Table of Contents
Part II: Embodiment and Redemption
The Dying of Man
Man lives two lives and dies two deaths.
Spiritually, he commits suicide: physically, he is executed.
of death is an enormous one, and the literature is huge.
Some thirty or forty years ago, I remember a scientific paper
which opened by saying that over 600 books had already been published
on the matter and at that time there was not even a glimmer of
understanding of the cause of death except where there is accident
or disease or predation to account for it. It is still, today,
widely held that no one dies merely from the weight of years.
In man the problem is greatly compounded
by the fact that whereas animals experience only physical death,
man experiences two deaths one spiritual and the
other physical. As we live two kinds of life so we experience
two kinds of dying.
Theologically, these two deaths
can both be characterized by the single word separation. Physical
death involves the separation of the spirit from the body, and
spiritual death involves the separation of the spirit from God.
In each case a 'termination' is reached which only God can reverse.
There is the termination of physical life for which the only
remedy is the redemption of the body (Romans 8.23)
and there is the termination
of spiritual life for which the only remedy is the regeneration
of the spirit (John 3:3).
But this view of physical death
is a gross over-simplification. In the first place, it is now
recognized that death can be seen either as an event or
as a process. From a legal and medical point of view it
is an event, and the time of its occurrence can usually be stated.
From a physiological point of view it is actually a process (as
we have already noted in Chapter 6), which is going on throughout
life and begins the moment we are born or even, perhaps, the
moment we are conceived. What happens a few days after death
is a further process of disintegration that is merely an acceleration
of what has been proceeding since day one. The human body is
corrupted from the very first, and this acceleration in the grave
is only the last act in the play.
Nevertheless, we know that it need
not be so, for there was one truly human body that never saw
corruption either in life (1 Peter 1:18,19) or in death (Acts
13:37), though the burial conditions were not unlike those of
Lazarus whose body did indeed see corruption (John 11:39).
Now the immediate
cause of man's physical death can be a host of different
things: starvation, disease, the accumulation of DNA replication
errors, poisoning, suicide, fright, cold, heat, an accident,
excessive joy, even laughter and even hiccups! (114)
The medical people always like
to be able to establish the particular cause of death in each
case if possible and the number of occasions upon which the death
of an individual seems simply to have been natural and
without any discoverable cause other than "old age"
is remarkably few if there are any at all. *
Yet (as we have already noted)
man does not seem to die a 'natural' death under any circumstances
114. Tertullian: A Treatise on the Soul,
ch. LII, with reference to Publius Crassus who died of laughter
[Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson,
New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1918, p.229]
* The truth of this observation is documented in The
Seed of the Woman.
because Scripture assures
us that death was introduced into human experience as the result
of an act of disobedience that involved eating a forbidden food.
Unlike ordinary food poisoning, the end result in this instance
was a fatal damage acquired during Adam's lifetime and, contrary
to the normal rules of inheritance, a damage that was passed
on to all of his naturally-born descendants. Thus by sin death
entered into the world and as a consequence the human race was
Death for man is therefore the
consequence OR the penalty of disobedience. The decision as to
which of these two alternatives is the correct one is still a
matter of theological debate. We cannot be sure from Genesis
2:17 whether the Lord is saying to Adam that disobedience would
bring death as a punishment or merely as a natural consequence.
Perhaps it was both.
It is important to add that from
one point of view, physical death was also a remedy, an
act of mercy. As Methodius (died c.311) observed (115), and much later Francois
Turretin (16231687) (116), we must be rid of this defective body in order to
be freed from the root of sin and hence of one basic cause of
our fallen nature. Paul writes that the law was ineffective because
of the "weakness of the flesh" (Romans 8:3), and the
Lord excused the failure of his friends to watch with Him in
a critical hour of his suffering, on the same grounds (Matthew
26:41). We cannot do without the body, but there are times when
we wish we could, because it is the source of a great deal of
our spiritual failure. Freedom from a disposition towards sin
hinges upon freedom from this "body of sin," a freedom
which physical death guarantees for the redeemed.
It appears from
the experimental evidence that animals have what is commonly
called a "spanned" life, that is to say, a more or
less predetermined span of life which is characteristic for each
species. This is assumed to be necessary in order to prevent
over-population by any one species. When
115. Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten
Virgins in Fathers of the Third Century, Cleveland
Coxe in[Ante-Nicene Fathers, edited by Alexander Roberts and
James Donaldson, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, vol. VI,
116. Turretin, Francois, On The Atonement of Christ, translated
by J. R. Willson, New York, Reformed Protestant Dutch Church,
in nature, there are various compensating mechanisms to deal
with the situation. Some species raise smaller broods; some develop
wings (aphids for example) which enable them to leave the area;
some commit mass suicide (lemmings, for example); some by their
increase in numbers encourage more predators from contiguous
areas who multiply in the presence of plentiful game and so reduce
the larder until they, too, are reduced and things reach a balance
once more (wolves and deer, for example). Some (like elephants)
reduce their number not by smaller litters but by lengthening
the gestation period very substantially. Thus the world's animal
population remains in a remarkable state of balance between food
resources and numbers to be fed except, of course, where
man gets into the act.
But if unfallen man was commanded
to multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28), would he have
lived on and on, multiplying indefinitely? What mechanism would
have prevented his over-populating the world? Would not
natural death have to be ordained for him also, as a safety device
to prevent over-population by the human species? If it was, then
natural death must have been ordained before sin had entered,
a supposition that contradicts what Romans 5:12 says. The answer
to this question is, No.
What was provided for an
unfallen race as a safety device was not natural death
but translation and transformation to a higher order of life
that would not leave man disembodied but with a body which, like
the Lord's resurrected body, does not occupy space at
all. There was to have been no death, but only "graduation."
In the divine plan it was man's destiny that he should never
taste of death, though provision was made for it, should his
freedom abort the plan.
We are, I think, to view the Mount
of Transfiguration experience of the only Man who never need
have died, as providing us with a model to show what kind of
transformation would have awaited us also if we had never sinned.
there is this difference.
For our sake, the Lord Jesus Christ came back down again and
set his face to go up to Jerusalem and to death instead
of the joy that had been set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). *
Such a race, so transformed to
the kind of physical existence that characterized the Lord's
resurrected body ** (of which we shall speak in Chapter 16) would
in no way have over-populated the world! Like the angels, it
seems we shall occupy position but not space. The
problem of overcrowding of the world by immortals would therefore
never have developed. For, as soon as each individual was made
mature by the things which he experienced in this "time
and space" existence, translation would have removed him
to a higher form of existence in which time and space is of no
significance. But as things are, death is necessary because no
such transfiguration is in view for those not made perfect (i.e.,
mature) either by life as the Lord Jesus was (Hebrews 5:8) or
by imputation as his people are (Hebrews 10:14). To be "made
perfect" can be applied to the Lord only in the sense that
whereas He was born innocent, He achieved absolute virtue
by the experience of life. We never thus achieve absolute
virtue. This is what it meant for the Lord Jesus to be "made
perfect." It implies no imperfection at any time, but rather
the purity of childhood which He turned into the positive virtue
of perfect manhood.
Man does indeed
die two deaths, but it is chiefly with his physical death that
we are here concerned. Because his body was not designed for
dying, and because the dissolution of the fundamental union between
spirit and body is
* The Greek word anti is translated
"for" in this passage in the King
James Version, a small word which in the English idiom of
that day meant "in exchange for" rather than "because
of." According to Dana and Mantey, the normal meaning of
anti at this period was "instead of." [H. E.
Dana and Julius R. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New
Testament, Toronto, Macmillan, 1927, sect.107, p.100].
** Shortly after his resurrection, the Lord's body was in some
way transformed, since Mark 16:12 tells us that the disciples
did not see Him as Mary had seen Him but "in another form"
(Greek: en hetero morphe).
effectively the suspension
of the wholeness of man, man's attitude towards death must clearly
have a dimension to it that in no way troubles the animal world.
For man, death is a terrible thing, a disaster to his very being:
and he lives in fear of it for almost the whole of his life.
For animals, death appears to be
a natural thing, whereas for man it is a wholly un-natural
thing. When sin entered into human experience, death entered
with it as something entirely foreign to him. Indeed, as Martyn
Lloyd-Jones observed, it would be quite as proper, if not more
proper, to render the word 'entered' as invaded. (117a) For as he points out, this is what the strong verb
in the Greek really signifies.
In man, body and soul are so profoundly
interpenetrating that the thought of separation is, as Thomas
Aquinas put it, "utterly abhorrent." (117b) James Orr states the matter thus: death is "the
violent rupture, or separation or tearing asunder, so to speak,
of the two parts of his nature which in the Creator's design
were never intended to be sundered. . ." (118) The immortality which man was designed to enjoy was
to be an immortality in which the body played an essential part.
True immortality is not merely immortality of the spirit but
embraces the resurrection of the body to make the spirit's immortality
meaningful by providing the immortal spirit with a requisite
and proper vehicle for expression.
James Denney spoke with perceptiveness
when he wrote: "That which would be merely physical in the
lower animals is not merely physical in man." (119) While the consenting
voice of science seems to say that the life principle in man's
body is not different from that in any other animal, the Scriptures
say that it is. It is different because man's body is a house
designed for a spirit that has a totally different destiny, a
destiny for which the body is essential. At the time of its dying,
an animal's body has served its purpose and is laid to rest permanently,
whereas the human body has only just begun to fulfil its
purposes. Compared with eternity, a life in time is a mere instant;
117a. Lloyd-Jones, Martyn, Romans,
(Chapter 5), Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1972, p.194.
117b. Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica, I, q.4; An
Aquinas Reader, Mary T. Clark, New York, Image Books, 1972.
118. Orr, James, The Christian View of God and the World,
New York, Scribners, 1893, p.198.
119. Denney, James, Studies in Theology, Grand Rapids,
Baker reprint ,1976, p.89.
human body has a timeless
eternity ahead of it. Its significance is entirely different.
that man must die because all his antecedents in the animal world
die. But this is simply not the case. In the first place, unicellular
animals which according to evolution must have been among his
antecedents at the very beginning,* were almost certainly not
mortal. Thus if evolution is true the line of man actually began
as an immortal one, not a mortal one! These organisms can be
killed but they are not inherently subject to death at all. It
would not be true, then, that death in the animal world necessarily
lies at the root of the death of man.
In the second place,
the assertion assumes lineal descent of man from one of the primate
species, and for this there is no proof whatever. The
only evidence is entirely circumstantial and has a certain weight
only if we deny that the divine Designer might have used a similar
pattern to produce a body by creation which was going to operate
under similar conditions of physical existence. In less public
enclaves of scientific discussion the absence of any such "proof"
is now and then frankly admitted.
The evolution of man is an article
of faith, not a scientifically proven fact, even though books
written for public consumption feel the assertion can and must
be made as though it were. In the nature of the case, it is impossible
to prove genetically that there is any relationship between a
fossil that looks like a man and the man that it looks like.
It cannot be proved; it can only be argued as plausible. It has
been said that "all fossils are foundlings," and establishing
actual relationships with certainty is at present quite impossible
unless there is some other kind of evidence such as written documents,
or an inscription on a tombstone, for instance. "Blood"
relationships cannot be established
* After all, one of the most popular evolutionary
slogans is the "amoeba to man" concept.
from bones that are completely
Animal death is a mere termination
of that particular animal. Human death is by no means a mere
termination. It is neither termination of the individual's body
nor termination of the individual's spirit. It is a disruption,
but it is not a termination. It is quite natural in the one:
quite un-natural in the other. It is a mistake to speak of any
human death as natural. Common law in almost every society demands
that the cause of death be established if possible, a
fact which virtually denies that human death is ever natural.
Indeed, natural death has been termed a "legal fiction."
The death of
man is as much a spiritual event as a physical one because it
is the result of a spiritual judgment. By contrast, the death
of an animal is not a judgment at all but is according to the
divine plan for the well-being of the animal world. In man it
is a judgment because the consequences of unlimited physical
life for a sinful creature were unthinkable. For animals it is
a wise provision because of the necessity of avoiding unrestrained
multiplication and over-crowding. If fallen man had had no such
limitations placed on the length of his life, the accumulated
experiences of wickedness carried on century after century could
only have led to an appalling reinforcement of the corruption
of his nature. It was indeed by reason of great longevity that
the world had become so corrupt that the Flood was brought upon
man to put an end to it all. Thereafter, a limitation of 120
years at that time (Genesis 6:3) was imposed upon the normal
life span, instead of the previous many centuries. In the same
way, and for the same reason, it had been necessary to prevent
man's access to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, lest
he should eat of it and recover the physical immortality with
which he had been endowed in his unfallen state.
For this reason, as though the
alternative was too awful to put into words, Genesis 3:22 appears
in Scripture as one of the few unfinished sentences. It sometimes
as interesting that my
old Hebrew professor, Dr. T. J. Meek who was responsible for
the Revised Standard Version of Genesis, indicated this
unfinished-ness by the use of a long dash instead of a period.
Yet Dr. Meek himself had no faith whatsoever in the Bible or
its message, while many more recent translators who do profess
such a faith have not seen the significance of the unfinished
structure of this sentence.
To account for this difference
between the death of man and animals, we have to consider
the corollary, the difference between the life of man
and animals. Adam's death was no more due to his having inherited
animal life than animal death is due to their being involved
in Adam's sin. We shall never find the real meaning of life without
also recognizing the real meaning of death. Man lives under sentence
of death because of his sinfulness, and thus really lives out
his life under judgment for a capital offense in which his body
is also standing trial. Both spirit and body are under sentence
of death. He thus experiences dying for a reason quite inapplicable
to all other creatures not only by reason of its dual nature
but by reason of its cause.
It is also important
to realize that if Adam had been obedient, he would not have
been rewarded with immortality as though it were a crown
to be added to his stature. Obedience would merely have ensured
the preservation of what he already had. When Adam sinned,
he did not shorten his life: he introduced into it a tragic
element, death, which till then was completely foreign to it.
What was thus imposed as a penalty
was not a shortening of life so that he died prematurely. What
was introduced was death, an entirely new and undesigned
phenomenon. Immortality was never promised as a reward since
he already enjoyed it, but loss of it was indeed threatened as
a punishment. Retention of it was a reward only in a very special
sense, but it was the retention not the acquisition of
immortality that was the reward of obedience.
Thus man, unlike the animals, does
not simply come to
an end. His death is
by appointment, an appointment with the Judge which is followed
by the passing of sentence on his life (Hebrews 9:27). Death
is, therefore, tantamount to a summons to the Courthouse, and
the summons carries with it the certainty that, apart from saving
faith, the judgment can only be "guilty" even
before the trial begins. He thus lives all his life under the
shadow of a warrant of death and when the time comes he is executed.
This is what makes death so terrible, apart from redemption,
and so utterly different for man from the death of every other
Now we have
spoken of two lives and two deaths in man's case, and it is necessary
to say a few words about spiritual death. While physically man
is "put to death," spiritually man actually "chooses"
to die. This exercise of choice in the matter of spiritual death
means that effectively man commits spiritual suicide. By which
I mean that we sin and die spiritually because we want to.
We don't like the penalty, but we do want to sin. Such is the
nature of human nature. And as already noted, we sin "as
soon as we can."
We go willingly along this route:
we do not have to be persuaded. We are invited to choose spiritual
life but we choose spiritual death, unfailingly and universally.
This is the natural inclination of the natural man even though
at first we are aware that it is not the way to go and our conscience
When we commit sin we are acting
freely. Herein lies whatever freedom was left to us after the
Fall: freedom to sin. Like a free-falling parachutist,
we are not aware of our actual bondage unless we suddenly try
to go the other way. We do not sin with any compulsion from without;
we sin because of an inner drive, a drive which is suicidal with
respect to our spiritual life.
in the matter of physical death, the case is
No man in health wants to die. While our spiritual life
is willingly surrendered, our physical life is not at all willingly
surrendered. We are executed. We are unwilling victims. Death
happens to us, overtakes us. We may hasten it by bad habits but
we do not deliberately adopt those bad habits in order to hasten
it. We would prefer to enjoy the bad habits without the hastening.
. . .
There is always, of course, in the matter
of physical death viewed merely in its physiological aspects,
a certain parallelism between the decease of animals and the
decease of man, but this is because man was designed to function
in the same world. Yet for all this parallelism there is a fundamental
difference nevertheless, because man was not designed
for death. Though he no longer enjoys the kind of physical life
which God intended for him, the potential for it still
remains. By the experience of new birth and redemption that potential
will be realized once again in due course.
In this, therefore, there is clearly
a difference between animal and human death. Man knows he must
die and hates the thought of it. At the last moment, it would
seem to us that an animal would "hate" the prospect
of it, but they don't know that they must die. They have
no knowledge that there is a spanned allotment of days, whereas
man thinks otherwise of himself and seeks to postpone death if
at all possible. And not infrequently the medical profession
imposes prolongation upon him under conditions which would sometimes
even be viewed as cruel if it were applied to animals.
Why do we have such a horror of
dying personally and extend this horror to the dying of others
even when it would clearly be a merciful thing to allow them
the freedom to do so? There was a time when the medical people
sought to preserve or improve health . . . not simply
to prolong life per se. The goal was to add life to years,
not merely years to life.
Superficially, the dying of an
animal and the dying of a
man might seem to be
quite similar, but there is a tremendous difference in the very
nature, the very essence, of a life lived under the conditions
of potential immortality as opposed to life lived under the terms
of a planned limitation that the animal cannot possibly be aware
For man, the imposition of death
lies heavily upon his inner consciousness as a dark shadow. Animals
know nothing of this "shadow of death," so that there
is a difference between the death of fallen man and unfallen
animals despite the fact that it is for both a termination of
Watching a herd of wild creatures
being attacked by a predator, one becomes aware that as soon
as one of their number is brought down, the frantic rush to escape
seems to be treated at once rather as a form of excitement, almost
more of a stimulus than a terror. The rest of the herd stops
running and all resume their browsing or their play. That one
of their company has suffered a violent death appears to have
little or no upsetting effect whatever, and under normal circumstances
both prey and predator take no further interest in each other.
This is not man's attitude towards death at all. While physiologically
the two deaths may be described in the same terms as to their
effect viewed externally, they are clearly quite different as
It might be
argued that the machinery of the body, like all other machinery,
is bound to be subject to failure in the end. Death would therefore
be inevitable for man and animals alike. We know now that this
is not the case. It is not true of unicellular creatures like
the amoeba. The microscopic size of these creatures has little
or no importance since size is irrelevant to life. To
the individual amoeba a lifetime is a lifetime, and its highly
active awareness of its situation, so ably recorded by H. S.
Jennings in 1910, is just as real an awareness for these little
creatures as ours is for us. Their cup of awareness is full.
The whole gamut of its responses to life's challenges are as
serious to it as are
children's fears and
hopes and disappointments to them. We as adults forget how real
a child's disappointments are since they seem by comparison with
ours so inconsequential. But, I repeat, size has really nothing
to do with the situation.
It is clear, therefore, that God
can and has designed creatures which are not subject to natural
death, though these creatures experience life in the fullest
sense of the term for them. It would be a great mistake to suppose
that these microscopic animals are not complex simply because
they are so small. All living systems are unbelievably complex,
not only in structure but in behaviour as well. Even individual
body cells taken apart can re-assemble themselves and carry on!
Nothing that lives is "simple."
There is no reason why the machinery
of the human body should not have been perfectly designed to
operate indefinitely and without failure. Indeed, we know that
it can operate perfectly because the world has witnessed One
such perfect organism which was truly human the body of
the Lord Jesus Christ. Our redemption hinges upon the perfect
operation of that body, since if it had been imperfect as our
fallen bodies now are, it would have been destined to die anyway
and the sacrifice of that body could have been no more than a
premature, not a vicarious, death.
Man finds it
difficult to think of himself apart from his body. The death
of the body is therefore felt as a threat to personal continuance.
It is both a rending asunder and a potential termination of identity.
But God "has set eternity
in the heart of man" (Ecclesiastes 3:11) * and throughout
history man has borne witness to this deep conviction by caring
for the dead in a way animals never do by deliberately
burying them and often trying to ensure their comfort in the
world to come. It is almost universally agreed by anthropologists
that wherever fossils
* The word rendered "the world"
in the King James Version is the Hebrew word for "eternity."
are found buried with
provision for a future life, no matter how simple and fragmentary
the evidence is, those fossil remains belong within the human
Of course, where no such evidence
exists the remains may still be truly human, for people are sometimes
buried by accident. But the presence of pottery vessels or figurines
or food of any kind, or even burial in a fetal position, this
is generally taken as evidence of conscious concern for a life
hereafter. Our primitive contemporaries, who have in the past
been viewed as our contemporary ancestors are even more likely
to leave such evidence in the grave than we who consider ourselves
much more advanced in our ideas. They more easily sacrifice valuables
to this end.
No animal shows any of this kind of concern
for its dead. Death is clearly a very different matter for man
than it is for animals.
Evolution may very well provide
a rationale for the death of animals, but in relation to the
death of man, as we experience it in all its sadness or terror,
evolution really has nothing to say. It is a different phenomenon,
an un-natural one and therefore not accountable by derivation
from death as animals experience it. It belongs in another category,
and only revelation can shed any real light on its meaning for
While I greatly
admire those who have so ably defended creation against evolution,
I cannot help but feel that to do this by deliberately divorcing
the issue from Christian Faith is to treat the case as though
it were merely a matter of "scientific evidence." It
would seem to be humanly wise, but I fear it is really a spiritual
surrender to secularism.
The issue has to be fought on our
grounds, not theirs. If it is won on their grounds and the teaching
of creation is ever allowed, it will be a victory of the intellect
but will have lost its spiritual significance entirely. The theory
of creation can never be presented faithfully as an alternative
to evolution by divorcing it from its spiritual implications.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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