As I Lay (Thinking About) Dying


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!

David Moore (48 Posts)

David is the coordinator for the Lowell W. Berry Center for Lifelong Learning at Fuller Theological Seminary and editor of The Burner Blog.

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4 Responses to As I Lay (Thinking About) Dying

  1. I read Beck’s book a couple of months ago and loved it! It was probably one of my favorite theological books I’ve read in the last year. The re-framing of original sin from an Orthodox perspective was helpful for me, particularly in relation to my own understanding of atonement via Girardian mimetic theory and Jesus as the ‘last scapegoat.’

  2. Annie says:

    I’m almost finished – hoping to make it by Thursday! Most intriguing so far is this idea of reimaging what salvation is (and isn’t.) I had never placed much emphasis on overcoming death, and reframing sin as a fear of death makes so much more sense to me.

  3. jkjones2185 says:

    I’m excited to finally read this book after hearing Richard talk about it so much on his blog for the last few months. As I go through, I’m planning on doing a series on my blog (first post can be found here: with my thoughts about this whole model. Like most folks are probably going to say, I’m really excited to look at an alternate model to original sin (just based on reading through the introduction and first chapter so far, I think there are HUGE implications for how the ancestral sin model affects the way we should be thinking about issues ranging from innate human nature to what the best practices are as Christians to help alleviate the pain of sin in our lives).

  4. […] away is because I agree with Beck’s premise hook, line and sinker–primarily because, as I posted here, it helps alleviate the problem of theodicy. If the ancestral sin of Adam and Eve shut down Eden, […]

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