In last week's post, I tried to find meaning in the way Jesus talked about life. I posited that the life we live as followers of Jesus is more than simple biological existence, even when that existence is at its material best. I also argued that this life that Jesus talked about is eternal life and that our promised eternal life has, in fact, already begun. We can glimpse this truth in some grace-filled moments. We should always be mindful that that we are living the true life, and, of course, we should live as if we knew it.
The corollary of LIFE is DEATH.
I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who believes in me will live and never die. John 5:25
If Jesus is life as he states here, then the absence of Jesus is death. Now it’s fair to note here that there are differing views on this concept. It is known that the earliest Christians believed they would not die, meaning they would not stop breathing, metabolizing, thinking etc. Some Christians, today, believe that death is not an intended part of creation, that our parting from our original purpose (see Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man) brought about death.
Certainly Jesus talked enough about “not tasting death” for people to conclude this. I am, however, declining to address this argument. We know that we do die. Our prayers ease our loved ones into a holy and peaceful death. If death were ever not part of the plan, it certainly is in the plan now.
But clearly the death that Jesus is talking about in the above passage from John, is a living death, a darker and more hopeless death than what we naturally face. It is a life without life, without the animating force of Christ. It’s a life with no comfort, no purpose, no connection with God. It’s death.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
If our life is more than mere biological function, if we are living beyond our material selves, then death would also be something beyond a simple biological end. If eternal life can enter into our lived existence now, then I believe that death can also overtake our living selves. As we see in the passage above, Paul connects this death with sin.
Let’s look anew at the tried and true association of sin, Original Sin in particular, with death. Let’s rework the notion that we die physically because humanity fell from grace. Let's tinker with the timeline while we're at it. Let’s write a new story.
Imagine a human, a young man; we'll call him Adam. He is driving to his Grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. He’s happily anticipating getting together with family, eating his Gran’s delicious mincemeat pie, watching a little football. The sun is shining on the open road. He is at peace with the world; he thinks he might even believe in God after all.
Then along comes a bunch of kids in a pick-up truck nearly running him off the road. He is furious, thinks of all sorts of evil outcomes for the youngsters, remembers that he doesn't really like his cousin Ralph and thinks that his girlfriend, Eve, might be breaking up with him. Suddenly, his calm is upended. He now has enemies, doubts, anger. Maybe he chases after the kids to let them know how stupid they are. Maybe he picks a fight with his cousin at dinner. Maybe he refuses to say grace with the family. Maybe he jumps the gun and breaks up with Eve himself. By text!
Or….maybe he just shakes his head at these reckless kids and says “Idiots.” Maybe he wonders if they have somewhere to go for Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe he hopes the police pull them over so they'll learn better. Then maybe he loves his family even more than ever, gives his Gran and extra big hug, teases his cousin gently, roots for the home team and falls asleep with a smile on his face.
I don’t want to overstate this young man’s state of grace or lack of it; we aren't talking about great evil or great saintliness here. But I hope you can see with me how one scenario is full of life and the other verges on death. A few days like this – and we've all had them – and our friend Adam is heading more surely in one direction or another.
Death then, the sort of death that Jesus tells us we can avoid, is, at the very least, a life without him. It’s a life of sin, of emptiness, of quarrels and spite. It might even be a life of crime and violence.
Let’s hope this modern Adam finds the right way this time and doesn't let his pride take him over. Let’s hope he sees that the unpleasant people he meets are also children of God who are just finding their way as he is. Let’s also hope that he and Eve stay together, make a family, have LIFE. I think they will.