I was taught that the essential and universal human problem was sin because sin separates us from God, who is sinless and holy. But now it seems to me that the larger problem is death, the consequence of sin. In fact, the reason sin is a problem is because it causes death.

And what is death? Biologically, it is the cessation of physiological functions – the heart stops pumping, the brain tops waving, the liver stops filtering, the lungs stop breathing.  Legally, death is declared when trained medical personnel using sophisticated technology can no longer detect either cardiovascular or upper brain function. 

But beyond the biology and the legality, what is death? Answers are ubiquitous.

  • Simple biology – the end
  • Nonexistence, annihilation 
  • Permanent unconsciousness
  • Disembodied consciousness
  • Transition to another sphere of life
  • Drifting into a nether world
  • Absence of personality
  • Swallowed into wholeness
  • Nirvana, nothingness
  • Reincarnation
  • Sleep until a future resurrection
  • Going into the light
  • Reunion with loved ones
  • Mansions, pearly gates, streets of gold
  • Judgment
  • Wearing the chains forged in this life
  • Happiness for some; torture for others
  • Heaven, hell, purgatory
  • Sheol, Hades
  • Shadowland 
  • Becoming an angel
  • Sitting on clouds playing harps
  • Watching over folks here on earth
  • Refinement that might take millennia
  • Part of life
  • Haunting old houses
  • Simply an unknowable enigma

If death is the end, if, once it occurs, the essential person permanently ceases one way or another, then life is absurd. It has no purpose beyond (perhaps) the cultivation of inner peace in this life now (Buddhism), or the stoic acceptance of absurdity (Jean Paul Sartre), or the invitation to be entirely self-centered (Ayn Rand) and/or brutally domineering (Friedrich Nietzsche).  If those are the options, I choose Buddhism. 

If the biblical record has value, death is an invasion on the natural order. The story begins with a relational triune God of perfect altruistic love. The story continues with that love spilling over into creative activity. Quasars, fumaroles, mahi-mahi, snails, butterflies, planets, marigolds, dragonflies, solar systems, electrons, molecules, humpback whales, scarlet tanagers, women, men, and grasshoppers – a breathtakingly beautiful universe, the loving artwork of a loving God. 

Life – fungi, protists, archaea, bacteria, plants, animals, humans – however we define it, life comes from God. God is the source of life. God is life. No God; no life. So, anything that separates us from God severs the life-source, and death ensues.

Because God is love, God can (and will) readily forgive sin. That’s not the essential problem, however. Even forgiven, the consequences of sin remain. Death reigns. 

All my life I have been afraid of death. I do not know why. I know that when I tried, in my childlike way, to express those fears, they were flippantly dismissed. The door of death is foreboding, terrifying, unknown – does it lead to an abyss, nonexistence, or what? What lies beyond? How can we know? 

Generation after generation, lined up, like so many Confederate solders under the command of George Pickett, like so many young men on the Western Front, waiting for their turn to fall in the ditch. A highly intelligent, deep-thinking hospice nurse commented that it all seemed so meaningless. We wait for the proverbial shoe to drop. What horrible ailment will be our personal Waterloo? 

Is it a kind of a dream 
Floating out on the tide 
Following the river of death downstream 
Oh, is it a dream? 
There’s a fog along the horizon 
A strange glow in the sky 
And nobody seems to know where it goes 
And what does it mean? 
Oh, is it a dream?

Bright eyes, burning like fire 
Bright eyes, how can you close and fail? 
How can the light that burned so brightly
Suddenly burn so pale? 
Bright eyes

Is it a kind of a shadow 
Reaching into the night 
Wandering over the hills unseen 
Or is it a dream? 
There’s a high wind in the trees 
A cold sound in the air 
And nobody ever knows when you go 
And where do you start? 
Oh, into the dark

 (Bright Eyes, Written by Mike Batt and sung by Art Garfunkel)

Many people seem to simply make up an answer. Or, perhaps more accurately, many adopt a comforting scenario they heard someplace.

“It’s all peace and light.”

“You’re not dead as long as people remember you.”

“Well, grandpa’s up there fishing with Uncle George.”

“She’s in a better place.”

But I was raised in a scientific home. I can’t accept anything without some evidence, and there is no evidence whatsoever for most of the speculations about what happens during and after death. Some folks seem ok with simply deciding to believe something based on nothing. Not me. I don’t need proof, but I do need evidence. 

I have good reason, strong evidence, for believing in Jesus. Jesus said things only God could say, did things only God could do, claimed to be God incarnate, said He was one with the Father, and rose from the dead. (I have strong rational evidence to support the Gospel narratives and the resurrection, but those are subjects for other essays.)

Jesus said that He is the door to eternal life. Like a soldier falling on a grenade to save her comrades, Jesus absorbed all the evil of the entire universe into Himself. It killed Him. But He didn’t stay dead. Death swallowed Him, but could not digest Him. Sin is off the table. Death is dead. The Jesus door has replaced death’s door. 

Stepping through it, we meet Him.

And that is heaven.  

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on July 23, 2019, in apologetics, Bible, Bible Teaching, bodily resurrection, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, parables, Prayer, Prophecy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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