In putting aside arguments about the literal meanings of Genesis, we allow it to tell us the truth of who we are. In stepping back from the controversy we have the room to go deeper. With the rest of the scripture Genesis tells us, God created us to be holy; righteousness is at our heart. Together with God, we were to form and fill the Earth, caring for it and showing loving kindness, each born of God, acting through faith in God, obedient to his word, wholly other than God. I suggest we were created to live by faith in God, growing in faith through the fulfilment of his word that all is good. By faith, we are to work with God in the perfecting of creation.
This is the joy set before humanity. We are created to be part of the divine nature. This is the message of Adam and Eve in the garden. Our created selves are set apart by God so that we might live by faith, trusting and obedient to his word of truth. In our obedience, our faith brings glory to what God has placed within us. This is our high calling.
Christianity teaches that when we die we get new bodies, becoming like God, and dwell with him as sons of God on Earth as it is in Heaven. The end of our life on the Earth is the gateway to a new life in God. In Christ’s resurrection, we see what this is like, as he moves freed from the constraints of the here and now. This seems fantastic and hard to understand and beyond our experience.
Death is part of creation and not just the end of life. We see this in the cycles of nature as materials are reused. We see in nature the selflessness of creation giving itself up in the formation of the future, pouring its present into the new life of the future. This is the mystery of fruitfulness. In Christ, I believe we see the creative cycle of life and death redeemed and remade good. In Christ, the gift of life is revealed to be everlasting, ever renewed and ever present.
Humanity receives this in God in Christ’s self-giving and submission to the will of God on the cross. Through the cross, Jesus’ death brings humanity into a new life with God, which is perfected by life in a wild and dangerous creation, formed by chance and time, wholly independent of God, bound only to him by faith. From dust we came and to dust we will return. Though our bodies enter the cycle of recycling, we do not fall to the ground and die, lost forever in the molecules of another’s life. The fruitfulness of our created being realises its purpose to be like God, forever in his renewing presence, freed to be like him.
We cannot grasp what appears to be a weird idea when what continues cannot be seen. We can reflect on the story in the Bible and try to absorb its fantastical message but its truth is beyond reason. Added to this we struggle to understand the fantasy of immortality in the knowledge of our ever-present failing to live up to our own expectations of the way things should be. We look through the lens of seeming futility and suffering, and a horror of death. Death as inevitable seems to be the only real fact.
Our reflection begins with Adam’s loss of faith and self-will. He chose his own way and selfishly grasped what pleased him- he rejected God’s warning of the consequences. His eyes were opened to judgement and he felt shame.
Adam had everlasting fellowship with God and he was by faith righteous. Adam was good and had no sin. Receiving the breath of God, he lived in Eden with God and did not sin. His righteousness was his own. In his righteousness, he was wholly separate from God, wholly other than God, bound in intimacy and companionship with God through faith. Adam was the whole of humanity and from Adam God formed Eve. Eve was taken out of Adam, and she became wholly other than Adam. Adam and Eve were two individuals bound together in a relationship which when consummated made them as one person with the purpose of filling the world with offspring. All humanity is created to be righteous by nature, to be bound in a relationship with God, but wholly other than God in its righteousness, living with God, righteous by nature and fruitful, giving and receiving love and creating new life. This is what was lost and what we are redeemed to.
Grasping pride and self-regard in the heavenly realm formed one who was to stand against God’s will and, with those who rebelled in the heavenly court, could contend with God in creation. The father of sin could move freely in Eden. In the heavenly courts the Satan appears to have been, before his fall, the prince of Eden and he became the prince of this world.
The father of lies tempted Eve and through her Adam, and they turned from God. God had put all creation under Adam as a gift and so in following the lust of his eye, all nature came under the thrall of the evil one, the Satan. No longer was righteousness by nature to mark out humanity. All humanity fell. God, though he had been scorned, lied about and rejected, clothed Adam and Eve and then in mercy banished them from the garden. Adam was banished from Eden where the tree of life was. He was now in the power of the principalities and powers ranged against God- a rebel subject to the prince of this world.
Humanity becomes subject to a curse and is separated from God through sin. But this is the God who teaches us to be endlessly forgiving when sinned against. If we focus on the curse, we miss God’s loving kindness. Humanity does not physically die when it sins and humanity finds itself continually before a just and merciful God. We worship him and call upon his name.
This is our story; in the depth of our despair; in the pit of our desperate condition, before God, we find the glory of our forgiveness as we see God in Christ, on the cross. We find him to have been there from the beginning, an eternal ransom. Through faith, humanity is forgiven and called to please God.
Jesus teaches us that faith is a gift from God, not from the imaginings of men, or their clever doctrines, the mangling of the scriptures to suit their traditions and approve their power, or their appeals to our emotions. Faith is the rock on which he builds a people. This people is founded on the revelation of faith from God that we are loved and forgiven through God and held in God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When we come to know Jesus, we discover the ground of our forgiveness, and the truth sets us free. We are reassured that the God of love, separated from us by our sin, forgives us and through the cross, restores us to his presence and clothes us again in righteousness, washing us clean by his dying in our place so that in death we can walk in glory. Our merit is restored in him. In him we are made worthy and guilt and shame are no more; the wages of sin are no longer drawn down; God who has always been our ransom enables us to walk free from slavery to unrighteousness; free from the grip of the evil one.
Our knowledge of God is a gift of faith. Our thank offering to God is our faith. We know a relationship based on this flow of grace and thankfulness. Our whole being has its source in God. We drink from God and his goodness flows from us as we become immersed in him.
Our confidence is in the knowledge of the redemption won for us on the cross. Christ is in us, for us and with us in our lives. Death is separation from this gift of life. Death is the darkness caused by our sin. Sin is us not acting from faith. Faith is the substance of a relationship, a relationship found in Christ, lost in sin and restored in Christ.
Death separates us from our calling to life. We are called to choose life and, because of sin, death has a sting. The sting of death is that sin separates us from the holiness of God and the life we are called to. Our choices in life are what form us. By nature, we are created able to obey or disobey, accept or reject the grace of faith. We are by nature sinful. This is the pain at the heart of God- his deep love for us and our separation from him because of sin, grieves his Spirit. In Christ, God is glorified by showing us mercy. It is faith in a merciful God that turns away the sting of death- we are redeemed.
Christianity teaches that the spirits and powers at work in creation seek to bind us and separate us from God. Because of sin, the whole of creation is groaning under a constant onslaught of evil. The metaphor of death embodying separation from God is powerful in its conveying the horror and futility of a life separated from God. In physical death and the sting of death we are confronted by the agony of spiritual death.
The ground of our being is God and his love, yet love means we can reject love. This is the humility of God the principalities and powers rage against and we, with them are bound in death, given over to death, disobedient, turning from the loving kindness of God.
On the cross, Christ draws this evil to himself, and contends with the principalities and powers, through submission to the will of the Father. In meekness, he disarms their pride and violence. In facing down the curse they enact, he reveals the face of God. In our brokenness and contrite hearts, we find God there in the trials. In the constant onslaught of the evil one on our lives, Christ is our blessing and peace. We are formed to be like God as we suffer- perfected in him as, despite the onslaught, we receive the free-gift of faith and offer it back to God in thankfulness. On the cross God in Christ has obtained the victory and we are redeemed.
This is our story. Banished from Eden, we are separated from the possibility of eternal physical life and we go through physical death. Physical death frees us from the onslaughts of the evil one. Our experience of life is one of slavery to the prowling evil one. Bound by our natures to sin, we choose death but freed in Christ we chose life.
It is not our own fault that we find ourselves slaves but we are responsible for our own sin. Just as the people of Israel in Egypt were not there because of their own sin yet they were slaves, we are also in the realm of Satan through no fault of our own. God redeemed Israel from Egypt by his strong arm and he redeems us from the prince of this Earth by doing battle on the cross and releases us from the bondage of wilful sinfulness once and for all. We are born again to new life. Christianity teaches that the cross transforms physical death. Physical death is redeemed in Christ.
We still die. Death takes away the ones we love and is a threat- it troubles us. We can be consumed by the manner of our death and avoid discussing it in fear. It reduces some so they approach it in degradation and in complete dependence and all dignity is lost.
Dignity in death is prized. We can stave off death and prolong life but the quality of life is what people are worried about. Some want to control the manner of their passing. People want to choose how they are to die and if they lose hope, some want to be killed. Our wonder at life is lost in the futility of the cruelty of death.
Physical death is the ultimate separating from Earthly love. When someone we love dies, then all we have is memories and the inheritance of their work and wealth. This is their legacy; this can be a source of pain, or a measure of a life well lived. It can be a separation from suffering and a source of peace. We are often relieved that someone dies and death can be a release from oppression. Some see the taking of their own lives as a way out. We can see death as a severe mercy.
Our hearts ache when our loved ones die. To live well we must move on and accommodate their loss in a life well lived. We are healthy when we step out of the bad and into the good. Out of the dust of death we form a new life which includes the loss. Every life is sacred and no death is meaningless. The death of a person close to us forms us for good or for ill. Death is not the end. The effects of a life continue after death in the lives of others.
Christianity goes even beyond this though and teaches that, for the individual, death is the gateway to another realm. This realm is not to be feared as it is the realm of God’s goodness which is here now, to be experienced, amongst us in the person of the resurrected Christ, because of his death. The kingdom of heaven is amongst us but the fear of death is still with us. The fear of death seeks to separate us from Christ, the light of life. But his light shines in the darkness of our forebodings. Death is pure darkness to us but hope shines a light into it. Sometimes this is clear to us.
The light that shines is God in Christ who has victory in death. In death, we sleep in Christ. The gift of God is that in our natural end on this Earth, the price of our sin has been paid and we are glorified in death. Death has been redeemed and we go to be with Christ in peace.
Death didn’t take Enoch. Death didn’t take Elijah. Moses and Elijah were physically present at the transfiguration of Jesus we are told. The ever-present Christ, Son of God, communed with Elijah and Moses. Enoch, we are taught, is a hero of faith assumed into heaven without dying. Jesus walked with the disciples, ate with them and rested with them after his resurrection. Physical death is no obstacle to God in the scriptures and may or may not have been inevitable from the beginning– it is spiritual death that separates us from God.
We now know through science that physical death has been our partner from the beginning, in the forming and the renewal of our bodies, cell by cell. Death nourishes us and detritivores are our friends in keeping our world clean. Each system in our body is set up to protect us, keep us from death and has always kept us from the beginning, even our emotions protect us. Our bodies mature and age in an environment where chance and time act. We are physically adapted by our pasts and our present changes us. We live and die in a real world. We are mortal. Physical death is not just an enemy.
In Eden, there could be found the promise of eternal physical life as fruit on a tree, but it appears Adam and Eve did not eat this fruit. Why was it there I wonder? From the beginning, physical death was present I surmise. The warning in Genesis, “You shall surely die…” carried a meaning that God did not have to explain. Adam knew what he was talking about or it wasn’t much of a warning.
In the garden, spiritual death came and the curse of a life separated from God. In the story, God’s anger at sin is made plain. God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden like animals. We sense the urgency and the absolute need to separate Adam and Eve from the tree of eternal life. This was God’s mercy I believe not his anger; a sin driven eternal life would be continuous hell on Earth.
Physical death is a mercy where there is sin. As sin takes its grip, life is shortened in the narrative of Genesis. This is the mercy of God woven into creation I think. Jesus’ life was surrendered up to degradation, violence and intense lonely suffering.
Before Jesus dies on the cross he cries, “It is finished!”. Death is conquered and he dies. Death is sanctified. Death is conquered for all humanity. Death’s sting is averted for all humanity as God in Christ becomes our victory over death. Before he died he told the criminal crucified with him, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Death released Christ into glory.
In all our suffering, the scarred God is there, we are gathered to him in death to be with him in paradise. As Christians, we have the courage to say, death is like going to sleep, however untimely or degrading, and hold out this hope to all the world. It is not a matter of whether we deserve to die, but that, in death, sin separates us from life. it is this consequence of sin that God in Christ frees us from. This is the victory of the cross.