A few months ago, I was thinking about dying. Not that I wanted to do it, but that innately human concern about my mortality–in this case as a clue to absolving God as some sort of malevolent being careless about death.
Of course, God cares about death in the sense of John 3:16, but he doesn’t care about our death in the sense of, for example, Acts 7:54-60. Stephen still dies. He assuredly is availed by salvation from damnation, but he’s still not-alive in the sense that humanity is comfortable.
So God seems to be unconcerned about our physical death (Mt. 10:28), though plenty concerned about our eternal life. If this is the case, then my problems of theodicy would be almost…well, solved. It’s not that God is heartless about our dying, or the dying of many people throughout history, but we just don’t know that dying isn’t that bad. I’m reminded of Augustine’s analogy comparing our death and entrance into eternity to a baby birthed from the safe, known womb into the vagaries and vulgarities of life. It is sad for our loved ones without our presence in their lives, but not too bad for us personally.
But that may not be a bad thing. In other words, is dying really that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things?
This is why I was excited to read Richard Beck’s book, The Slavery of Death (Cascade, 2014). As I wrote last month in the big book giveaway post:
The book is a sort of theological/psychological experiment in which Beck trades the Protestant adherence to Paul’s declaration in Romans:
The wages of sin is death (6:23)
for the Eastern Orthodox adherence in 1 Corinthians:
The sting of death is sin. (15:56)
Beck examines the Orthodox (and early church) case that our sin is caused by our fear of death, rather than our death is caused by sin. There are a lot of benefits to this line of thinking, but of course, you would have to read the book to find out if you agree, or if Beck (and I) are off our respective rockers.
As we start the book discussion this month, there are a few goals that I have in mind.
First, I would like to celebrate Beck’s implicit reminder that Protestantism doesn’t have a total grasp of Christian thought or theology. We as Protestants can learn a lot from the other branches of Christianity.
Second, and where I anticipate spending most of the discussion, I would like to take this “sting of death is sin” idea for a test drive. Let’s take it to the metaphorical Nürburgring and see what it can do. Can it stand up to scrutiny? Can it stand up to other more Protestant-friendly parts of Scripture?
Third, I hope to bring in a faculty member from Fuller’s School of Psychology and learn about the psychological aspects of the book, specifically in reference to Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death frequently referenced in the book.
Last, I hope to take the repercussions into different areas of the Christian life. One of the reasons that I find this book so interesting is the fundamental nature to the question of God’s plan: What did Jesus come to do if sin is because of death instead of the other way around? How does that affect discipleship? How does that affect living in peace and a spirit of generosity?
Let’s start the conversation today in advance of the more formal discussion on Thursday:
What intrigues you most about Beck’s premise?
What do you think about what I’ve mentioned here?
What would you like to discuss as we go along?
Thanks for joining in! We’re excited to get started!
UPDATE: The discussion has started! Join it here for Part 1!