Introducing death.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 May 2018

Humans die. Here’s why.

The first time we read about death in the bible, it’s in the Adam and Eve story. God tasks the first adám/“human” with taking care of a garden. Which is described as edén/“delightful,” but we tend to treat that adjective as a proper name, Eden, same as we do the word for human, Adam.

Unlike fast-food jobs, Adam was given free rein to eat anything he found growing there. Well, almost anything. One particular tree, you remember, was off limits.

Genesis 2.15-17 KWL
15 The LORD God took the human
and set him in a delightful garden to work it and watch over it.
16 The LORD God commanded the human, saying, “Eat, eat, from every tree of the garden.
17 From the knowing-good-and-evil tree: Don’t eat from it.
For on the day you eat from it, you’ll die, die.”

Ancient Hebrew repeated itself for emphasis. “Eat, eat” meant God was serious about Adam eating whatever he wished; “Die, die” meant God was serious about the knowing-good-and-evil tree being toxic.

No doubt you also know the rest of the story: God’s warnings notwithstanding, the first humans did eat from that tree. That’s the risk inherent in free will: Sometimes people exercise it to do profoundly stupid things. Satan used its free will to go wrong; Adam and Eve did too. And since actions have consequences, they were gonna die, die.

Genesis 3.17-19 KWL
17 God told the human, “When you heard your woman’s voice,
you ate from the tree I commanded you about, and said not to eat from it.
The ground—what you produce from it—is cursed.
All the days of your life, you’ll eat of in in pain: 18 Thorns and thistles will grow from it.
You’ll eat the grass of the fields, 19 and eat bread by the sweat of your nose
till you go back to the ground that you were taken out of:
You’re dust, and you’ll go back to being dust.”

Humans were meant to live forever. Now we don’t.

Sin is why. Apparently Adam could’ve got hold of the tree of life, eaten of it, and lived forever despite this curse. Which is why God had to boot the humans out of the garden and post angelic guards around it. Ge 3.22-24 God doesn’t want sin to live forever; he wants to put an end to it. That’s why we’re gonna die. Why, frankly, we gotta die: Our sins die with us.

That is, till Jesus died for us, and our sins died with him—and now we can go back to living forever.

Oh, death still sucks, of course.

Till Jesus resurrects us, and banishes sin from our beings once and for all, we still have to suffer some of the consequences of sin. Like pain; life is suffering, as the Buddha put it, and despite all our first-world comforts we’re still gonna undergo suffering in one form or another.

Death is one of those things we still suffer: Everybody still dies. Christians included; Jesus didn’t instantly cure us of death the moment he died for us. Wouldn’t that be weird, with only Christians living forever while everybody else died? Of course, it’d mean everybody else might feel obligated to kill us like they did Jesus… so maybe it’s for the best. We still sin, even though we’re trying not to; we still have a lot of sin’s corruption in ourselves, and it’s gonna take death and resurrection to finally root that out of us. So everybody still dies, and will till Jesus returns.

Hence death has become normal. Even though humans notice it sure doesn’t feel normal. Feels absolutely wrong. Pagans can’t necessarily put their finger on why that feels wrong, but Christians know precisely why: Humans were never meant to die. We were meant to live forever! Death is unnatural. So we fight it.

And when loved ones die, you notice how it just devastates some people. They can’t get over it. Don’t feel they should get over it: They never, ever expected to lose their spouses, kids, parents, friends, whomever. Heck, we even get that way over pets. We don’t want anything to die. Ever.

Well, except cows, ’cause hamburgers are delicious. And pigs, ’cause bacon. And plants, ’cause fruits and vegetables and bread. Actually we’re mighty selective about who and what we want to live, and who and what we want to die. ’Cause we’re selfish like that. But generally we humans see death as something we should be selective about, and a lot of that comes from the fact we originally weren’t meant to die.

Genesis pins down death as our fault, but y’notice most people still consider it God’s fault. When somebody dies, people get pissed at God about it—as if God promised us our every loved one was guaranteed to outlive us. When people die, nontheists figure, “Well that just proves there’s no God in the universe, ’cause if there were a God” (more accurately if they were God) “he’d stop everyone from ever dying or suffering.” They’re not entirely wrong there; that is the long-term plan y’know. It’s just not true of the short-term. There’s still sin, so there’s still death. Humanity still sucks, so life is still suffering.

Human death began with Adam and Eve. Not all death.

In describing sin and death and the salvation achieved by Christ Jesus, Paul pointed out to the Romans how human death began with humanity’s sin. (Focusing primarily on Adam’s sin, not both humans’ sin, because in Paul’s culture only men were legally culpable; women only answered to their men. But I digress.)

Romans 5.12-14 KWL
14 This is why, just as sin entered the universe through one human, and death through sin—
this is how death got into all humanity, for everyone’s sinned.
15 Sin was in the universe before the Law was given,
though sin isn’t identified when a Law doesn’t exist.
16 But death ruled from Adam till Moses, even over those who hadn’t sinned like Adam disobeyed—
which is symbolic of what’s to come.

Thing is, Christians tend to take Paul’s discussion of how sin entered the universe through one person and poisoned everyone, and how salvation entered the universe through one other person and can cure everyone… and read stuff into it which Paul wasn’t even talking about. Namely the idea that death didn’t exist in the universe until Adam sinned.

Yep. Young-earth creationists in particular. They have this idea that before Adam sinned, nothing died. Plants didn’t die, animals didn’t die, humans didn’t die; everything was designed to live forever.

Biologically this doesn’t work. At all.

In order for animals and fungi to live, we need to eat. And eating consumes—and kills—the things we eat. When you pluck an orange from a tree, you’ve detached it from its source of life, the tree. From that point onward the orange’s cells begin to die. True, it’s not animal death, but it’s still death. If you don’t eat the orange, and don’t bury the orange so its seeds can grow into another tree, it’s gonna rot: Fungi will get at it, and a fungus can’t live without dead cells to feed on. If you do eat it, it’s definitely gonna die as we chew it, swallow it, and digest it. And as Jesus pointed out, even if a fruit falls to the ground and becomes another tree, the process of seeds producing new plants involves death, of a sort, for the seed. Jn 12.24

Where you have creatures eating plants, thus killing them, you also have creatures eating bacteria, and killing them as well. Our digestive systems are full of bacteria, which we need to help us digest properly—and they regularly get digested along with the food we eat. Not to mention any fungi or small insects which might accidentally be consumed in the process of eating plants.

You see my point: Death is part of a normally functioning biosphere. Once biological life came to exist, so did biological death. Not just the potential for it; the reality of it, because growth won’t happen without it. Death had to exist before Adam and Eve “brought death into the universe.” Thus Paul clearly wasn’t writing about all death: Only human death. Only a literalist would extrapolate “death” into referring to all life in the universe—and in so doing, get all sorts of stuff wrong. Biology in particular.

Logically it doesn’t work either. God couldn’t warn Adam about death unless Adam understood what death is. If Adam didn’t know what death is, God may as well have told him, “If you eat this, you’re gonna mot”—leaving Adam to think, “What’s mot? Is it bad? Good? Should I care?” For all he’d know, mot means “be grounded from playing with the animals,” or “go to bed without supper.” In order for this warning to be in any way valid, Adam had to know what death was: He had to have seen it in some fashion, and know it was something he didn’t wanna personally experience.

I point this out to Christians, and some of ’em respond, “Well God could’ve explained death. Adam didn’t have to actually see it.” True. But there are other, better reasons why Adam would know what death was. His job was to tend God’s garden, remember? Clean it up, keep it looking nice… maybe clear out the dead leaves and rotten fruit, and burn it in the backyard. Aha: Death.

And that’s not even getting into the fact God made carnivores and predators. Young-earthers imagine God created these species with the innate ability to eat other species… yet if Adam never sinned, these species would have never ever used these traits. Never woulda done what comes naturally. Unless of course God fully intended Adam to sin; that it was all part of his evil secret plan.

Of course I don’t believe God’s secretly evil, and find it ridiculous that God’d make creatures which intentionally don’t work as designed. But I find young-earth creationists to regularly be ridiculous, ’cause that’s what over-literalism does to people.

So Adam knew what death was. And knew it wasn’t meant to apply to him. It did to plants and other animals, but Adam had regular access to the tree of life, and it’d infinitely extend his lifespan. As the trees of life in New Jerusalem Rv 22.2 will one day do ours.