very natural part of life, but something much worse—the loss of our humanity. If this is so—and I really believe it is—then it has major ramifications for our understanding of the Gospel.

It alters our entire understanding of sin and its consequences, and with it our understanding of salvation. Our whole concept of salvation revolves around death and life: because we sin we die, Jesus died so that we wouldn’t die, Jesus lives after death and after we die we will live and never die. Something like that, right?

If the lie of the serpent, however, is that we will be like God, knowing what is good and evil, when in fact we don’t become like God but still want to, then things change.

Further, if in addition one of the consequences of the Fall is that we don’t really know what is good and what is evil but just think we do, then things change even more.

If those things are true, then now the need isn’t to keep living forever but to regain our lost humanity, and sin isn’t falling short of perfection but the gross inhumanity that we inflict on each other.

This actually better fits the biblical witness. Israel wasn’t exiled, for instance, because they weren’t perfect, but because they sacrificed children, sex-trafficked widows, orphans, and strangers, took from the poor and the weak and gave it to those who already had more than enough, plus numerous other inhumanities.

This is what offended God so much that he let the Assyrians and Babylonians destroy the nation of Israel, tear down the Temple and laid waste to the holy city of Jerusalem.

That is why the salvation of Israel is depicted in the prophets as a rebuilt city, a rebuilt Temple, and a rebuilt nation. Actually, that’s also how Revelation ends the New Testament. Rebuilt. Restored. Renewed.

Furthermore, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount isn’t a spiritual guide to eternal life but an ethical guide to earthly life in the eternal kingdom of God.

Paul speaks of death in two ways. There’s death, which is what happens when a person dies, and then there’s Death. The latter is a personification of all the things we do that wreak violence and injustice upon people and suffering on the world. It is the personification of our inhumanity which destroys life, including our own life.

This is what must be defeated—not the fact that people die, but the fact that we destroy life and the things that lead to life. So Death leads to death—things die unnaturally when inhumanity is allowed to live and reign.

What must be done, then, is for inhumanity to not be allowed to live and reign. Someone must put an end to the power of Death. We couldn’t, because we are the source of the problem.

We chose the way of Death, and became its slaves.

But Jesus could do something about it. He was fully God, but what was needed was someone who could be fully Human, since we had so long ago given that away that we didn’t even know what it looked like.

Jesus gave it a face. He became the Fully Human One and lived a Fully Human Life, resisting the calls of even his disciples to embrace the ways of Death and showing how to embrace the ways of Life, the Fully Human Life.

So committed was he to living the Fully Human Life that he was willing to die for it, but the death he died was a Fully Human Death. In dying Fully Human Death, he not only defeated the forces of Death—the forces of inhumanity embodied by the Temple cult and the Roman military—but paved the way for us to live the Fully Human Life i.e., life in the kingdom.

This is what he meant by eternal life.

Paul therefore calls us to live as the Fully Human Beings that we were created as and redeemed to be, dying to Death so that we are no longer enslaved by it. “No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from Death to Life.” (Romans 6:13)

We too must be so committed to living the Fully Human Life that, like Jesus, we are willing to die for it, unwilling to let Death have the final say. For when we die to Death, even so we live in the eternal kingdom.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / klublub

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