The origin of death

I listened with interest to Ep 113 of the podcast, with @LorenHaarsma, on original sin. It was brought up by @jstump that some people feel the entire Gospel rests upon a particular view about original sin.

At that point, I paused the podcast and thought about it a bit.

In chats I’ve had with brothers and sisters since recently coming to faith, to me, it seems the most pivotal point for them is the origin of death (being, they say, sin), not the origin of sin.

So far I’ve put that in the “clearly wrong but let me spend some time maturing as a Christian before I tackle it” basket. I mean, clearly the very good world God created absolutely depends upon death, as anyone who has thought about biology or ecology must appreciate.

But also this week I caught a lecture by Tim Keller that directly challenged my view of death as okay. “Questioning Christianity” podcast, ep title “Hopefulness”.

Keller (26:12) references two “deep, deep, deep human intuitions about death”. First, “death is not natural.” Second, “it’s not right. It’s wrong.”

Keller’s lead-in and follow-up to this are both great. But I have searched myself and I really can’t relate. Before coming to faith, l did a lot of thinking about death, in terms of food ethics. But l really don’t think l talked myself into accepting death. I think I always did.

I find Tim Keller very insightful. And l do rate widespread deep-seated gutfeel as epistemologically worhwhile. (See CS Lewis, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.”) And l am prepared to accept l am odd and defective in my gutfeels.

But my question is, how can Keller’s position be reconciled with the scientific consensus on the evolution of life? Science says death didn’t come later, either suddenly or gradually, but rather, it was part of life all along.

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I’m not finding it… is it here somewhere?:

 
And you may have seen this before – I’ve posted it multiple times, typically in response to YECs:

 

One point being of course is that death was included as soon as life occurred. Does that help any?

It’s here: Hopefulness | Questioning Christianity with Tim Keller

(Oops, l got the title wrong! I would have posted links to begin with but they don’t tend to refer people to their preferred podcast app.)

On the rest of your post. I guess that’s an ok way to think about it. For me it seems only loosely based on Scripture and uncomfortably presumes to be able to comprehend the mind of God.

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Russell2, that’s an excellent question. Thanks for raising it in such a thoughtful way. Here is my current thinking.

As you mentioned, from science we know that animals, including our pre-human ancestors, have always been mortal. Death was and is a natural and necessary part of their created natures.

From archeology, we know that other ancient near east cultures had stories of humanity losing access to immortality (including, in one story, a serpent). This is part of the cultural context of the Old Testament era.

Old Testament scholars tell us that the text of Genesis 2-3 indicates that humans were created mortal. This is what the phrase “from the dust of the ground” implies in that text and elsewhere in the Old Testament. Immorality in this creation would require and extra, miraculous gift from God, as indicated by the “tree of life.”

From systematic theology, we learn that once sin entered the human story, with the resulting spiritual separation from God, physical immortality in this creation would no longer have been a blessing. It would mean eternal separation from God.

So, the original audience of Genesis 2-3 would have been asking, “If we desire immorality, and if God has the power to make us immortal, why hasn’t God done so?” The answer God provided them and us (a very different answer from the stories of the surround cultures) is: sin. Immortality while separated from God because of sin would be a curse, not a blessing.

There are several ways to put this together with the scientific consensus on human evolution. I’ll describe two. If you prefer scenarios where God specially selected an historical Adam and Eve out of a larger population, and that they had a real chance to avoid the Fall, we could imagine that physical immortality by God’s miraculous provision, in this creation, would have been possible for them (and eventually the rest of humanity) if Adam and Even had not sinned. That possibility was withdrawn after they sinned.

If you prefer scenarios with an historical Adam and Even an an unavoidable Fall, or if you prefer scenarios with a symbolic Adam and Eve and humanity’s rebellion into sin spread out over a long time, we could say something like the following: Although there is a theological sense in which physical death for us is a consequence of sin, there wasn’t a specific historic moment when we could say that immorality in this creation was a real possibility for some specific historical individuals. God included the Tree of Life in the inspired text of Genesis 2-3 to teach the original audience, and us, that God refrains from giving us immortality in this creation because of sin. It is part of God’s grace that we are not immortal in our present state, spiritually distant from God.

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Good questions! And some great responses.

That’s a good point – death feels wrong. Humans have spent immense amounts of time, energy, and other resources to work at combatting it.

But I also have to remember that without physical death I wouldn’t be here. Earth simply couldn’t support the amount of people and animals that have all come before us if none of them ever died.

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I continue to wrestle with this one (though I still see one side favored) - and have been reading echos of this sentiment from various authors recently who attempt to universalize it into a general principle: death is an enemy. Period. Pure and simple. And yet it seems to me like this sentiment is always penned by someone who is not themselves in any period of life that would cause them to question that. I happen to personally know of people for whom death was a sweetly longed for release - who lamented its delay even. These aren’t the sorts of folks writing books and arguing theologies in the public square. And yet they exist. Putting that together with the realization that without death, the vast majority (or all of us today) would never have lived because the earth would long ago have been full to capacity is enough to keep me holding this “death in every form as nothing more than evil fallout” understanding at critical arm’s length.

All of that still predisposes me to the scriptural understanding that death was an enemy in the same way that principalities and powers were (and still are in so many cases) enemies. Enemies to be conquered - not destroyed. Death now seen as a doorway rather than an ultimately bitter parting has its own pedigree in the New Testament that I’m inclined to see as having the greater scriptural support. But to accept that witness does require one to see the death from sin as being spiritual and not necessarily always physical. So if I was a YEC, I would have no way to reconcile such disparate readings from our two testaments. Fortunately

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Of course we will never comprehend the mind of God, as in surround it, but we can certainly apprehend it, as in grasp it (check out the etymology), otherwise we couldn’t know about Jesus and his sacrificial love… and a lot more. (And I gave scriptural support for the “two creation plan from the start” idea.)
 

“For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:16

What is the origin of death? Life.

There is no death without life, and no life without death. Life is not some magic added to inanimate material in order to make it move by itself. Things move because of what they are. Living things move because they are composed of complex self-organizing chemical cycles which have mastered the process of learning and motion is one of the technologies which they have mastered over billions of years. And how does learning work? By distinguishing between success and failure. Without failure there is no learning. Without death there is no life.

It is like asking the origin of the “off” switch. Not only is there no “on” without an “off” but the “on” and “off” are exactly the same switch.

Interesting. Very interesting. I would say that is how they have turned Christianity from a religion into a scam. That is something which frequently happens in religion. People find religion useful as a tool of power and manipulation, so they replace the truths of the religion with lies.

Changing Christianity from the reality of sin to this fantasy of death as unnatural is to gut Christianity of all truth there is to it. To be sure Jesus came that we would have life and have it more abundantly, but that was because the self-destructive habits of sin turn life into death. We have more life by overcoming sin – not by making some devil pact to exchange our honesty and rationality for some magical life of a vampire or zombie.

That is a lie which pushes their scam into something which is dangerous, psychologically harmful, insane, and evil.

In Christianity we accept death as a return to God (even for judgement). It is the refusal to accept this which is far more akin to evil than anything else.

P.S. There is intention in these chemical cycles? Yes, there is. Intention is something they have acquired in becoming a self-organizing process. Comparable to human being? Not at all. Intension, consciousness, life, and intelligence are all a highly complex accumulation of many different abilities and things. Obviously you will not find all of these in a simple chemical cycle or even in the simplest living organisms.

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I’ve been holding back from saying exactly that. Obviously life is the less stable state. Inorganic matter decays too but usually more slowly. The constant is change.

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Good point – we can look at humanity as a whole, or the triumphs of the “human spirit” and will to survive but too large a focus overlooks the nuances of different views toward death. When my husband’s grandmother was over 100 and facing incredible deterioration of her physical body, she wanted it to be over, and while praying for someone to die sounds horrible, her children expressed it as a prayer for “total healing” instead. So as you said, death is a doorway. But it’s an easier one to accept for a 100-year-old than it is for a child or someone else deemed “still young.”

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Yes, death really is natural. Living forever would be unnatural. Living forever would mean we couldn’t allow people to have babies due to lack of resources/room. Does that sound natural?

(When I mentioned this to a guy named Henry, he suggested that we could dump excess humans on other planets.)

Are we allowed to nominate candidates? :laughing: (Which indirectly reminds me of the surplus number of backbones for implantation in D.C. Those without them are the donors.)

Maybe, but the EPA has rules.

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I find myself more and more praying, “God have mercy. “

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Biological death seems to have always been around. Adam and Eve, within their story does not seem to have been immortal . They seemed to have been just like us, and when they choose to sin they became spiritually dead.

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to understand what death is one has to understand life. It is only once one can disconnect oneself from the eternal existence in God that one becomes mortal.

God does not say “if you eat from that tree I am going to kill you” but that at the moment that you eat from the tree if “self realisation” that you will die as you separate your self from the authority of the eternal God

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first of all ask yourself what is wrong with death? why would you not want to become one again with God?

To live forever
is the art
to learn to live
in Jesus heart

it is a spiritual thing. Death is the logical consequence if defining you “self” in your temporary physical body by claiming your own authority and defining your own morals. As such the fall is the poetic description of puberty, addressing the same issue between mankind and God. As life is the ability to move matter and energy at will you can hopefully find that you become eternal in the will you identify your self with, not in the body you identify your self with

I’d say only whatever God is can be described as immortal. We aren’t and never will be but we are better while we are alive to be allied with God than we ever will be completely apart. Death accompanies life. God is not alive and only exists as we know Him so long as our species survives. What it is that presents as God in our lives no doubt can and has shown concern for every kind of thing and the world itself. So just as some aspire to be worthy as bearers of God’s image, so God bears our image too but not just ours. Of course I don’t imagine what inspires our belief in God is a being apart with a plan He is carrying out. That just reflects our traditional way of imagining our way into the mind of God. Even the ‘mind of God’ anthropomorphizes what God is. Even He could describe himself in the Bible only as being that which he is, a sure sign that we can go no further. But He and we benefit from the relationship so if anthropomorphizing God helps us on our side, what harm does it do? I don’t think God wants or longs for or needs as we do but I do think he enjoys the relationship too. Of course this is only how it seems to me and no guarantee is made or implied.

We have other guarantees and evidence to support the reality worthy of our trust. (Noxiousness is subjective. ; - )

I’m (not very) sorry to be so repetitive, Mark, but please recognize so are you! (And it’s not about anyone’s personal imagination!)

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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