Monday, February 2, 2009

Is death natural?

Twice today, in completely different contexts, people said death is a natural part of life. One person went so far as to consider it ultimate healing. I believe both these people spoke from a Christian perspective and tried to encourage people with the aging and dying process. They took the long view, saw past the immediate emotional turmoil of death and looked to the promise of heaven and eternal life. Based on this view, they see death as a natural blip that everyone must go through.

In spite of their good intentions and soothing words, I must respectfully disagree. Death is certainly normal. With a couple exceptions, birth and death come in a 1 to 1 ratio. Normality notwithstanding, it is the most unnatural event we experience. Originally, death did not exist. God made a good world; it did not include death. When God created us, he created us everlasting beings. Once conceived, we exist forever; spirit, soul and body moving forward united without end. This is still the ideal. This is still what our innermost being expects. This is what is natural for us.

Something happened though: we introduced rebellion to this perfect world. On that day, we died to God. Our spirit separated from His. Apart from His life, we decay. Our spirits wither. Our souls corrupt. Our bodies no longer function properly. We die. This is our typical experience. It is also unnatural.

We should not gloss over the pain of death. Fear and pain exist around the death experience precisely because it is unnatural. Something is happening that should not. They remind us of the very real consequences of our rebellion. When we normalize it by calling it natural, or even worse, a form of healing,[1] we minimize the impact of our sin. By reducing the effects of sin, we correspondingly take away the power of what happened on the cross. Jesus died so we do not have to remain dead, souls and bodies removed from one another. He rose again as an example of what will happen to us. At some point in the future, God will reunite our souls with our bodies as originally intended. He will restore us to our natural state.

Paul does not tell us to encourage one another with “death is a natural event.” Rather, he tells us to encourage one another with the promise of resurrection.

For further reading

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Romans 6
1 Corinthians 15

1. If death is the ultimate healing, then Jesus “unhealed” Lazarus,[John 11:1-46] Jairus daughter[Mark 5:21-43] and the widow’s son[Luke 7:11-16] when He raised them from the dead. The idea of “unhealing” does not fit into the pattern we see in the rest of Jesus’ ministry while here on earth.