Interpreting Death

By:  Robert D. Brinsmead

Believing that death is the penalty for the original Fall of man (race sin) and/or personal sin is an apocalyptic interpretation of death.  So Romans 12 is an apocalyptic interpretation of death – “so death passed upon all men in that all men have sinned.”   In the same way Paul presents an apocalyptic interpretation of the death of Jesus when he causes one to lose sight of the historical reality that this was a man put to death at the hands of the Romans for sedition, for it now becomes a cosmic event in which God punishes race sin and reconciles the world to himself through the death of one man, etc.

Luther had a strongly apocalyptic interpretation of death.  He spoke against viewing death as something natural but insisted that it must be seen as a manifestation of the wrath of God against human sin.  Like Paul, Luther was obsessed with the thought of God’s wrath and it probably had a huge impact on his health and general disposition, dark moods, bad constipation and so on. He spent his time on the toilet thinking about the wrath of God which, as he said, he had equated with the righteousness of God (Romans 1:17) – until one day, sitting there on the toilet (not an upper room as legend has it) one day, he had this great Eureka moment when the thought came to him that the righteousness of God in not a punitive thing but a saving thing.  (If you want the documentation of this little story that all this took place on the toilet rather than in an upper room, see Lowell’s Green’s  “How Melanchthon Helped Luther Rediscover the Gospel”  – a book which I helped edit and Verdict published about 30 or so years ago.  I was greatly amused by this little vignette of the history of Luther’s enlightenment and the contrast between pious legend and historical reality.)

But back to this apocalyptic interpretation of death:  we reject it, of course, just as Jesus rejected the popular interpretation of the arrival of the Kingdom of God.  Image the religious culture of his day anticipating this violent in-breaking of the kingdom of God with all the blood and fire on the heads of the enemies of Israel,  and then Jesus announces that the kingdom of God has arrived, it is already in you and among you or as Thomas puts it, spread out on the face of the earth.  So it does not comes with wind, earthquake or fire ( remember theElijah story) but comes as a quiet human voice – or like leaven working quietly in the dough or like seed germinating in the ground.  What an enormous difference there is between an apocalyptic interpretation of a thing and the reality of the thing.

So back to death:  it is wrong  to view death in this apocalyptic way as a manifestation of the wrath of God, as something that is in this way supernatural.  No, death is entirely natural.  It is written into our DNA.  It was taking place long before humans walked this earth – and whether you believe in evolution or not and the very long geological record of the earth or not, this matter of death being a reality and part of the natural order, long before humans arrived is just as plain as the fact that dinosaurs were here long before humans. Or that fish of the sea existed to be someone else’s dinner as far back as there were fish in the sea long before humans got here.  It is an awful religious mistake to take something that is wholly natural and according to the natural order and turn that into something associated with God’s wrath against us. We should totally rise up and reject this great guilt trip which this damn religion puts on all mankind.  So yes, this is one good blow and protest from me against religion.  Oh yes, I know that the apocalyptic interpretation of death motivates a lot of people to go to church and all that just as the apocalyptic doctrine of hell is part and parcel of the whole foul fallacy of apocalyptic that drives a lot of people to take out their religious fire insurance.