Why Must We Die?

Considering that death comes for everyone, it may seem like a ridiculous question to ask why we have to die. The question, however, comes up when we are facing the death of either ourselves or someone we love. As it turns out, it isn’t a ridiculous question at all.

Scientifically, we could site the fact that our bodies seem to be programmed to age and die. Our cells can only divide a limited number of times. This sets the outer limit on how long we can physically live. Usually before we hit our full potential lifespan (120 years), death caused by damage or illness takes us. The oldest among us do top out at 120.

The Bible has an interesting explanation that fits nicely with observed facts. When Moses wrote down the first five books of the Bible, He relayed God’s feelings about the lifespan of humans:

Then the Lord said, ” My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Genesis 6:3

Prior to this the Bible records some amazing lifespans, with Methuselah holding the record at 969 years. I’m sure most people consider these lifespans to be fictitious, but why? If our DNA were different, so that it could replicate more often, why couldn’t we live for 969 years? It seems that God dialed us back because we were getting on His nerves.

It is interesting to note that after this passage, people didn’t just hit the wall at 120. It takes several generations to arrive at this limit.

For that matter, why should we die at all? Indeed, God can make an indestructible body. Adam and Eve were not engineered to die. Their rebellion seems to have genetically modified them. Death was just one of the negative outcomes. People scoff at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil story in Genesis 3. It smells of myth to them. Is it? What if the Tree was real and “knowing Good and Evil” was a euphemism for being modified from God’s original design. Evil isn’t just a human social construct, it is the sum of deviations from God’s plans and His ways. Those deviations included genetic modification and failure, inherent tendency to God forbidden behaviors, and physical death.

We die because we are sinners. We are sinners because it is encoded in our DNA. It is encoded in our DNA because our truly, free-will capable ancestors decided that God wasn’t good or trustworthy. Now there is no way around death, only through it.

More frightening than having to die is the fact that humans were made to be eternal beings and remain so even with built-in physical death. Spiritual death is different than physical death. In physical death our bodies break down and eventually cannot sustain functioning. Decay soon follows. Our consciousness is not a part of body after physical death. The Bible warns of post-mortem judgment, first in Sheol, the after a resurrection in Gehenna (or what we call Hell). These two places share common conditions: fire, despair, suffering. Hell holds a unique condition: forsakenness. Only here does God completely abandon you.

All but physical death is avoidable. Jesus Christ died and was forsaken in our place. A connection to Jesus, makes Jesus’ sinlessness ours and Jesus’ forsakenness ours as well. It is a promise of God’s delivered through baptism.

Physical death remains a requirement since physical death is a part of our physical bodies. We need to shed this. Death is both a terrible thing because it is the product of sin and produces an “unnatural” separation of body and soul, and it is a sought after relief if we are connected to Jesus.

Fear it, fight it, live in denial that it exists. Death still comes for all.

Author: tdwenig

Tom is the Senior Pastor of the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Evansville, IN. He has served his congregation since 2000. He has a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO

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