If it were possible to boil down many of the problems in American Christianity into a single theological point, it might be that many of modern evangelicals functionally worship a “dead” Savior, not a true living Lord.
Each year, Easter Sundays remind believers of Christ’s triumph over death, hell, and sin, freeing us from God’s wrath and raising us anew to live for God.
But outside the walls of the church, cultural myths about death, the “final enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), are everywhere.
What Death Really Is
Death is ugly. Death is an unwelcome intruder in this world. And while many people will say they aren’t afraid of death, or even that they (dare I say) “greet death as an old friend,” those same people still buckle their seatbelts, eat three meals a day, and look before they cross the street. No one likes to think about death, because no matter what we tell ourselves, we don’t like the idea of it.
We know that an eternal fate of some kind awaits us after this short earthly existence, but we put off the thought of it as much as possible. We know death could strike at any moment, but we act as those who believe they’re immortal. (Teenagers are the ultimate example.) People who say death is a natural part of life are still shocked and mournful when someone close passes away.
Death is an imposition. Death is not good.
Christians have the comfort of knowing that physical death is the direct result of sin (Genesis 2:17, Ezekiel 18:20, Romans 6:23). It is God’s ultimate court summons on guilty human beings.
We can’t truly understand the problem in the world (death) without understanding the original state of the world (immortality). God originally made Adam to be immortal as long as he obeyed, but as soon as abused the very life-giving breath God had given him and decided to sin, God chose to limit every sinful man’s time on this earth—so that one day each of us will finally face God for every single thing we’ve ever done, said, or thought, and be eternally judged for it (Hebrews 9:27).
That’s why it takes the death and resurrection of the innocent, immortal God Himself, Christ, to sufficiently redeem a person.
But even Christians often forget these core truths, and believe what the world says about mortality.
Have you or someone you know been deceived by these myths?
Lie #1: The “Circle of Life”
Elton John and The Lion King did more than give us a catchy tune; they reinforced a wrong view of death—telling us that death is just “part of the drive.”
This myth says that death is a natural part of life. This is really the sentiment behind reincarnation, which attempts to explain away the travesty of death by just making it a part of a never-ending cycle. And even if you don’t identify with a dharmic religion like Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, or Sikhism, chances are you’ve been influenced in some way by this kind of thinking.
The problem is, if death were so natural, humanity wouldn’t need to avoid it at all costs. By default, we fight for our own survival. And if death were the prime mover of evolution, then why would evolution have produced the counter-intuitive self-preservation instinct?
Lie #2: Equal and Opposite Reaction
This is a lot like the “circle of life” myth, also looking at death as a natural stop along the way. But specifically, this is the lie that looks at life and death as equal and opposite forces—like yin and yang, a concept from Taoism.
The thinking goes, “You can’t have life without death too. They’re inseparable.” You might admit that one is “good” and one is “bad,” but your worldview—whether or not you’re a Taoist—tells you that they both must exist.
The problem here is that scientists still aren’t all that sure why, fundamentally, death is “necessary.” There is no observable physical law of the universe that says that we must die; we simply haven’t seen anyone break the pattern. So naturally, secular thinkers are starting to wonder if there isn’t a way to make humans immortal after all.
This makes sense, because the Bible informs us that humans weren’t originally made to die, and that God didn’t create a world with death in it. But we also know that death is a decree from God, affecting all of creation; it’s the curse man ushered in by sinning and breaking the perfect harmony between the living God and the creation.
The bottom line is that the existence of life doesn’t necessitate the existence of death. You can have life without death, just like you can have light without shadow, good without evil, and hot without cold. Death is the perversion of life, or the lack of life. It’s not a separate force.
In fact, life itself is a trait stemming from God, just like goodness, grace, love, and holiness. Having God himself is better than having life (Psalm 63:3); and when we die, depending on where we stand with God, we’ll either gain him in the end or lose it all.
That’s why death isn’t just physical, it’s spiritual too; just as physical death is being cut off from physical life, the “second death” is being cut off from the giver of all life—God himself—and punished by him forever (see Revelation 20:14).
Death is meant as sign for mankind: you’re going to lose this gift from God at some point, and you may miss out on the rest of God Himself if you don’t get right with him.
That’s also what gave Jesus the right to say “I am the resurrection” and “I am the life” (John 11:25, 14:6).
Lie #3: The Deepest Sleep
Whenever we’ve wanted to comfort ourselves about what death might truly be like, in the absence of belief in heaven, we tend to describe death as “sleep.” Sometimes it’s used as a euphemism, but there are others who truly believe it’s just like going to sleep—only you never wake up.
The problem is that when you normally sleep, your mind never stops. You never stop thinking; that’s why you dream.
So to compare death to sleep is a non-comparison; the human mind, or spirit, in fact, cannot conceive of its own nonexistence. This is for good reason, too. God made us with a spirit that would exist forever; our bodies may die, but our spirit will live on forever.
In fact, God will someday resurrect all mankind, saved and unsaved, to live in either eternal reward or eternal punishment (John 5:28-29).
God doesn’t intend for us to spend eternity as disembodied spirits, but as body, soul, and spirit in perfect union with himself. If you’ll recall from John 3:16, Christ came to give us eternal life, not eternal existence.
Lie #4: No Biggie
If the other lies have gone over your head, perhaps this one will hit home.
People are apathetic about the idea of death; death is inevitable, so we might as well enjoy the present. They aren’t bothered by it.
Popular culture makes sport of it in games, movies, and television.
We make the issue relative, and excuse the murder of the unborn in certain circumstances.
Some of us may even be under the deep, dark lie that somehow your death would be a good thing. That perhaps you’ve been too awful, or you’ve let down too many people, to keep living. Perhaps you think death might even bring some sweet relief.
If any of these sentiments describe you, the problem is that you have forgotten God. He is the giver of all life; every single breathe we take comes directly from his hand, allowing us to live for just a moment longer. Whether we’re obeying him or disobeying him, he grants us breath after breath, hoping we’ll turn back to him. (Take a few breaths a think about this before you read any further.)
After this life ends, time doesn’t stop; we simply leave our bodies and face God, who will ask us to account for all those breaths he breathed into us.
God doesn’t intend for us to waste this life, take it for granted, merely “make the best” of our circumstances, or simply enjoy ourselves. Your life is a stewardship from God, and no one has the right to take it but him.
Death is serious.
In order to reach down from his immortality and truly redeem us from death, he had to undergo it himself. God, as the man Jesus Christ, died. Brutally. Taking the wrath of God for your every mistake and sin.
If you identify yourself with Christ’s death, then when you die, you can expect God will do to you the same thing he did to Christ—raise Him from the dead.
You can experience the freedom, joy, and peace of resurrection starting as soon as you trust in Christ’s death for you. You will not die; you’ll pass through the paper thin doorway of death to dwell forever with the living God. One day he’ll give you a perfect, sinless, pain-free, glorious body so that you can truly live with him forever.
Image credit: Flickr/ARTS (CC 2.0), edited