Why Death is Not Natural: A Look at the Resurrection

Introduction

At this point in time, there has been an incredible amount of time by Christian apologists to respond to what is called “The New Atheism.” Our world has always had prolific atheists such as Bernard Russell, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Carl Sagan to name a few.  The atheistic worldview is often referred to as naturalism. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” The naturalistic worldview became more paramount during the Enlightenment period. While not all the thinkers of the Enlightenment period were atheists, with the birth of Darwinian evolution, philosophical naturalism came to be a dominant view of many modern scientists and thinkers. And since atheists deny the existence of a god or gods, there is no non-natural realm or any non-natural intervention in the world. This worldview has grave consequences for what happens to a person at death.

Is Death Natural?

Most of us have lost loved ones. We have been to funerals. We are told death is just a natural part of life. People die every day. So perhaps we should just accept death as just a natural part of life and just move on. While this may be true for much of society, the Bible says the opposite.

In contrast to naturalism, Paul says in 1 Corinthians: 55-57, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because of the Fall of man, this sinful nature is passed on to the human race. Biblically speaking, death is never cessation of existence, nor is it cessation of consciousness. The human race is born alive physically, but dead spiritually (Eph. 2:1). Therefore, all people will die physically but not all people will die spiritually. Spiritual death is “separation from God in time.” Man had died spiritually. No longer did he have spiritual life; he was spiritually dead. But through the resurrection, the curse of spiritual death has been changed. As Paul says, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” What hope is there for the naturalist?

In a theological sense, to say God is alive is to assert God is life. In other words, God possesses life intrinsically and eternally. An important aspect of possessing eternal life is the ability to raise the dead. The Jewish people knew the God of Israel as the only one who could raise the dead (Job 19:26; Ps. 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Is. 26:19; 53:10; Dn. 12:2; 12:13). Therefore, by claiming the authority to raise the dead, Jesus was exemplifying both the same actions and attributes of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And contrary to what many people think, while part of what happens after we die is part of salvation, what’s even better is that salvation is also salvation in the body. Because Jesus lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). So even though we may die, we await the future when our resurrection is complete with the redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23). Therefore, God’s remedy for physical death is one time event-a transformed resurrected body.  The Christians final destination is not heaven, but it is the new heavens and new earth- complete with a resurrection body. This also shows that God is interested in the renewal of creation.

In the words of N.T. Wright,

The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, “Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.” It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation. Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I’ve called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus’ resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will “awake,” be embodied and participate in the renewal. (1)

(1) David Van Biema, “Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop,” http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html {accessed September 3, 2009}.

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