A Christian Perspective

A site to muse on Christian Spirituality, Church History, and other things of interest to me.

On celebrating death

Posted by James Bennett (jimb) on 5/3/11

From a Christian Perspective, and that is what this blog is about, there is only one death that we have any right to celebrate. That is the death of Death itself.


As a Christian, whether one accepts Genesis chapters 1 and 2 literally or in a more symbolic and metaphorical manner, one must necessarily accept that God through Jesus Christ created all things. This was first agreed upon by the entire Church at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. when the council professed that:


We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things seen and unseen. And in one Lord, Jesus Christ the Son of God ... through whom all things came to be, both the things in heaven and on earth.


Genesis chapters 1 and 2 clearly assign the creation of all living things to God. I will not go into the debates on whether these are literal chapters or not. Whether there were six 24-hour days during which God created everything or not. Whether God said it and it appeared or whether God worked through natural processes such as evolution. Those issues do not change the fact a Christian must accept the belief that God, through the person of Jesus Christ, was responsible for the creation of all things. The how has never been formally debated by the Church.


For the Christian, it must also be accepted that after God created all things He pronounced that they were good. A more paraphrastic translation of Genesis 2:3 specifically highlights the joy God took in this act of creation:


And God blessed the seventh day and consecrated it. Because on it, He rested from all His handiwork, which He [God] created for the joy [sake] of creating (Gen 2:3).


It is also certain from Genesis 3:1-24 that humankind, through the actions of Adam and Eve, acted against the command and will of God. The result of that disobedience was that humankind was barred access to the Tree of Life and expelled from paradise. So, it was not through design that death has entered the world, but through removal of access to the Tree of Life because of the disobedience by Adam and Eve:


And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" ... Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" — therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life ((Gen 2:16-17, Gen 3:22-24 NKJV).


Death is not part of God's design. It is not part of God's will for humankind. God abhors death for all persons:


"Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord GOD, "and not that he should turn from his ways and live?" (Ezek 18:23 NKJV)


"For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies," says the Lord GOD. "Therefore turn and live!" (Ezek 18:32 NKJV)


"Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'"  (Ezek 33:11 NKJV)


The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet 3:9 NKJV)


I should not even have to mention the story of Jonah and the lesson that God taught to him where, at the end of the book, God outlined His view of treating the wickedness of those in that city:


Then God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "It is right for me to be angry, even to death!" But the LORD said, "You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?" (Jonah 4:9-11 NKJV)


That is not to say that God is not concerned with justice. The references to God's pronouncement of salvation for the righteous and judgment for the unrighteous and wicked is prevalent throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. But, while God is just, and His justice will prevail, that justice in no way resembles what we often think of as justice (e.g. vengeance). God's ultimate desire is that all should be saved. And through His pity, as with Ninevah, He has provided a process through which His desire might be realized. That process is the Lord Jesus Christ. His death is both the atonement for sin and the mechanism by which His triumph comes to fruition. When Jesus died He defeated and destroyed Death. When He was resurrected He brought the promise of eternal life. He has healed the rift that occurred through the disobedience of Adam and Eve and laid out the path by which we may enter back into paradise. That path leads through Jesus himself who said:


"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him" (John 14:6-7 NKJV).


We as Christians are called to imitate Christ in all things. As such, we should mourn the death of everyone. We should neither revel in death nor desire death. We should pray that all will come to Christ. While I understand the position of the United States government (after all we created a social contract with the government to provide for our safety) I am not thankful for the death of anyone. And I neither desired nor desire the death of anyone.


The life of the Mansons, Hitlers, Stalins, and, yes, the bin Ladens of the world should never be reveled over. We may mourn and choose to celebrate the transition, through death, of those who die within the confine of the Church. But, those who die outside the Church must be mourned. And we must trust that the justice of God, and not the justice of man, will prevail.