This is the second part of my reflections on the battle against death. In the first part I talked about my own thoughts about how our battle will turn out, and started to look at what the Bible says about death. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a very uplifting observation that I discussed last time. This observation was that we will all die and that there is no way to completely beat death no matter how hard we try. If you want to take a look at the whole thing, here it is.
The second aspect of death that is important to note is that the Bible appears to view death as not just a physical reality. There is more to death in the Bible than just our life ending. I’ve tried to figure out a way to describe this, but the best that I can come up with is spiritual death. I do not like this designation though. So before I go any farther I’ll explain why.
There is a faulty line of thought in Christianity that likes to try to divide the physical and the spiritual. The idea is that what is physical is evil or at least less important than the things that we would designate spiritual. Therefore issues like physical health, possessions, good food, entertainment of any sort can be looked at with great disdain unless we somehow infuse a “spiritual” theme into them. The Bible does not present this separation. Instead it calls for a centering of our full life around God. Both our “spiritual” life and our physical life should reflect our following of God. Therefore helping our neighbors with matters of health, money, or possessions is to be held in union our faith and as a part of our faith. I know this isn’t a complete exploration of this topic (maybe I’ll have to explain this further later), but it is something that I want out in front. I am not advocating a separation of the physical and the spiritual, but I am catagorizing them here for ease of understanding.
So let’s get back to the issue at hand. There are two types of death presented in the Bible; a physical death, and a “spiritual” death. The physical death was the focus of the first part, and we can easily see this death presented a number of times. It is present in the descriptions of the death of men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, etc. I also gave examples in the first part that show the Bible understands physical death.
However, there are many times where the Bible will talk about a death this isn’t a physical death, but is rather a death that is exhibited by a turning away from God and what He says. Like the beginning of Proverbs (Proverbs 2:18-19) where the author has this to say about the house of an adulterous woman “Surely her house leads down to deathand her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life.” Proverbs 8:36 talks about those who “fail to find [wisdom] harm themselves and all who hate [wisdom] love death.”
This emphasis on a death that is exemplified by turning from God and His instruction continues in the New Testament as well. John 5:24 does this in reverse “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” This talks about the passing from death to life that comes from a proper belief and following of God. Not to belabor this point, but to give one more example, Romans 6:23 also carries this view as well when is says that “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There are also other places that you can look to see this view of death as something more than just physical death.
Now, there is another problem with just labeling this as “spiritual” that I need to address here. I think it can be too easy to reduce “spiritual” death as simply not following God or believing in Christ. This is certainly a major component, but like my warning from before this tends to be completely disconnected from the physical reality of everyday life. God is interested both in our love, belief, and loyalty to Him and our love for our neighbor. While these things may not have much to do with death as we typically think about it, they are major aspects of our “spiritual” life.
This idea is present both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Parts of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are focused in on providing justice for those who tend to be marginalized, a call for fairness in judgments (not favoring either the rich OR the poor), a way to forgive debt for those who have had poor judgment or a rough season of life. The prophets often brought two main charges against the people of Israel, idolatry against God and an overabundance of injustice in the land.
We have this capped off by Jesus when he says in Luke 10:27 that the two greatest commandments are to “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Which, by the way, are both statements made in the Old Testament; Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 respectively. So while belief in God and what He has done for us is important, God does not want this disconnected from love and mercy in practical and physical ways.
Honestly, I think the idea of death resulting from turning from God and His ways is something that is often missed when we think about fighting death. Not that our culture doesn’t understand the concept, but that we have removed it from the framework of following God either completely or in certain spheres. We all seem to know that life is more than just being physically alive. We want jobs that are fulfilling, enjoyable experiences, good relationships, and things that are not just about whether our heart is beating or not.
Now this is not bad in and of itself, but without the framework of God this can be twisted to where we believe we are the ultimate authorities. This leads us to believe that God doesn’t have any business with how we live our life or at least that His interest in how we live our lives should be limited as we see fit. This is especially true of things that we don’t view as being a big deal, like sexual ethics. To present an example of this you could read the article The Millennial Generation’s Acceptable Sin on the Gospel Coalition. I think this presents a picture of being with God on certain issues, but not caring too much about what he says on others.
The point here though is that death is viewed by the Bible as more than just a physical thing. There is a spiritual dimension to it that is connected to our interaction and attitude towards God. There is more to life than just whether our heart is beating and we’re breathing. There is a deeper dimension that is present in how we live our life. This dimension involves both loving and following God as well as loving those we interact with in our lives. To simply hold one aspect of this dimension isn’t enough. Saying we love and believe in God while we deny mercy, love, and justice to those around us isn’t true spiritual life. However, neither is simply loving our fellow humans and rejecting God either entirely or partially. This may sound pretty daunting, and to be honest it is. This will be what I look at in the next part. So we’ll see you then.