Death Sucks (But Not For the Reason You Think)

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On January 3, 2013 I performed my first funeral. And it sucked. It sucked because the man I officiated for was only 34. It sucked because he died after a 14-month struggle with cancer. It sucked because he left behind a young mother and two twin boys.

A seminary professor of mine used to say, “Being a Christian means embracing the fact that life sucks until Jesus comes.”

So true.

And it’s OK to say so! It’s OK to say that this part of life — death — sucks. And the reason why is because death isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Deep down we know that this is true, don’t we? If it was supposed to be this way, we would mourn, but then chalk it up to something that was natural. Yet we know death is wrong, unnatural. Same for cancer, racism, gossip, and everything else in life that sucks.

Then how can we explain why so much of life is so messed up? An early Christian, Methodius, reminds us:

“After their creation, the first human beings received a commandment from God. It was from this that evil sprang, because they did not obey the command. Disobedience is the root cause of all evil.”

Disobedience. Rebellion. Sin. Strong words, I know. But true. The vintage Christian faith tells us this world is fallen, and so are we.

Now I understand many of us have a difficult relationship with this word: sin. Many people have been beaten over the head with it with fire-and-brimstone sermons or neon signs. Yet it’s an important aspect of faith, because it explains so much of life.

Sin helps answer the burning question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Vintage Christianity has consistently insisted all of the things that cause so much heartache stole themselves into the world when our ancestors rebelled against God because they wanted to be God. They wanted the right to decide for themselves what was right and what was wrong.

Christian thinker Jacque Ellul called this event The Great Rupture. At one point everything was whole, at peace, just right. But that all changed. And now things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be; we aren’t either.

This world is messed up. The national headlines remind us daily: unemployment, Ferguson and Baltimore, New Orleans and Nepal, a billion people without clean water, ISIS. So do the personal ones: we cheat on our taxes, gossip about our neighbor, lust after images online, curse our neighbor on the road and rage at the way they drive (hand up on that one!).

Sin is a vandalizing of shalom, an intentional ruining of God’s creation. When we act in ways we know deep down are wrong, we purposefully, deliberately, actively vandalize the way its supposed to be — and God hates it. Cornelius Plantinga puts it this way:

“God hates sin not just because it violates his law but more importantly because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be . . . God is for shalom and therefore against.” (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be)

Shalom is the way it’s supposed to be. Like one man and one woman in marriage for life. Like contentment. Like loving our neighbors as ourselves. Like an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work.

Sin is anything we do that vandalizes shalom, but it’s also the things in life that aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. Divorce. Pollution. Gossip. Nuclear Weapons. Envy. Sin sucks so much because it ruins what God intended; it’s existential vandalism.

It’s also a deliberate attempt to be like God. Genesis 3 makes this clear: when Mama Eve and Papa Adam rebelled against his command to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil they were in essence grasping after God’s power, after his authority. This desire is the core of sin, and it resulted in our ultimate existential plight. Death is the tragic consequence and our “wage,” as Paul puts it, for vandalizing creation and idolizing ourselves in place of God.

Every time we sin, we scream a big “Yes!” to the vandalism of shalom. We say we want “More!” of the way things aren’t supposed to be and “Less!” of the way things ought to be. We’re also saying what God originally intended is just flat out wrong. That things should be this way. That I have the right to act this way. This is how things should be, not what God intended.

When I perform or attend a funeral, I’m reminded that death isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. It represents the tragic consequences of ruining God’s original intent and grasping after God’s power to define for myself what is good and evil. And it causes me to consider how I’m retracing my ancient ancestors’ footsteps.

This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the “vintage” Christian faith. I invite you to rediscover in the coming months what it means to be a vintage Christian.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

OnFaith Voices is a series of perspectives about faith.
  • allinthistogether

    Pardon my bluntness, but seldom have I read anything that was so much based in wishful thinking and denial of the actual universe. Though human understanding of the “natural” universe has barely scratched the surface, and we already must recognize that our understanding and perspective will change many times in the future (as we are surprised by new findings), certain likelihoods are reinforced. One of those likelihoods is that humans differ from animals only in biological degree, not in essence – we are all made from the same pool of materials. Another is that though nature has created some very long lived creatures (many thousands of years for some species found so far), we so far know of no organism that lives forever. We also know of no substantive evidence that there is an afterlife. The universe as it exists, in its entirety, is what you (the author and those of similar belief) is saying isn’t “supposed to be.” And conversely, the entire afterlife proposal is based on resistance to the way things are, a wish that things were different and a claim that the wish is “the way things ought to be.”

    This all sounds very much like the way children think about reality, and childishness is not going to help us deal with the problems we as a species face. Yes, there may be some tiny chance that there is an afterlife, but based on all the info about the universe that we have right now, there is no afterlife.

    Adults thinking like children “isn’t supposed to be.” Adults using all of the info at hand, and discerning actuality and the best path forward “is the way things ought to be.”

    I wish that more Christians would learn to observe the wonders and opportunities of our universe as it was “created” and choose to develop it as best we can, to improve lives of humans and other species, rather than putting energy and resources into convincing others to believe a particular creation narrative and hoping there is an afterlife. But, that would be wishful thinking on my part.

    • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

      Well said. In addition, note the blatant totalitarianism in the phrase “disobedience is the root cause of all evil”, and the moral of the adam and eve story is that we must blindly obey our commands even absent any knowledge of right and wrong.