by Bob Wheeler


Pieter Claesz: A Vanitas Still Life


Why do people die?  At first that seems like a rather stupid question – they just do.  It is an inescapable fact of human existence.  And if you are an atheist that is all there is to it – there is no special rhyme or reason to life.  We just exist, and we all die.  But if we were created by an intelligent Supreme Being, a God who is loving and compassionate, why would He create us to die?

An obituary is a sobering commentary on human existence.  Here is someone’s loved one – a husband or wife, a father or mother – who was once full of life and energy.  He or she worked, played and loved, and had a real impact on the lives of others.  And yet in that person’s later years he was feeble and frail; and now he lies silent in the grave.  If God created life, then why does He let us die?

“The days of our lives are seventy years;

And if by reason of strength they are eighty years,

Yet their boast is only labor and sorrow;

For it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”

(Psalm 90:10; NKJV).

The biblical answer to this is sin: “. . .through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin . . .” (Rom. 5:12).  Death is an anomaly, but sin is also an anomaly; and the Bible connects the two together.  We die because we sin.  Death is the curse that God placed upon the human race because of our sin and rebellion.  We cut ourselves off from our Creator, the source of life, and so we die.  The amazing thing is that we live as long as we do.

Death actually has three aspects to it: spiritual, physical and eternal.  It is important to realize that before we die physically we are already dead spiritually.  We “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  “. . .we all once conducted ourselves in the lust of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath . . .” (v. 3).  Paul could say of the pagan Gentiles of his day that they “walk in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart, who being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Eph. 4:17-19).  Even though we are physically alive we are spiritually dead.  God is absent from our lives, there is an absence of any real love for God or for righteousness, and we go through life living for ourselves, seeking our own personal advantage, and gaming the system.  There is no spiritual life in us.

And then, of course, there is the fact of our actual physical death, and this points to a problem in nature itself, for death is often the result of outward circumstances, of injury or disease.  The fact of the matter is that all of nature has been affected by our sin and rebellion, and is, to a large extent, dysfunctional.  “For the creation was subjected to futility . . .  the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs . . .” (Rom. 8:20,22).  Even Christians are not exempt from physical pain and suffering: “. . .but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (v. 23).  Thus when we look at nature we are struck by a paradox: everywhere we can see evidenced of intelligent design, but at the same time we see pervasive dysfunction.  Things live and flourish; things die.  Life was designed to function one way; it now functions in a profoundly different way.  It is a creation out of concord with its Creator.  It is a creation wrecked and ruined by man’s rebellion against God.

But it does not end there.  Death is also eternal – we are cut off from God forever, and bear the brunt of His wrath for all eternity.  The Book of Revelation describes the Last Judgment, and says, “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.  And they were judged, each one according to his works.  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death” (Rev. 20:13,14; “Hades” is a Greek word for the underworld, the abode of departed spirits).   “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

It is terrifying to think about hell, but the Bible tells us this is what we must expect if we continue in our sin and rebellion against God.  We have offended a just and holy God.  He is infinite and all-powerful.  By rebelling against Him we have placed ourselves under His wrath and condemnation.  The consequences are fearful.

“For the wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom. 6:23).  “Wages” are what we have earned, what we deserve.  And what did we earn by rebelling against God and living our lives apart from Him?  A life of misery and woe here below and an eternity in hell.  These are the consequences of human sin and folly.

The reality, then, which confronts each and every one of us is the certain prospect of death; and the question each one of us must ask himself is this: “Where will I spend eternity?”  Let none be so foolish as to ignore the question.

But, as we shall see, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ibid.).