Face to Face with Death

In The Tragic Sense of Life (1912), a forerunner of existentialism, Miguel de Unamuno claimed that what distinguishes modern women and men from the Middle Ages is that while medieval people feared hell and purgatory, in modern times we are afraid of death. He illustrated this claim by recalling his experience as a boy attending catechetical classes. The priest who encouraged him to be a good boy and thus avoid ending up in purgatory or even hell did not scare him because he realized that he would be alive in those places. But, when he became an adult, the thought came to him that death was final, and that really scared him. Indeed, existentialism is based on the premise that all our decisions are ultimately determined by our constant confrontation with death as final. Today, the daily counts of people dying from COVID-19 have made us all existentialists who think about our own mortality.

Mortality is a limitation that humans have tried to overcome for a long time. What is at stake is more than personal survival. Most disturbing about death is not its inevitability; it is our ignorance about it. Thus, our need to know energizes the imagination to run freely in an open field. Life, its flip-side twin, is also somewhat shrouded in ignorance. Even though current scientific advances reveal more and more of life’s features, a scientific definition escapes us. The discovery of DNA and the mapping of its double helix structure, expressed in the combination of just four elements, GATC, has given us only insights into the way in which life finds expression.

The most important recent scientific advances have been in the realm of genetics. They make it possible to cure some diseases by gene therapy, changing the structure of the gene that causes particular congenital illnesses. The examination of the genetic structure of life has revealed that all life, whether animal or vegetable, is the same at its core. The similarities are far more important than the differences. These remarkable advances in knowledge, however, have not given us, so far, knowledge about, or power over, either life or death. Atomic bombs have given us the power to terminate all life on earth, but they do not give us power to give life, or knowledge of what life is.

The ancient Israelites had a very materialistic understanding of the person. They did not distinguish the physical from the mental, as the Greeks later did. They had a unitary, psycho-physical understanding of human beings. Their vocabulary lacked abstract nouns. They did not have the concepts of mind, will, idea, form (apart from matter), etc. The aspects of a person which we understand to be part of mental or emotional processes, the Hebrews identified in concrete parts of the human body. Thus, the arm signified strength, the hand direction, the bowels strong feelings, the heart will, etc. The word nephesh, translated “soul,” did not refer to an independent, abstract, essential aspect of a person, but to the whole person as alive, active. It is best translated as “person” or “being” undivided from the body. One of the creation stories says that God breathed into the nostrils of a clay figure and this clump of matter became a “living nephesh” or “living being” (Gen. 2:7). When a person dies, for the Hebrews the “soul” died (Gen. 37:21; Dt. 19:6; Jer. 40:14-15). The word ruach means “wind,” but it also refers to the active forces that empower the feelings, the thoughts, the conduct of the whole person, the “spirit.”

The books of the Old Testament reveal that among the ancient Hebrews there were two contrasting conceptions of the dead. On the one hand, there were those who held that when a person dies the body that is placed on a grave is still somewhat alive. The nails and the hair continue to grow for some time, and the bones remain articulated as the concrete expression of the person. In very dry climates, they may stay that way for an indefinite length of time. According to this view of the dead, when the bodies of persons are placed in graves, they go into the pit where they join the rephaim, the shades. They become negative replicas of living people and exist as very weak living things. According to this understanding of the dead, life and death are not opposites. They are related to each other within a continuum of different degrees of vitality. While living on the earth, persons may experience reductions of vitality when they are sick, under great stress or ostracized. These experiences drive the person toward the gates of Sheol, where the rephaim, the shades, reside. They feel that the arms of Sheol are grabbing them and drawing them toward the pit, taking away their vitality. Those in Sheol are characterized by their pervasive weakness. Thus, Isaiah’s taunt to the King of Babylon includes the following: “Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come, it rouses the shades to greet you, all were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. All of them will speak and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us’” (Is. 14:9-10).

The other view of the dead in the Old Testament sees death as the opposite of life. The living exist; the dead do not. They are extinct. The extraction of life from the body brings about annihilation. Death is the emptying of life, the dissolution of the person; they have ceased to exist. Of the Suffering Servant it is said that he “poured out his nephesh [being] to death” (Is. 53:12). Dying in childbirth, Rachel called the newborn Benoni “as her nephesh [being] was departing” (Gen. 35:18). When Absalom escaped from the presence of King David, the commander of his army, Joab, coached a woman of Tekoa to convince the king that he should admit Absalom back into the family. Once in the presence of King David, she told him: “We must all die, we are like water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again” (2 Sam. 14:14). Her words have become the iconic metaphor for the view of death as a dissolution which cannot be reversed. The dead go to Abaddon (destruction, Job 28:22; Ps. 15:11; 27:20), to Dumah (silence, Ps. 115:17). Pleading with God to relent from the unjust treatment he is inflicting on an innocent man, Job asks: “Are not the days of my life few? Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort before I go whence I shall not return” (Job 10:20). In Job the dead are gone forever. Job reminds God: “now I shall die on the earth; Thou will seek me, but I shall not be” (Job 7:21). A psalmist who, like Job, laments the brevity of life and God’s use of it to punish sins, pleads: “Look away from me, that I may know gladness, before I depart and be no more. (Ps. 39:13).

The Exile in Babylon, and later, the campaigns of Alexander the Great in the East, opened the door to dialogues between the Jews and representatives of other cultures with different horizons. In Babylon they met Zoroastrians who saw reality in terms of a dualism of good and evil, and had notions of a resurrection. After the fourth century B.C.E., the cross fertilization of Hellenic and Indian cultures introduced Jews to the distinction between the body and the soul as independent living entities. Thus, notions of a resurrection, and that the dead are suffering in Sheol while waiting for a Final Judgment, entered Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity. Since the justice of God, which is not in evidence in the present world where the wicked prosper and righteous suffer, is going to be fully operative at the Final Judgment, some Christians envisioned the necessity to have the Gospel preached to the dead so that they could repent and participate in the salvation made available through Christ. First Peter has Christ descending to Gehenah to preach to the dead (1 Pet. 4:6). The text specifically identifies the Nephilim (1 Pet. 3:19, comp. 2 Pet. 2:4), the giants who were the offspring of the sexual encounters of heavenly angels with earthly women. This development was the primary reason why God decided to destroy the world by water (Gen. 6:4). According to First Enoch, the Nephilim were destroyed by the flood and are being tortured in an underground prison until the Final Judgment (1 En. 9:18, see 2 Pet. 2:5; Jude 14; Rev. 20:7, 11-15). Jude fully identifies the source of this information about the prison where ungodly angels and their offspring are being kept until the Judgment. It comes from the book written by “Enoch in the seventh generation from Adam” (Jude 14).

The writers of the Old Testament were not existentialists who felt they had to face death. Their existential problem was not the need to face death. Their existential problem was the need to understand how God’s justice finds expression in the world. The prophetic announcements of “the restoration of the fortunes of Israel” (Ez. 11:17; 16:53-55; 28:25; 36:24; 37:12, 25; 39:25), or that “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2), were not primarily concerned to solve the problem of death, but the problem that in God’s world the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. Their symbolic universe did not include a purposeless, nonsensical world without God. For them, atheism was not an option.

For some time already, human beings have been trying to find the way to overcome their mortality. For some today, death is only a barrier in life’s obstacle course which can be jumped over by bringing together large amounts of cash and cutting-edge technology. Claiming to provide victory over death, a company in California called Ambrosia offered to inject the blood of young people to slow down the process of aging. It was quite understandably depicted by many as capitalism functioning as a vampire, sucking blood full of youth and energy from the poor for the benefit of the super rich. In other words, it was another version of capitalism as a monster that extracts the natural resources of the third world for the enrichment of the first world’s elite and the appeasement of its lower classes.

Other enterprises have been somewhat more successful by the use of cryonics (from the Greek kruos = cold), building vaults in which the bodies of those who have made the proper financial arrangements are being kept frozen at -320 F (-190 C) until science discovers the way in which to cure the disease that caused their death. In The Future of Immortality: Remaking Life and Death in Contemporary Russia, Anya Bernstein gives a fascinating account of the ways in which both devout Russian Orthodox Christians and secular atheists have been theorizing and actually building enterprises to conquer death. The book opens reporting a rally in front of the statue of Karl Marx in Moscow. One of the many banners on display declared: “We Are for Immortality.” Bernstein quotes Anastasia Gacheva, the current leader of what has come to be described as Cosmism, giving a novel reason for the fall of the Soviet Union: its leaders failed to realize that utopias are incapable of overcoming the worst of all human misfortunes: mortality. Cosmism gets its name from the fact that when the dead are brought back to life by means of cryonics, the resulting problem of housing and food supplies will be solved by the colonization of the cosmos. Not unexpectedly, those promoting cryonics are characterized by their lack of interest in explaining the scientific basis of their medical theories.

In a secular world, where everything is a matter of chance, the future features only death. Those of us living now live in the secular world of a post-modern culture. We have no other physical environment in which to live. And just as we keep a fond attachment to the place of our birth, we also find ourselves attached to our physical environment. I have a vivid memory of my visit to Mar Saba monastery in the Judean desert. It hangs on the cliffs of the Kidron wadi east of Jerusalem as it opens up near to the Dead Sea. I was taken there by a monk who every week trucked in provisions from the Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. It turned out that he was an American who, after having experimented with life in the fast lane in New York City, had converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and sought to escape from the world by becoming a monk in the Greek Quarter of Jerusalem. After telling me his life story, he confessed, “I have discovered that I brought New York City with me to the desert.” Paul had already discovered the problem. He realized that those who live “in Christ” also live “in the flesh,” in a “fallen” social world.

Unlike Unamuno’s situation, the existential problem facing us in the twenty-first century is not our mortality. The problem is our inability to make sense of life “in the flesh,” in our secular culture. Under these conditions, I find Paul’s understanding of the Gospel to be the one that can best speak to our modern, or post-modern, historical moment. Paul realized that there are two kinds of deaths: biological and eschatological. He made this distinction on the basis of his understanding of the significance of the death and the resurrection of Christ.

Faced with the Risen Christ, the members of the Jesus Movement had to re-evaluate their view of the death of Jesus as the tragic ending of the beautiful dream that had energized them. As followers of Jesus they thought he was the one chosen by God “to restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). In other words, they thought he was the Messiah. When Jesus ended up being crucified on charges of sedition by a procurator responsible to Caesar, all his followers were totally disenchanted and thought the time they had spent following Jesus had been wasted. When they were confronted by the Risen Christ, they had to give to his death a new meaning. Some saw it as a ransom, others as a sacrifice, others as the apex of obedience. Paul saw it as absolutely linked to his resurrection. Jesus had been designated Son of God after having been raised by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:4). The whole life of Jesus, his birth and his death “in the flesh,” his resurrection “from the dead” by the power of the Holy Spirit, had been the work of God. By these means God had destroyed the power of “the rulers of this age” who “crucified the Lord of glory.” The rulers of this age are the “rulers,” “authorities,” “powers” and “the enemies” (1 Cor. 15:24-25) who did not know what they were doing when they crucified Jesus. They did not know “the secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 2:6-8). The resurrection of Christ was not the resuscitation of Jesus, but the establishment of a New Creation “in the Spirit.”

In Paul’s apocalyptic horizon, the Day of the Lord had come by the death and the resurrection of Christ. God had done what the prophets had announced when they spoke of “That Day:” God had dramatically, personally, intervened in history. Unlike God’s interventions by means of locusts, drought, foreign armies, etc., this time his son had been born of a woman (Gal. 4:4), and when this sinless son was crucified by the “powers of the air,” their power in the fallen world which Satan ruled was broken. Then the power of the Spirit that had created the world in the beginning established a New Creation (2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17). This made it possible for women and men to terminate their slavery to “the rulers of this age” and a life in sin. They can now live by the power of the Gospel and be “slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:16-18) by participating, through baptism (Rom. 6:6-11), in the death and the resurrection that destroyed the firm grip of one world and established a new world of life “in the Spirit.” Life “in the Spirit” is eschatological life. Those who have become creatures of the New Creation already live eschatologically while still living “in the flesh” (Rom. 8:11). They have died the eschatological death that Jesus died on the cross and have become a New Creation living “in the Spirit” at their baptism. At Christ’s Parousia those who have been living “in the Spirit,” whether dead or alive at the time makes no difference, will also receive a “Spirit body” like that of the Risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:44, 49).

For Paul, Jesus did not die so that those who believe in the power and the righteousness of God may not have to die. He died so that those who join him in “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5; 16:26) and die with him may also, like him, be raised to live by the power of the Spirit that is God’s creative agent. Like him, by the power of the Spirit they have overcome eschatological death, and live eschatological life already. Eschatological death is the result of the “entrance” of sin into the world that God had created (Rom. 5:12-14). When the Law of Moses “entered” the world, it was “ordained by angels through an intermediary” (Gal. 3:19). Even though the Jews thought that they could attain righteousness and live by it, the Law that was given through Moses was unable to give life to anyone (Gal. 3:21). The Jews should have known better and, like Abraham, believed God (Rom. 4:16; 9:31-32). In the fallen creation ruled by Satan, the law had become a power “working death” (Rom. 7:13); it had become “the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2) which activates God’s wrath (Rom. 4:15). Thus, Paul concluded his eulogy to the triumph of God over death by explaining that “the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56). In other words, the law of Moses has been giving sin, which entered the world when Adam opened the door, the power to kill eschatologically. Over those who had died eschatologically with Christ and now live “in Christ,” however, the law lost its power to condemn (Rom. 8:1). They have been “set free from the law of sin and death” by the power of “the law of the Spirit of life” (Rom. 8:2).

According to Paul, those who now live “in Christ,” “in the Spirit,” still live “in the flesh;” therefore, they are still subject to biological death. But such death is, ultimately, inconsequential. Those who live “in the flesh” and “in Christ,” like the Risen Christ, live eschatologically. Biological death poses no threat at all. Paul characterizes the choice between biological life and biological death as a 50/50 proposition; both have advantages and disadvantages. To those who live “in Christ,” as Paul said, “to die [biologically] is gain” (Phil. 1:21) because of “the weakness of the flesh.” On the other hand, to live biologically “in the flesh” while living “in Christ” provides the joy of “fruitful labor” for Christ (Phil. 1:22).

The Gospel does not provide information about the future. The Gospel is “the power of God” to give eschatological life to those who, like Abraham, believe God (Rom. 1:16). In other words, it is the power that gives freedom from the eschatological death caused by sin and demanded by the law. These days full of the fear provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic have revived an existentialist confrontation with death and apocalyptic descriptions of a future in which death and the evil that empowers it have been conquered. The Gospel, however, is not about fear, death, and the future. It cannot ever be. The Gospel sparks faith in the God who is the source of all life and, like Paul argued, proclaims the righteousness of the God who destroyed the rule of Satan over a fallen world and created life “in the Spirit” by raising Christ from the dead. The Gospel sparks life and joy in those who believe in God’s righteousness. The Gospel is the power that gives eschatological life to those who have died with Christ and now live “in the Spirit,” “in Christ.”

Herold Weiss is professor of Religious Studies "emeritus" of Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame, IN. His eighth book, The End of the Scroll: Biblical Apocalyptic Trajectories, will be published this May by Energion Publications. Several themes of this essay benefit from the research presented in the book.

Photo by Chris Buckwald on Unsplash

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10423
5 Likes

Thank you for this fascinating study Professor Weiss. To be able to see past death is an important coping strategy.

I was confused by the claim in your final paragraph that the gospel does not provide information about the future. I read Paul’s commentary on the gospel to relate to past, present and future. Granted, the present (our new life in Christ) is often Paul’s main emphasis, but the future remains an important perspective (eg. 1 Co 15:19). God’s future actions (coming, resurrection, judgement, glory) are guaranteed by Jesus’ triumph over death. Yet, what we have now is not the complete manifestation of God’s will. “If we hope for what we do not see we wait for it with patience.” Rm 8:25

1 Like

Thank your for your perceptive analysis of Paul. Paul was very much hopeful about the future and he thought the Parousia would happen while he and the Thessalonians would be still alive. He was, not, however, interested in information about the sequence of events that were the signs of the coming. Not in his authentic letters. That the future would bring about a final judgment, when the righteous who now suffer will receive their just reward was central to apocalyptic thinking.

2 Likes

We don’t really die. I tend to write long exposition, so forgive me for the scandalous headline :slight_smile: I want people to read the rest, and I hope it will be enough of a hook.

The major difference is that the human narrative about death has shifted from a much less absurd biological narrative, to a much more absurd ideological narrative that Existentialists had to cope with.

Death doesn’t make sense only if one ignores what we reify as both “birth” and “death” as distinct points in time that we consider to be the “life” of any given individual.

Here’s a simple philosophical conundrum to illustrate what I’m about to suggest. Imagine you have a duplicator machine that can create several identical copies of you. Now, you try it out, and you end up with four identical copies of “You”. You may be both horrified and happy, depending on implications, but generally it may be useful if all of you conspire to live a coherent life by splitting up the tasks that one of you would usually perform. So, two of you will work twice as fast at work, while 3 of you will take care of the children and keep the wife happy.

Now, due to a freak accident, 4 of you were riding in a car that got smashed by a truck on a highway, and they are instantly dead. Luckily, one of you is still alive, but it’s not the original “you” it’s a copy.

Now, here’s an interesting philosophical question … did you die?

Now, let’s bring the point a bit closer to home. Imagine the same exact scenario, but instead the duplicating machine, through some weird quantum uncertainty will not produce the exact copies of you, but merely a possible expressions of what you could have been if you chosen differently in different places, different factors, and different genetic expression of the very same genes that you have.

So, you still end up with 5 versions of “you”, but they are more similar than they are different. Same scenario here. Four ride in a car, and it’s smashed and the same issue here. The original copy dies, and one of the variation remains.

Same interesting philosophical question … did you die?

I hope you get the picture. In the West, we tend to interpret human being from a perspective of individuals, and not from the broader perspective of “us” as a collective that keeps things rolling. So, we tend to interpret the Biblical narrative from that perspective, from which I would argue it doesn’t make sense apart from some allegory that ended up going through iterative reification to say what it doesn’t.

For example, from a perspective of Middle-Eastern holism from which Judaic theology originates, what we understand as individual is always described as some progression of certain continuum of which certain trajectory of “human” ends up in after various generations of “copying through birth” and cultural improvement or cultural degradation.

So, you clearly see that there are “human trajectories” that are described by certain figureheads, and which exemplify the ones that gets to thrive, and the ones that ends up dying off. There’s a lot of talk about “the seed of”. That’s largely is what the narrative of the OT Judaism is about when it comes to the directives for which religious narratives serve as maintaining the course of such trajectory. And that’s why tracing generational lineages becomes important, since it both communicate certain psycho-physical continuum of successful human lineage that proceeds to some perpetuity as a “technically” immortal organism that’s created to function in reality in which life has to work against the entropic principles that structure reality.

So, we are already immortal in a sense, as all life is, given that we are able to maintain it and not kill everything off. And the two diverging narratives are all about that. One leads to literal death as in extinction. And the other leads to thriving via equilibrium. It doesn’t mean that individuals don’t die, but human is arguably not individual. Tree doesn’t die simply because it sheds leaves. It has to go through these cycles, because that’s how it functions in context of the environment.

Unfortunately, what we see during the historic progression of that narrative, it becomes reified into a concept of literal heaven, and literal hell, and instead of Christ narrative being the exemplification of sacrificial leadership that “resurrects” dead societies and human lineages from certain death… it’s offset into some other dimension, and recast into Western individualism to mean that people with correct perspective on things will be literally resurrected, instead of it being a metaphor for what’s already going on in human socio-biological structure.

So, I’m not really sure that we can properly understand Biblical narrative through the lens of Western reductionism. It devolves into absurdity, and self-implodes upon closer examination, and that’s why it constantly has to be shrouded in occult terminology that hides or avoids any disclosure about how various elements of such narrative interact in reality.

Of course, the above will burst the bubble of the “resurrectionists”, or the ideological perspective of people who think that the core nature of the reality must be changed in order for them to maintain some continuum of ego in the afterlife. But, I hope, any mature individuals will understand the problem with such premise.

What has been described so far, doesn’t conclude with the Gospel, as GOOD NEWS. Since we’re drifting into all these philosophical views, let’s jump into the actual physical implications a la quantum science.

Since matter is “simply” a form of energy, might we imagine that the energy that is “me” can be captured and stored. The body from the neck down operates at the command of the energy that flows from our brains. The wiggle of our toe comes at the command of our brain and is “felt” in our brain, not actually in our toe. It’s only the electrical impulses that produce the effect in our brains. We may find, someday, that this universe of matter is all tied up as one electrified bundle of energy, functioning at the command of our Creator. We can’t know the half of it.

Good luck deconstructing this, incredibly long sentence, into the Gospel we hold dear.

2 Likes

For those who are sitting at the bedside of their children, parents, husband and wives it matters not a bit about eschatology of death. I’m pretty sure, those living at the time these ideas were penned didn’t either. Scholarship can trace the history of “death” through various religions and philosophies, but on a pure pragmatic level nobody cares.

Sequestered and physically separated from our religious communities, we are left with the nuts and bolts of the faith we have gathered. Christianity has factored it all down to just a single visual - that of the empty tomb. That is where the rubber meets the road. Since we are among Christians here, I felt that needed to be made clear. Who gets to benefit, is the next chapter of the story, and has always been a matter of much controversy.

8 Likes

While I agree with western individualism coloring our reading of a document based in collective culture, I believe that your philosophical, metaphorical reading of the NT actually twists what the writers, and especially Paul, are saying concerning resurrection. The risen Christ is called the first fruits of all who have fallen asleep. His resurrection is portrayed as the inauguration of the age to come, the new creation and reign of God, now here on earth as it is in heaven. Paul speaks of this as culminating with the resurrection of the dead, the culminating visible act in which God’s judgement will set everything to rights. Where evil, injustice, and oppression will be dealt with once and for all, and his reign of love, justice, and peace will fill the earth, like the image of the stone in Daniel 2.

We live in between the times, waiting for this culmination of the kingdom of God, of which resurrection is our hope. You seem to deny this central thrust of the gospel and its eschatological dimension, to be experienced not as disembodied individual life in heaven, but as his just society together on earth. Heaven comes to earth in its full dimension and realization, that is the hope.

If I read you correctly, you are the one actually reducing the gospel to an image of bettering collective societies in the present age, totally neutering the gospel of its apocalyptic and eschatological dimensions. While that is a dimension of the gospel’s power now, according to the NT this is still a signpost, pointing to the age to come, when there will be no more pain, suffering, injustice, oppression, sorrow or death.

Frank

6 Likes

The Bible mentions that some day we will be changed; it also talks about the risen Christ as not being a ‘ghost’, but being a living, walking ,talking person who cooked fish for breakfast and ate it, but who nevertheless had a ‘glorified body’. That’s what I want in the end, to be somehow con-corporeal, risen but knowable as who I was.

7 Likes

I appreciate your reading and responding.

I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be a good news that our children get to live in a better world that we are building now. My exact point is that the immortality concept banks on narcissistic nature of our ego to hold on to “sense of inner persona” as the only viable state of human being. It’s arguably not the case.

I’m not sure why you think this would be an implication of quantum science, and matter isn’t energy in the way you think it is. There isn’t “energy” that’s “you” apart from arrangement of matter time and space, in context of various other arrangements in time and space. From a POV of science, energy is a term that communicates a functional attribute(s) of matter that we can quantify. It’s not something that you can reify as something standalone. Energy is always talked about as “energy of something”.

Again, you seem to be separating the “electrical impulses” from the structural chemistry in which these electrical impulses are passed through … as an electro-chemical chain of action-potential in our nervous system. It’s not “only” the electrical impulses. Again, it’s arrangement of matter with specific attributes and function in time and space, and certain surrounding structure of other matter that makes it possible.

If I understand you correctly , you seem to think that reality is more like a simulation, in which case it could be “plugged into” and what is “you” could be saved as a state of all of the attributes and arrangement. It seems to me that’s what you think God would do.

There are a couple issues you would need to work through. For example, If you died when you were 90, with your brain both making some new connections, but eventually deteriorating the old ones… which state of “you” gets resurrected on that continuum from “birth to death”?

It’s not as simple of a question to answer if you understand how our brains form memories, and how we forget things. It’s all connected into a structural continuum. So, the “state of your brain” (should be a new Ed Sheeran’s song) would be different at different moments in your life. If you imply that God would resurrect and recall some version of you that’s a concatenation of all of your memories ever made, then it’s not really “you” any longer, because such “you” never existed.

So, there’s more philosophical problems with the resurrection concept than which husband will a wife be married to.

I wasn’t. I would say that the Gospel you hold dear could be read into something else that perhaps you wouldn’t hold dear. I’m not trying to convince you. I’m trying to show you that there’s more to death and gospel than you may merely believe because your ego finds comfort in such concept of being eventually “rebooted” and living forever. To me it seems to be a concept that was created by human ego to pander to inherent narcissism of human ego.

Yes, you would get along great with Marx - “religion is the opiate of the masses”. I’m sure that’s true to a very large degree. Personally, I don’t get too excited by “pearly gates and streets of gold”. Strumming harps while floating on clouds doesn’t do much for me either.

Yeah, that’s going to happen… Look around; you seriously think we’re making the world better for our kids. That humanist garbage is more of a pipe dream than the idea that a God, who came up with all these laws of nature that created the universe is going to have a problem rebooting life.

Look, nobody knows what’s really going on. It’s not narcissistic to not want to let your mom, dad, or child drift away into oblivion. It’s about love. The fact that there is any measure of it in this “narcissistic” world is, in itself, proof of something better than ourselves at work here. Nobody is thinking about “philosophy of death” in the ICU.

1 Like

Thank you for reading and responding.

I’m well-aware of the eschatological position of Adventism, along with a range of positions from evangelical, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox perspectives. I’m sure that Paul, and whoever wrote the other epistles credited to Paul, understood gospel message as you describe it and would likely disagree with me.

My personal take on it is that any theological and eschatological perspective is born in context of its time, and is rooted in conceptual necessity of belief at that time, otherwise no one would finds it appealing and the concept simply dies off. As such, my personal model of God as God relates to reality is different, in a sense that it accommodates what we know about reality as opposed to simply running with assumptions of the past.

In any case, these narratives exist as a motivation “force” that structures human directives to move to certain teleological goal… generation after generation. In a weird way parallels individual’s progression from the ignorance of childhood into maturity. When we are children, we respond better to truths which are wrapped in fairy tale narratives detached from physical constraints of reality . We understand these as “real”, but we don’t truly grasp the reality of those tales until we progress into maturity and understand how these narratives pack truth by hooking into our “archetypal understanding”. So, these narratives turn out to be about something different, and the story with concepts is a vehicle of describing something else.

If we reify these narratives and hope that these are exactly as we were told in our childhood, it’s generally because we refuse to acknowledge what’s real for the sake of maintaining imaginary comfort. So, in some cultures some may believe that if people die then they become the ancestral guiding spirits, etc. These narratives are still helpful to motivate human progress, but these can be detrimental when the entire idea of eschatology does the opposite - it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy of people waiting to die and transcend into a better world.

I would say that I’m not against people believing the traditional narrative in which they may find comfort, as long as it doesn’t result in a state of the church in which we find it today… largely demoralized, in which we almost have this suicidal desire for things to be over soon as opposed to working tirelessly to both maintain and improve the world that our predecessors constructed for our children.

Well, I don’t deny that’s the central trust. The problem is with the narrative in which to get to that place one must take a poison-lased cool aid. Forgive me for blunt comparison, but I don’t really see the difference between that and merely existing as an eschatologically-oriented “what’s the point in doing anything, since the world will be over soon” type of Adventist Christian.

I trust that we’ll get to the promise land. I think that the our understanding of what it is and how we get there will shift with maturity.

I don’t think it reduces the gospel to that, or neuters the eschatological dimensions, which I believe are warnings of the Archetypes to be overcome as we progress as society in our technological, political,religious, and economic systems that we build. That’s why these narratives were structured as parametrized models with attributes as opposed to naming names and dates.

Likewise, I think that these parameters are given for us to recognize and actively oppose these systems as opposed to sit in the pews, mix the cool aid, and chant “the end is near”.

So no, I don’t reduce or neuter. Quite the opposite. I attempt to get the power back by injecting perspective in which one doesn’t hedge all bets on offsetting sacrifice of God-man as magical solutions for all of our problems with zero participation on our part. Unfortunately, the evangelical take on this is more of a “cosmic welfare” kind of system, in which God takes care of everything… and Christians just sit and sing about how wonderful it is, and how great things will be after they die. I think it’s a very naive and detrimental perspective on Christianity.

Again, it’s incredibly naive to think that there will be no more pain, since pain is simply an embedded physical response of our bodies. Likewise it’s a vastly different understanding of the way OT Jews understood eschatological position, in which there still would be death in our colloquial understanding of death, but it would be more of a death in which people wouldn’t fear. Much of our fear of death largely rests with misconceptions of who we are as “individuals”, and the problems that would result in us ceasing function and come to our permanent rest in that particular form. I don’t want to die, because my “teleological task list” has not come to completion.

But, once my children grow up… I wouldn’t mind dying to free our collective space for the next generation to experience what I experienced. On top of that, I wouldn’t really be dead in a sense that my function traversed through people I impacted and contributions to society as a whole. And my “genetic clones” literally get to live as children who I bring up with a variation of my genetic and memetic baseline that gives them opportunity to stand on a foundation that we as humanity collectively built for them.

I think that to me that’s more meaningful than an idea that there will be some cosmic utopia in which everything is sterilized and rebooted like a Hollywood flick with better actors playing the same characters. The list of incoherent problems with this idea could fill several books. I understand why this narrative makes sense at the level of allegory, but living inside the allegory as “real” doesn’t work out well.

I have come to the conclusion that “to live forever” is to be remembered three generations after physical death. It is rare that someone talks about family history past three generations.

7 Likes

I don’t think that Marx and I would go along well, but it doesn’t mean that he was wrong about everything. I don’t think that you and I conceptually describe different teleological targets. I merely don’t think we get there by sitting in pews and going through our liturgical church routine, while waiting to die and then magically wake up in a better world :slight_smile:

In which case, would invoke the inverted Pascal’s wager. If I’m wrong, then it’s still not wrong to apply Christian ideals to effort of making the world better. I’m not sure that God would fault me for the ignorance due to the limited capacity of my mind to properly connect all of the dots. I’m more than willing to be shown wrong. But, if I’m correct, then our present eschatological position and narrative, while true in some sense, it is not grounded in reality of what we see and experience, but rather in the narrative of what we have to assume is going on. And that can hurt Christianity as a whole, since it progressively de-coheres from the world which progressed into intellectual maturity, while Christians canonized their concepts to forever remain in understanding of these narratives as THE reality.

In which case, there’s little to no reason why God wouldn’t hand over the flag of the Gospel to … I know it would be blasphemous to ego-driven church of the day … secular humanists that may exemplify Christianity better than Christians stuck in the arrested development of their understanding of these narratives. It happened before with OT Judaism that reified OT narratives as such, I don’t see why it wouldn’t happen again with institutionalized Christianity.

You realize that 3 out of 5 children didn’t survive past the age of 3 in the past, right? I’m looking around, and we have incredible amount of abundance. The concept of our understanding of “poverty” wouldn’t even register with poverty mere 200 years ago, which was abject. Even in case of abject poverty today, people have access to healthcare and resources they wouldn’t have access to in the past. We deal with numerous diseases that help people to live more pain-free lives. We replace joints, we restore sight… and you could walk over to your local gas station and get food that wouldn’t be an exclusive delicacy for kings in the past, and not something commoners could get their hands on.

I’m not even talking about communication technology, education, political democratic structure.

In short… what are you talking about? We are living in the most abundant, most comfortable, and the least violent period in human history.

If you are referring to pollution, it’s something that we have to deal with, but keep in mind that much of our current mishaps is largely due to rapid development of technology that can offset that balance. It doesn’t mean that it will be so, or we will simply keep digging our own graves in that regard.

I am personally more optimistic than pessimistic. You could ignore everything I describe and point only to negative aspects that remain, but you wouldn’t be showing a more balanced perspective that compares humanity in the past to humanity now.

You are burning a straw man here, since I’m not saying that people should be the ultimate measure of all things. Although it can become rather ironic when secular humanist can be better Christians than people who say “Lord, Lord”. In the existentialist sense, actions speak louder than words IMO.

I’m not sure that you fully considered the meaning of the above to the extend that you think about these things.

Let’s avoid emotional hooks, and simply label these as perspective A and perspective B, and see which one is more narcissistic.

Perspective A: views individual as the ultimate context of value. All narratives thus revolve around the experience of this individual, and not the broader implications of the narratives of everything that such “individual” is connected to and depends on. The death of such individual is a tragedy as opposed to celebration of “teleological checklist” accomplishments that fulfills such individual’s purpose. This perspective tends to ignore the “fluidity” of the concept of “individual” as a static entity shaped and molded by the environment, and which also shapes and molds the environment one is in… hence it’s transitional in nature. So, such perspective ignores such changes, and merely latches on to some continuum of certain characteristics that would maintain some continuum of identity, like name, gender, etc. Such perspective also revels in proprietary nature of “me and mine” that need to be there in some perpetuity in order for the world to be “right”. It thinks that God is very much like an individual human, so it paints God as a human, with human desires and actions.

Perspective B: doesn’t consider the individual to be the context of the ultimate value, but consider the broader continuum in which such individual resides functionally and the purpose it serves in that continuum. Death of the individual is only tragic if it indicates teleological imbalance of the system as a whole that results in such premature death in which an individual unable to fulfill its teleological purpose. Otherwise, death is a celebration of an accomplishment, and the final milestone of the life’s experience, which results in the ultimate sacrifice of “clearing the space” in reality for more experience in which such individual wouldn’t dictate the standards through the perpetual seniority and authority. It’s the ultimate expression of “passing the torch” to give other people a chance to experience certain context of reality which would be otherwise proprietary and potentially tyrannical. There’s no ultimate emphasis on individuality, gender, or race as a part of some viable human identity. It allows novelty as opposed to static being. It allows for observing someone going from zero knowledge to maturity, which symbolically identifies our collective teleological purpose. In fact, it doesn’t see God reflected in individuals, but rather much broader reflection in humanity as a whole.

I could go on and on… but which one seems more narcissistic to you?

From a perspective of a person who measures everyone based on their own preferences… such would be the case :slight_smile:

I’ve met plenty of people who only thinking about philosophy of death in ICU, and who are quite content with dying. In fact, my grandmother will be turning 89, and she already planned for her funeral, made sure there are NDR orders in her living will, and already divided all of the inheritance. I personally find it hilarious how uncomfortable people are when she speaks about her death in that mature tone. But she feels quite content to die and it’s not something she fears, but welcomes. She planned her own funeral already. She made all of the video messages to all of her relatives (with my help), and she doesn’t really believe in the afterlife, keeping in line with her Jewish perspective she was raised in… even though she transitioned into Christian one.

For me she is the ultimate model of a Christian, since I’ve never met a more kind, more loving, and more selfless person. So, again, I’m not really sure why you would generalize in that regard.

People who fear death in the ICU are usually the people who arguably fear the implications of death, and not the death itself. The implication is that one doesn’t get to experience and fulfill what one wanted to. The implication is that one’s loved ones are not taken care properly, etc. It’s not because there’s some inherent expectation for immortality which all of a sudden is gone.

Again, I’ve met plenty of fulfilled people, who are quite ready to die with zero expectation of afterlife, and they are quite content. I take it as a sign of ultimate intellectual maturity and life achievement… and something that I personally aspire to.

1 Like

So you like to spar…

It’s interesting that your view of death is pretty consistently from the perspective of the person dying. When I think of the ICU I’m thinking of those who are watching their loved one die. The only pain I envision on my death bead would be for my children and grandchildren that have to experience what I did as a youth.

That’s more like it - So you do recognize there’s more to Christianity than preparing for mansions in a utopian forever-after. But, you are right - many humanists are way more selfless than religionists. In fact, more often than we would like, "religious " people can be incredibly inflexible, cold moralists. I tend to believe religious inflexibility comes from fear. So I agree.,

That’s good. However, the rest of your ideas are unrealistic. If you think human nature has become less violent, just wait until the August heat hits Detroit, LA, NY, and oh yes, Chicago. We’ve been there before. Those unrestrained violent tendencies are being kept in check by a culture, constantly walking on the edge of mayhem. The only thing missing is a little inconvenience, and we have plenty of that. Once the election blame-game goes full throttle your kinder and gentler society will erupt.

The idea that the individual is merely a cog in a huge cultural machine that grinds out workers, who are happy to just keep that going into eternity makes no sense. The fact that the human mind can even hope for something better is an indication it was meant to go beyond simply being that cog.

Your society comes from a series of accidental shifts to adapt to an environment. Where, in that society does the idea that things should get “better” come from? What gives value to you actions? I understand you disliking the pew warmers, waiting for an eternal “Friday night”. That would be boring. The idea of singing hymns into eternity doesn’t motivate me either. The problem is our imagination is too bound up with life in the here and now, we can’t go beyond our earthly experiences to envision beyond it. So, we have God sitting on an actual throne, micro-managing his favourite people, while letting the masses suffer, hoping some little Christian gives the guy a tract, inviting him to ultimately join the special people - sitting in the pew.

There is more going on here than that. Even the story of the “Son of Man” becoming the “Son of God” is more than creating a ticket to eternity.

2 Likes

There’s potential for both, which exactly the point of Judeo-Christian narrative as it relates to proper functioning moral framework that allows for stable societies even during the times of uncertainty.

Likewise, it’s not “my idea”. It’s actually the reality we’ve been collectively developing to for as long as humanity existed. Whether we are directed towards the answers from the above, or figure it out on our own because there are consequences for running against certain improper use of reality… existentially results in similar outcomes.

You seem to keep painting this view into corners where it doesn’t belong.

A cog is only a concept of a society that doesn’t allow or care people express and thrive in context in which they can express their natural ability, or where such ability is exploited or suppressed.

I’m not advocating that. Generally, there is a boundary between safety and freedom where individuals in society are free to explore what they enjoy, while at the same time sharing the load of the “dirty work” that has to be done by someone.

We are clearly not there yet, but we are making good progress IMO. It’s certainly much better than mere 100 years ago where options of people were much more limited.

I think we are more in agreement than we are not. I don’t suggest this development is accidental. Quite the opposite, I think that Christian narrative structures teleological orientation that keeps it from being more chaotic. So, that’s what gives value to actions, and constrains the idea of “better”. But, in the end, the idea of better is based in some experience of reality, as opposed to assumptions derived from lack of experience.

And that’s why I tend to think that Christian existentialism is of value when it comes to our expectations of what we consider and label to be “Christian”. I’m not suggesting that it’s an all or nothing approach, but if there to be some existential reality to “Christian”… it has to actually exist as something we can point to apart from words on a page :slight_smile:

You may be right. I tend to think Christianity deals in metaphor. I don’t believe God cares if we drink the “wine” and eat the bread; or if we get placed under water to be baptized. The SDA rituals are comparatively few. Not so in the OT; and some even believe those ceremonies have lasting value, and we are to extrapolate their meaning in what the NT lays out about God and Christ. I have always objected to that. Even though the NT and all that it describes has its basis in OT history, it’s the NT that is the point in all this - “until John, was the Law and the prophets, but now is the coming of the kingdom of God”. The OT era came to an end with the proclamation of the “coming kingdom”. Shadow becomes reality - but not totally. There is more to be clarified; and it’s not going to be through ritual worship.

3 Likes

Yes, I agree. But, that is not NT eschatology…that is the way popular Christianity, historically influenced by a Gnostic worldview, has framed it. The idea of heaven coming to earth in a culminating visible union, filling the earth with God’s presence like the waters of the sea, and radically renewing his entire creation, is what the NT sets forth. This is the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, what Jesus taught his followers to pray.

This means that what we do now on earth matters, both now and then. This is why Paul could tell the Corinthians, in the context of resurrection and renewal, “Always abound in the work of the Lord, because your labor in the Lord is never in vain.” The way workmen would labor on constructing a grand cathedral, that may reach its final form far beyond their lives or vision, is an image that would be akin to what Paul was saying. What we do for the betterment of our neighbors, communities, societies, creation, and one another in the here and now, counts with God, points to his promise of the renewal and redemption of all things, and will be redeemed by him in his renewed creation. We may not see how, but it is part of this promise. This is far different from the idea that Christianity’s highest aim is to individually get saved and go to heaven in disembodied bliss. It is being called to a life that is pointing towards a better world, and working in harmony with that vision, in the here and now.

Except, that you are stopping your perspective of the biblical narrative and understanding with the OT Hebrews, and not taking into account NT teaching and understanding. Whether you deem it superstition or not, Jews by the first century had moved beyond the OT understanding of death, and believed in resurrection as a sign of the culmination of Israel’s hopes. God would deliver them from exile in their own land, raise from the dead righteous Jews, and restore the kingdom to Israel. That was the belief. The NT radically reshapes this vision around Jesus and his resurrection. What God had promised to restore to and through Israel was to now extend to all creation through Jesus, the risen and reigning king.This culminates in resurrection, judgement, and through this the setting to rights of all things as the culmination of the reign of God over the earth. The promises to Israel and all creation are fulfilled in and through Jesus.

Now, your views seem to make this all into metaphor. Reality, in your telling of the narrative of humanity, seems a stone’s throw from the grand enlightenment age vision of the progress of mankind to an age of peace, prosperity, and continual betterment. The resurrection of Jesus, and the vision of the kingdom of God merely serves as one of many less enlightened or pre enlightenment religious metaphors to express this longing. While I wouldn’t want to go to a pre-enlightenment doctor or dentist, I don’t think that history bears this out.

The last century included two world wars, humankind’s development of the ability to destroy all life on the planet, the Holocaust, Stalin 's and Mao’s pogroms, Rwandan genocide, an increasing concentration of wealth in fewer hands, continuing famine and poverty in the less developed world, etc. This pattern has continued into this century, as seen by our sitting under the reality of a global pandemic, and the systematic destruction of the environment.

Additionally, the NT gives the picture of a divided world, ruled by visible principalities and powers, that are somehow manifestations of the invisible. Their hallmark of rulership is to divide the world into competing realms of power, by blood, tribe, and soil, and to establish dominance by the power of the sword. I don’t know what world you’ve been living in, but I don’t see any progress along these lines across the past twenty plus centuries. The world runs in the same fashion, top down power that dominates for its own gain by economic and military might, and division along ethnic, racial, political, socio economic, and gender lines, that except for certain exceptions in history, continue unabated. You may believe that our “eternal life” is the continual contributions of humans to better life for the next generation, and on and on in continual progress. Just don’t pretend that the NT narrative can be coopted to support this. They are two entirely different narratives. And, the continuation of the same spheres of power and division that continue to characterize this age highlights this difference even more poignantly.

The NT contemplates the intervention of the kingdom of God in Jesus, its inauguration by his life, death, and resurrection, its spread like leaven through those who have been energized by his Spirit, and followed and extended his pattern of self giving love into the world, and its culmination in the renewal of all things at his parousia, which will involve the resurrection of all who have followed his pattern of faithful, self giving love. In the end, God has defeated and will defeat the dark powers, the rule of force, the love of power, and the power of death, by the power of his love, as expressed through Jesus, and extended by his loyal followers.

How well the church has historically succeeded in its task and calling is another story. But, the biblical narrative is either a vision of history and ultimate destiny of the world, or it is not. While metaphor and imagery are used to express this vision, it cannot be reduced to a metaphor for a different story, which, to me, is what you are attempting to do.

Thanks…

Frank

3 Likes

And I would add…even know what their ethnicity or place of birth was. This is completely different in some cultures such as the Native Americans who find “remembering” who, and what, their ancestors were to be a badge of honor/respect/continuity of culture. They certainly have a different perspective on this whole “death” thing. :smiley:

1 Like

You seem to take a fatalistic perspective on Biblical narrative, in which things are already spelled out for everyone… so what we have is merely a movie playing out, in which we are mere actors reciting the lines that date handed us down.

I personally don’t see this a viable interpretation of Biblical narrative, in which prophetic perspective was historically tangential. If A then B, if C then D. I don’t believe that God knows the future with certainty. I think God knows implications of broader range of tangents, some of which constrained and some of which are not, so these events are always described in consequentialist manner, unless there isn’t any room for tangents, like in the Christ narrative.

But even that narrative isn’t fatalism as much it is a voluntary plan execution that serves as a lesson… much like Elon Musk selling all of his stuff is merely an objection to the idea that his wealth is grounded in stuff and that he does what he does for money and control. The Wealth of Elon is not in stuff, but in his ability to organize successfully structures that results in innovation. Wealth is merely a byproduct of that … he may not even want.

So, I don’t believe there’s some ultimate destiny of the world apart from certain teleological state of equilibrium that we maintain in order for things to run smoothly for everyone. Other than that, it’ll not a dot we land on. It’s a range of exploration that makes our lives both interesting and meaningful.

You are engaging in trick accounting here since you are not contextualizing violence against the broader population that existed during the WII, as compared to that which existed in 1st century.

The past were arguably much more violent.

Do you really believe that, or are you merely making a selective approach to historical progression because your model calls for it?

I think you have to consider that there were substantial progress made in past 60 years alone, and I’m not even talking about past 2000 years. In fact, it’s so different that if you would transport a person from 1st century agrarian setting into my house today… they would think they died and went to heaven :slight_smile:

What I am attempting to do is to ground this narrative in reality where it’s actually observable and where it can exist.

The major problem in Christian world today is that it’s mostly about Christianity. It is not Christianity.

Ark, the Christ narrative includes what Paul is saying in 1 Cor. 15, that Christ will consummate the reign of God on earth, that there will be the resurrection of the dead, and that God’s presence will fill the earth, when he will be all and in all. You truncate this narrative because it doesn’t fit your own schema. If you disagree with what the biblical narrative is, and think it’s wrong, that’s fine. Just don’t try to alter what the gospel and the text of the NT are actually saying, or reduce it to metaphor, to fit your narrative. The Christ narrative includes the consummation and renewal of all things. This also includes the resurrection of the dead. This is plainly all over the NT. God not only knows this, but has planned this, and promises this. That is the meta narrative as portrayed in the text.

Your house, your and my own relative affluence that affords you and I the time and ability to communicate in this way. What about if that person was a woman transported into living under ICE in Iraq? What if she was transported into societal conditions in a country such as North Korea, or forced to live on less than a dollar a day in Mozambique, or as is done in much of sub Sahara Africa? What if he was transported into the last eighteen years of fighting and oppression in Afghanistan? What if she was a woman or child transported into the vast, underground sex slave trade in Asia, or America, or wherever? I could go on.

You are writing from your perspective, and using that as a template for the supposed objective, visible reality of the continued progress of humankind since the first century. I don’t deny that in may ways, especially scientifically, that there has been. But, you simply are coopting the enlightenment narrative of the grand progress of humanity, especially as you can see it playing out in the developed world. There are not only so many issues in the developed world that upend this worldview, there is the entire underdeveloped world that simply gives the lie to it.

You are grounding your worldview in your perspective. Again, that’s fine, just stop trying to draft the NT gospel in as some kind of primitive metaphor to support your view of visible reality. First, it’s your visible reality, not necessarily that of those in far more grim and oppressive circumstances. Secondly, it also is not reality as the NT gospel describes it. The gospel describes God as intervening in the world, a divided and broken world, to set everything right. God’s liberating reign has been inaugurated by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and his enthronement as Lord. It will be consummated with his parousia, when God will set everything to rights, and bring the renewal of his entire creation, ostensibly his presence filling the earth in a way that we only have a foretaste of now through his Spirit.

That’s the biblical narrative. If you don’t accept that as it is, and find that visible reality accords with your perspective and the enlightenment narrative of humanity reaching an acceptable equilibrium of prosperity for all, have at it. Again, I just find it problematic to use the gospel as some kind of primitive religious expression for what you deem a more sophisticated view of human purpose, destiny, and reality.

Thanks…

Frank

3 Likes