About three weeks ago, I put up a post about my great-grandfather’s death and the voices that get in the way of doing things that are important to me (here it is, in case you haven’t read it), and I received a comment on Facebook about it, which contained a couple really interesting questions. Le comment:
“I thought most or all religious people were OK with death and understood it as a way in to heaven?? I myself am scared of death. And you commented about Adam and Eve messing it all up but what about God sacrificing his own son on the cross causing death??” – Carly
Before I get into my answer, I wanted to write what I understand is being asked. Carl Rogers bases his therapy off of mirroring back to his patient what he understands them to be saying, which requires that he listen really well, and also then shows that he’s listening really well. Also, if I end up making a mistake in my interpretation, then it’ll be much easier for everyone to point it out, and for me to correct my mistake.
Besides that, my mother tells me that this is good idea when discussing things, and what mom says, goes. :)
Here’s what I understand of the logic behind these questions (forgive the simplicity, I’ll do the same thing kind of thing with my answer later):
Death = bad
Heaven = fantastic
Religious = death is a way to heaven
Therefore, if religious, death = okay, because necessary for fantastic.
Why then would a religious person say death = bad?
God = good
Death = bad
Adam and Eve messing up = bringing death = bad
1) Jesus dying for us = act of God = good
2) Jesus dying for us = God causing death = bad
Thea, y u contradict yourself?
These are both excellent questions. Since they’re so excellent and they get at the core of my faith, I felt strangely tempted to put in some kind of fudge factor like “It just is” or “Well, God did it, so it has to always be good”. It makes writing an answer faster, but it’s also a horrendously cheap way of dealing with things. I want to promise you guys right here and now that I will never give answers like that on purpose. If God is as wonderful as I believe he is, he can stand up to scrutiny, which demands that I allow for scrutiny of God, which means that only the dessert-related fudge is allowed in discussions (now I suddenly want a plateful of fudge).
My Answer in paragraphs:
To understand my point of view on death, we’d have to go back to the first chapters of the first book of the Bible (Genesis, which means “beginning”, which might help out anyone learning terms for biology or biopsychology right now), which is where the creation story is outlined, as well as the first instance of human beings messing up. Here’s what happens:
God makes everything, declares it all good, except for Adam and Eve, who he declares to be very good. Adam, Eve and God all have a day off after creation, and then everyday living in paradise starts. There’s only one rule: Adam and Eve aren’t supposed to eat the fruit from a certain tree, which is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which I’ve also heard referred to as the Tree of Evaluation, because eating it would lead to death, which is permanent separation from everything and everyone.
Things go bad when a snake convinces Eve that God’s been lying to her and Adam, and that he’s holding out on them by keeping the fruit from them. She eats the fruit, and then hands it to Adam, who was most likely there to witness everything and didn’t say anything (which makes me wonder about what was going on in his head at the time), and he also eats it.
At this point, there’s a realization of “Holy crap, we’re in the nude!”, along with the frantic creation of clothing out of fig leaves, which is the first instance of human beings putting boundaries on intimacy.
Since the usual thing for them to do in the evening was have a walk with God, and now they’re totally ashamed of themselves and what they did, they hide from God when evening came. Yes, that isn’t very intelligent, seeing as God kind of knows everything, but that’s what they do. I expect they were too emotional to think things through properly.
Eventually, they come out of hiding and God asks them what happened, at which point everyone refuses to take responsibility (because they were afraid) and everything gets blamed on the snake. God informs the snake of the consequences of his actions, and then he informs Adam and Eve the consequences of their actions. One of these consequences is death.
Basically, death was never meant to be a thing. God didn’t put it into creation, and it only exists as a consequence of Adam and Eve doing exactly what God had told them not to do because they were convinced that he was holding out on them. Death is the consequence of, for lack of a better word, sin.
All of this breaks God’s heart, but not because of an ego thing (“Oh dear, now I don’t have anyone to worship me”) but because human beings are infinitely precious to him, and now they’ve put themselves in chains. If you’re a parent, this analogy will make a great deal of sense:
Imagine you’ve got a kid, this beautiful, wonderful kid who you love with all your heart. And then your kid gets into drugs and leaves home to live with the worst kinds of people you can imagine. And the people abandon your kid, so they’re now living alone on the street, strung out on drugs, with their life being slowly sucked out of them with every single breath.
You wouldn’t just leave them there. Why? Because you love them too much to let them die a homeless addict. If you could take the punishment for their actions on yourself so that they could be free, you would.
That’s what God did.
But it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s not just that God did this (with Jesus dying on the cross and being brought back to life) because it was one option out of many. It was his only option, the only way anyone could ever break the chains that sin made. Here’s the logic:
1- Justice says that death is the price of sin.
2- All human beings have sinned.
Therefore, all human beings have to pay the price of death, or things wouldn’t be just.
3- God is just.
Therefore, God couldn’t just let people off the hook. The punishment had to be paid.
4- God loves humans with all his heart.
Therefore, God would do everything in his power to free them.
But what if there was a human who didn’t sin? They wouldn’t have to die for their own sins, which means that that person would be the only one capable of taking on all the sins of everyone, everywhere, everywhen, and then also taking the punishment for all those sins instead of the people who committed them. This would mean that everyone’s debt to sin would be totally cleared.
That’s what Jesus did. Not only that, but God raised him from the dead, which means that he broke the chains of sin, and the power that death got from those chains.
Basically, Jesus agreed to undergo what human beings were supposed to undergo so that they wouldn’t have to undergo it.
Obviously, I’m not going to say that no-one dies anymore, because then you’d know I’ve had a total break with reality and would have to send me to a psychiatric hospital. Our bodies die (unless you’re Enoch or Elijah, who skipped that whole part and just went to be with God. I’ll let you know if I figure out how that was managed).
Here’s the thing. It’s not a catch, or a trap, or anything of that sort. It’s this:
Jesus’ death and resurrection resulted in the freeing/cleansing of people’s souls and spirits. The physical world won’t be cleansed until the very end, which means that physical bodies will die. Human beings eventually get separated from the world that God created, but they won’t ever experience separation from God, and their separation from other humans will only be temporary.
What is heaven, then? It’s everything as it was meant to be. It’s the unfiltered presence of God, intimate community, and the renewed universe. If death is separation from everyone and everything, then death can’t get you to heaven. Which means that death is not a prerequisite for getting to heaven; being renewed through Jesus is.
My Answer in pseudoformulae:
“If religious, death = okay, because necessary for the fantastic” (heaven)
1- Death = separation from everyone and everything = bad
2- Heaven = everything as it was meant to be = fantastic
Aka: if death only takes us away from everything, it cannot get us to anywhere, much less heaven.
Therefore, death is not the way to heaven.
In the case of Christianity:
Religious ≠ death as a way to heaven
Therefore, death remains bad.
Because I am a Christian, because I believe what the Bible says, I believe that death is unnatural and utterly wrong.
“Thea, y u contradict yourself?” (Jesus’ death being both bad and good)
1- Death = price of sin
Aka: sinning = causing death
2b- Jesus = sinless
Therefore, Jesus didn’t cause his own death.
Therefore, Jesus dying = taking upon himself the death humans had caused for themselves
Jesus dying ≠ God causing death
Jesus dying = God giving life to those who had caused death = good
Because of what I believe, I believe that God did not cause Jesus to die, but that Jesus took the death that we caused for ourselves so that we wouldn’t have to, which is, to me, the perfect example of love.
I hope that this answered the questions in a full and satisfying manner. If not, then please let me know what didn’t make sense, or what new questions have arisen. Creating an argument (in the sense of philosophy, not bickering) is something that I’m not very practised in, so I won’t be upset or anything if you tell me that something in here only lead to confusion or if I had logic mess-up at some point. Like I said, if God is as awesome as I believe he is, he can stand up to scrutiny.
Also, if you have questions about Christianity, I don’t mind explaining things in the least, no matter what the question is, and I will totally tell you if I have no idea what the answer is. There’s no point in explaining something when I haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, and doing so would be extremely disrespectful of the questioner. You can send your questions to my email (expected.aberrations (at) gmail (dot) com), or leave them in the comments below.
Have a lovely rest of the week! :)
*if and only if