One of the most profound questions humans ask is, "Why must we die?" For many traditional Christians, the answer is simple: "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
According to the conventional understanding of the Bible, in the beginning, God created a beautiful and perfect world where all creatures lived in peace and harmony with one another. God also planted an idyllic garden in a place called Eden, and there He placed His most magnificent creation, man. In the beginning, life on earth was happy and all creatures enjoyed a paradise-like existence. In the beginning there was no such thing as death. Neither animals nor man ate meat for food. Instead, all creatures ate renewable plant life, such as grass, leaves, flowers, fruit, etc.
In the second chapter of Genesis we read that God planted a certain tree in the midst of the garden and commanded Adam, saying, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat: for in the day that thou eastest thereof thou shalt surely die." From this account, many Christians assume that had Adam not eaten the fruit which God had specifically forbidden him to touch, he would have lived forever in the serene and glorious state which God had provided for him.
However, in chapter three of Genesis we learn that both Adam and Eve, his wife, did eat of the fruit from this tree. Since God had said that death would be the consequences of their disobedience, He could not go back on His word. Therefore, death - both spiritual and physical - entered the world as the natural result of sin. And to insure that His word would remain true and valid, God set cherubs to guard the way to the tree of life so that neither Adam nor Eve could partake of its fruit and live forever.
As it says in Ezekiel 18:20: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Since everyone who has come forth through the lineage of Adam is born in sin, every person is tainted with a desire to rebel against God and His ways. As Paul told the Romans, "There is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). Quoting from the Psalms he continued saying, "there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.... For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God... Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned... The wages of sin is death" (Romans 3:10-12,23 5:12, 6:23).
Therefore, as most Christians understand the Bible, death - both spiritual and physical - is the just reward of the sinner. Death is God's punishment to man for his disobedience, arrogance, ungodly defiance, and selfish attitude and character.
But more than that, even the rest of creation was contaminated by Adam's sinful act. Animals began to kill one another, thorns and thistle and other noxious plants sprang forth, and even the earth no longer yielded itself easily, as it once did. Now Adam had to work by the sweat of his brow to provide for his needs. What once had been a beautiful paradise quickly became a place fit for Satan and his angels.
And it was for this very reason that God sent His only begotten Son to earth to save and redeem us from the terrible consequences of sin and bring us back into the presence of God to live with Him in glory throughout all eternity.
But how does Christ accomplish this redemption?
According to Christian doctrine there are three ways He does this when we accept Him as our personal Savior. First, by taking upon Him our sins, He paid the penalty for us, thereby washing away our sins with His blood and making us clean and pure before God. Our garments are made white and spotless. Therefore, because of His sacrifice upon the cross, it is as though we had never committed any sin because His death has atoned, or made restitution for every one of them.
The second way He redeems mankind is by "justifying" us. Paul explained to the Romans "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us" (Romans 8:33,34). In other words, no one can accuse a saved Christian of doing anything wrong because, as our advocate with the Father, Jesus intercedes for us and justifies us before God.
As one Christian author explains it "justification is a judicial act of God's grace wherein He acquits a person of all sin and accepts that person as righteous in His sight because of the imputed righteousness of Christ" (the Believer's Statement of Faith). Therefore, if a person has been acquitted of all their sins, it is the same as though they had never committed any.
The third way Jesus saves us is by sanctifying us. As Paul told the Thessalonians, "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thessalonians 5:23). The word "sanctify" means to make holy. Thus, through the blood of Christ we are made righteous and holy (Hebrews 13:12) and can stand blameless and be found guiltless before the throne of God.
And because of Christ's redemptive work, the dead in Christ shall rise again in the resurrection, to live forever, thereby saving us from the punishment or sting of death. As Paul joyously exclaimed, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55-5)
This is the traditional, orthodox view which Christianity has of death. However, although this explanation sounds very biblical, there are some inconsistencies and contradictions with it.
If physical death is a punishment for committing sin, then when sin is eliminated from a person's life, that should also eliminate the consequence of sin. If people who have accepted Christ as their Savior have had their sins "washed away," and have been "justified" (found guiltless of sin), and have been "sanctified" (made holy), and have been saved and redeemed from the punishment of sin, then why do they still die?
When we look at the Bible, using the same method of interpreting it as traditional Christianity does, we find that the scriptures do indeed teach that saved people should not die. It was Jesus who said, "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:26).
Traditional Christianity quotes Paul as saying, "For the wages of sin is death," but that's only one half of one sentence. The rest of the quote goes on to say, "but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Since Christians have been redeemed from their sins they have also received God's gift of "eternal life," which is most generally accepted as meaning "to live forever." Hence, it can be scripturally argued that saved Christians will never die but live eternally, as was intended with Adam.
Traditional Christians quote Ezekiel's comment "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" as Biblical proof of their reason for death, yet this is only a very short part of a longer explanation. The full quote, in context, reads, "When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die... when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die" (Ezekiel 18:19-21,27,28)
One of the basic beliefs of Christianity is that once a person has accepted Christ, "he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17), they are no more children of darkness but have become children of light (1 Thessalonians 5:5), and that the Lord will keep them from evil (2 Thessalonians). According to God's word as found in Ezekiel, "when the wicked man [i.e. the old creature] turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right [i.e. accepted Christ and have his sins washed away], he shall save his soul alive. Because he considereth, and turneth away from all his transgressions that he hath committed [i.e. becomes a new creature] , he shall surely live, he shall not die!"
Yet, not withstanding this declaration of God's word, both righteous and unrighteous people still continue to die. There has not been one person who has escaped this punishment of God. Not even Jesus Christ.
Consider this: Most Christians believe that when a saved person does lay their physical body in the grave, their spirit goes immediately to heaven to live with God. If they are worthy enough to live in heaven then why must their physical bodies die first before they can go there? If death - even physical death - is God's punishment for man's sin, why must those who have been saved, redeemed, justified, sanctified and are worthy of living in heaven be punished with physical death along with the ungodly sinner?
It can be argued that the saved will live again in their physical state in the resurrection. However, such an answer doesn't explain why they must die first. Paul taught, "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Paul is speaking here about the second coming of Christ. Notice that he says that those who are still alive and living on the earth when Christ comes again will rise to meet Christ in the clouds along with the resurrected saints, and then they will all live forever with the Lord. Therefore, from this verse of scripture as contained in the Bible, we learn that it is possible for people to live in their physical bodies forever without dying. But if death is God's punishment for sin, why must saved people still die physically before Christ's second coming when people will live forever in their physical bodies without dying after He comes again?
But there is still another problem. The Bible also tells us that everyone will be resurrected, not just the saved. In a vision, John "saw the dead, small and great, stand before God... and the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them" (Revelation 29:13). This event is known as the second resurrection, the resurrection of the unjust, or the resurrection of the damned. If physical death is God's punishment for sin, they why will the unjust, ungodly, and damned also be made alive?
It could be argued that they will still be punished by being "cast into the lake of fire." But, even so, it is inconsistent to say that physical death came upon man as a punishment for his sins, and that the resurrection reverses this penalty, (as Paul so joyously proclaimed) but then say that having the unsaved resurrected isn't an equal blessing for them. If physical death is the consequence man must suffer for his sins, then why are the unsaved being resurrected at all? What's the purpose of undoing this consequence and substituting it with another?
And what about infants who die? If they are born in sin, and "the wages of sin is death", then, to be consistent, we must conclude that they too must suffer the fate of the unbeliever. To say otherwise is to weaken the argument which traditional Christianity makes for why there is death. Yet, there are many Christians who can't accept the idea that a loving God would consign such innocent children to death and hell along with the wicked, just because they never had the opportunity to accept Christ. But despite their opposition to such an idea, there is nothing in the Bible that would give them reason to believe otherwise. So they are left either to accept the traditional biblical teachings about why there is death, or hope that their understanding is somehow wrong, but only when it comes to children.
It is argued by some that the term "death," as used in the Bible, is to be understood more in a spiritual sense rather than as a physical condition. In the spiritual sense, "death" is defined as "separation from God." It has been explained that when Adam sinned, a wide gulf opened up which separated us from God. No matter how hard mankind tries, this eternal chasm prevents us from being reconciled with our Creator. But because of Christ's death, the cross has become a bridge which allows man the opportunity to cross over and be with God in His presence. However, if that is the correct understanding of what "death" is, then it leaves us with no answer to the question of why our physical bodies have to lay in the grave and perish.
The reason for the confusion on this subject is because traditional Christianity lacks the understanding of who we really are, why we are here on earth, and what the truth is about our eternal destiny. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only accepts the Bible as God's word but also has other scriptures and living prophets through which God has given us additional information on this important subject. Because other churches refuse to acknowledge these additional sources of divine revelation, they have no other option than to understand the Bible according to its limited pronouncements.
As Latter-day Saints, we understand that when the scriptures speak about death, it is meant in the spiritual sense, not the physical. Man cannot actually "die." He is an eternal spirit being who has lived before coming to earth and will continue to live after leaving this mortal world. The physical body is something the spirit wears for a short period of time and then discards when it has out lived its usefulness.
Jesus said, "Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Death doesn't happen when we place our bodies in the grave. Real death happens when we are separated from God. Christ died to save us from real death, not from the mortality of our physical bodies.
In contrast, most people believe that our life began here on earth when we came forth from our mother's womb. To them, the very purpose of our existence is to live on this planet. Therefore, the thought of leaving this earthly world implies no more joy, happiness, or having fun. It means no more associations with friends, family or love ones. It means no more watching the sunrise, no more smelling the roses, no more feeling the wind, or no more hearing the songs of birds. Even for many Christians who believe we go to heaven at death, leaving this world is not easy because there is still the feeling that this earth is where all the action is.
As Latter-day Saints we know that life upon this earth was never intended to be permanent. It didn't begin here nor will it end here. As the apostle James wrote, "For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (James 4:14). We were sent here for a wise and glorious purpose. Before our natural birth, we willingly, expectantly, and joyously agreed to come live in mortality for a short period of time so we could have experiences, perform assignments, develop eternal relationships, increase our spirituality, and prove our faithfulness in ways that we could not do in any other environment.
However, when at length when we've completed all we were sent forth to do, we will leave this frail existence and return to our natural environment from which we came - the immortal spirit world. That is our true home. That is where we were nurtured and raised. And after the hard lessons we will have learned from our short stay in mortality, we will return to that spirit world to continue our progression toward our final destiny that will be realized in the resurrection. It is this earth life that is unnatural to us. As much as we looked forward to having this experience, our spirits much more yearn to return to the place we call home when our time on earth is through.
But what about the resurrection? Isn't that having our physical bodies come back to life? Yes, but they won't be the same kind of body we presently have here on earth. As Paul stated, "We shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:52-53).
In the resurrection, when we receive our final reward, our physical bodies will be changed. They will be more glorious, more magnificent and holier than they ever could be here on this earth. Once we lay our physical bodies in the grave we will never again return to life in mortality. More than that, the kind of life we now live here will hold no fascination or allure for us. Instead, we will look forward to living a more excellent life in our resurrected state.
When we comprehend the real significance of who we are, why we are here, and what our true destiny is, physical death no longer poses a problem for us. It is only when we lack a true understanding of these things that people then have a problem with death.
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