Wednesday, November 27, 2013

why death?

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

As I have remarked previously, it is traditional during Advent to think on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. The reasons that we do so is because Advent is a penitential season – something that is often forgotten about in the exuberant commercialism that seems integral to our society. And the reason that it is penitential is because during Advent we not only look back to the first coming of our Saviour as the Christ-child that long-ago day in Bethlehem, but also forward to the time when he will comes again, the end of days when he will judge the living and the dead. Thus the focus on death, judgement, heaven, and hell. When that day comes they will be the only things that are of any relevance any more. And since we do not know when that day will come, this season of Advent is a time of special preparation, to help us be ready for that time. That is why our readings focus on such things: the judgement that came upon king Belshazzar suddenly in the night; and Christ speaking of the end of days.

Last year I looked at the 'what' of the four last things; what they are as far as know. This year I intend to reflect on the 'why' – why we have death, judgement, etcetera at all. And don't worry – I don't intend to move on in future years to the 'where,' 'what,' and 'how.' So, why do we have death? It has always been the teaching of the Church, based on the revelation of Sacred Scripture, that death is as a result of Original Sin. God in creating us did not will for us to die. But our first parents were tempted by the Devil to disobedience and using the free will given them by God, rejected his authority over their lives. We as their children are tainted by that first sin – we did not commit it ourselves, but we have nonetheless inherited it.
This gives rise to a couple of obvious questions. The first is that God, who knows all things, knew when he created Adam that he would sin – does that not in some way make him blameless or at least lesson his guilt? The second is that, whatever about Adam, why are we held in some way to account for what he did?

The simple answer to the first is that indeed God knew how Adam would act. But foreknowledge is not pre-destination. Man was the pinnacle of God's creation, made in his image and likeness. God in his infinite wisdom knew that such a creature must of necessity have free will. Free will is just that: the freedom to do good or evil as one chooses. God did not create us to sin; but the possibility of sinning existed as a result of free-will. God knew beforehand how Adam would chose; but Adam alone remains responsible for his choice.

The second question is more difficult to deal with. In many ways, the concept of original sin remains at the level of a mystery, something that is beyond human understanding. Clearly it is not at the level of actual sin, because it is not something that we have actually done ourselves. It is something inherent in the human species, like not being able to fly or not being able to breathe underwater. We may wish it were different, but we can not alter it. It is something that we simply must accept. Human beings are prone to sin; and the evidence of that is seen all too clearly in not only the sad state of the world, but also in our own lives – presuming, of course, that we are willing to look at our lives honestly … neither trying to excuse ourselves with endless versions of 'but it's not my fault' or worse, deny that anything we do is sin at all …

But our Father has not abandoned us to our choices … from earliest times he promised us a way of making things right with him … and that way is through his Son, Jesus Christ. Because of that death for us is not some meaningless end, but holds the promise of hope … the hope that we can actually achieve what it was that we were made for … that having been made in God's image and likeness to be with him for all eternity, we may at the last enter into eternal life … because even though with Adam death entered into the world, through Christ death was defeated and the promise of eternal life restored … the end of days will come … but they are not something for us to dread, but rather a time of joy because of the hope we have in Christ.

In the following weeks of this series I will look at the remaining elements of the four last things .. but I end this look at death this evening with a prayer for you all … that you will overcome death at the last through the power of Christ … even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

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