Thursday, February 19, 2009

Living with the Underworld - Pt 5

Chapter 5

It's unsettling to be told that you're wrong, especially if it means you've been a false teacher for several years. So I’m looking at page 89 and wondering how many times I’ve used the potentially erroneous spiritual death explanation. Various issues come to mind while thinking about whether it’s true or false. For starters, what about my favourite church poster 'Born once, die twice, born twice, die once?'. I'm very attached to that slogan, although that's not a good reason to hang onto heresy ... We're definitely born twice according to Jesus, so does it follow that we die twice if only born once? Then again, that means spiritual death doesn't happen to everyone in Adam, for physical death must be the 'once' for Christians ... unless Christ returns first ... There you go, I guess a slogan can't always neatly describe reality. But doesn't the spiritual death category explain the need for spiritual rebirth? And what about the fact that Christians die physically and yet are with Christ spiritually after death (Philippians 1:23)? Let alone the fact that I've died already, and my life is now hidden with Christ (Colossians 3:3) .

I know what Peter’s particularly getting at in this chapter, that we need to recognise the point of entrance of physical death into the world. It was the concrete result of Adam and Eve's rebellion, and that's the thrust of the early chapters of Genesis. I don't want to underestimate all that, but I'm sure the spiritual death concept still has some use. Maybe the distinction to make is to say that it's not what the chapters in Genesis focus on, but it was a factor that day, as taught in other parts of the Bible. I don't want to ignore the important fact that physical death is a totally unnatural distortion of God's creation. But the first step to death that Adam and Eve experienced immediately was banishment from the garden, being cut off from the way to the tree of life. Death is indeed now reigning in very physical ways, from sickness and decay to the cursed ground. When dealing with issues of the underworld we do need to focus on the physical realities of it all and not reduce it to mere ideas. But it's going too far to label the spiritual death idea as an 'unhelpful category' and a 'mysterious concept'. It is a biblical concept. The Bible does seem to teach us about two sorts of death, otherwise when Ephesians 2:1 and Colossians 2:13 tell me I was dead in my sin, it would be nonsensical. The spiritual death concept is a very real description of the break in our relationship with God which occurred in Eden and continued through the generations as original sin. And I don't think that holding a concept of spiritual death underestimates the significance of physical death a la Kubler-Ross and co. Jesus' death to save us was in itself very physical, but it also solved our spiritual problem.

If you want to start to split hairs on when we might die twice, the second death that the Bible explicitly mentions happens after physical death (Revelation 20:12-15), but not much is strictly linear when talking of the life, death and rebirth of humanity. We died with Christ before we were born, we've been raised with Christ before we died, we live spiritual realities waiting for the physical to catch up, and vice versa. Same for Adam and Eve? I think this point is helpful for the discussion at hand, while the timetable in Eden and its surrounds may have been slow, both the physical and spiritual realities were at play even then.

This has definitely been a thought provoking chapter. And I really appreciate how Peter makes his bold statements about death, not fearing to face the subject front on. While times of grief aren't the moments to read up on theories about death, for someone who still feels the sting it would be really helpful to be reading Peter's words about death being unnatural and a state of lostness. But I maintain that there are two dimensions to our death in Adam. Then again, let's not argue too much about the murky margins if we get the point in the centre. Jesus has defeated the force at the heart of the underworld! Awesome! No fear in life, no guilt in death ...

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