The purpose of death

by James Johnson

In 17th Century England, Grand Larceny was a crime punishable by death. Grand Larceny was defined as the theft of goods worth more than one shilling. Of course, one shilling then, did not have the same value as five pence today. A skilled worker could earn a pound a week, so this was a twentieth of his weekly wage. The equivalent today would be a man earning £500 per week could be hung for stealing £25.

It is no surprise, therefore, that people said, "You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb." If you are going to steal, you might as well steal the Crown Jewels as a loaf of bread.

To many in the modern Western world, that punishment would seem cruel and barbaric. However, an atheist could accuse God, if there is a God, of a far greater crime which is even more cruel and barbaric. The accusation being that this God punishes every human being who has ever lived with the death penalty, regardless of whether they had done good or evil.

The atheist is at a disadvantage when accusing God of genocide though. Atheism has only a materialist viewpoint. It assumes that there is only oblivion once death occurs. There is no satisfactory answer to the problem of death if we leave the Creator out of our thinking.

So let's start where God starts in His Word. The first sentence is, "In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth." As we read on, we find that even before life appeared on this planet, God had provided for the event of death. It was not part of Plan B, in case God's plan for creation failed; it was an integral part of his plan. How do we know this? We can read for ourselves in Ephesians 1:3, " ...He chooses us in Him before the disruption of the world, we to be holy and flawless in His sight, in love designating us beforehand for the place of a son for Him through Christ Jesus .." There is also 2 Thessalonians 2:13, ".. seeing that God prefers you from the beginning for salvation .."

But if God is a God of love, why is death necessary? What possible purpose could widespread death serve? When we understand what the purpose of human life is, we will see that death is essential to God's plan.

For a moment, let us examine three possible scenarios (and there are only three):

1. There is no God or god; the Universe just happened and life evolved.
2. There is a God, Who created the world, designed it and fixed certain 'laws of Nature' but then He left it and let it go its own way.
3. There is a Creator God Who does rule, and that His government extends to and is exercised over all things and all creatures.

If the first and second scenarios were true, we would end up as nervous wrecks. At any time the whole world could be destroyed and that without warning. Destruction could come in many different ways. Everyone knows that the wind "is blowing where it wills, and the sound of it you are hearing, but you are not aware whence it is coming and where it is going." That statement is true whether or not we know it is in the Scriptures, at John 3:8. We regularly hear of, or in some cases, even experience hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, and floods. Man has no means of preventing them. All we can do is measure and record them afterwards. We can't even accurately forecast them. If things happen by chance or by impersonal evolution, then we have no guarantee that humanity will continue to survive.

If we deny that God is in charge, (and has been since before the world began) and deny that He is "upholding all things by the word of His power" (or as the Concordant Version has it, "carrying on all by His powerful declaration") we live in fear and have no sense of security at all.

The only tenable alternative is that there is a God Who is the Governor of the whole of His creation. He governs inanimate matter. In the beginning, He created light, the sun and the moon and the stars. He created the grass, herbs and trees. He spoke and it came to be (Psalm 33:9). He sent a worldwide flood in the days of Noah. In Egypt in the days of Moses, He parted the waters so that His people could escape from Pharaoh. A star guided the Magi to Bethlehem. Christ Himself stilled a storm.

There are many other examples of God's control of the natural world. Just as there are many examples of God's control over His creatures. Locusts and frogs plagued Egypt but not Goshen, where Israel lived. Noah didn't search for animals two by two, God brought them to the ark. The Philistines thought it was their idea that two cows should bring the ark of the covenant back to Israel. But it was God Who led the cows. Lions could not devour Daniel, but the same lions could destroy his accusers. Peter paid tribute money by catching a fish which just happened to have a coin inside it.

A cynic may say that this is all time and chance; that it is a convenient coincidence.

That is in the natural world, but what about in the world of humanity? Is God shaping the destinies of nations? Is there a limit to man's inhumanity to man? If it is all in the hands of human beings, then again we have no hope of survival. Some might argue that God is powerless to intervene because mankind has free will. If that were true, we would have no guarantee that humanity would not self-destruct.

The reality of this possibility has not been lost on politicians and the armed forces. Mutually assured destruction, or MAD, is a doctrine of military strategy and national security policy. The hope is that if each side has enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the other side, neither side would retaliate because it would result in the complete annihilation of both the attacker and the defender.

Many believers and non-believers have a problem with the statement that 'Mankind does not have free will'. A fundamental, unshakeable belief for many is that 'Mankind does have free will.' Consequently it blocks their understanding of the truth.

We must consider these alternatives: Either God governs or He is governed; Either God rules or He is ruled. Is man so powerful that he is beyond God's control? Does God have to allow mankind to do their own thing, because they have free will? If that were the case, God cannot be God. God must, by definition, be the Supreme Being doing according to His will; He is almighty, all powerful. I believe it has been said that you can thwart His will but not His intention". Psalm 115:3, "Indeed our Elohim is in the heavens; ALL that He desires, He does."

The myth of free will includes the idea that man can choose to accept Christ's sacrifice. This idea didn't come from the Scriptures. Romans 3:11 makes this clear, "Not one is seeking after God."

So how do some come to God? Do they choose to come to God? Acts 13:48: "Now on hearing this [that Paul was directed by the Lord for a light of the nations], the nations rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord, and they believe, whoever were set for life eonian." Believing is the consequence of God's decree, not the cause of it. This same point is made in John 6:44 which records Christ's words, "No one can come to Me if ever the Father Who sends Me should not be drawing him." So it is not up to the individual. But what about this Scripture (John 1:12): "Yet whoever obtained Him, to them He gives the right to become children of God, to those who are believing in His name, who were begotten, not of bloods, neither of the will of the flesh, neither of the will of a man, but of God."

The King James Version reads, "as many as received Him." This might seem to imply that many had the will to receive Him. But even this version states clearly, "... not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, neither of the will of a man, but of God." It cannot be up to the individual, because we all have a mind that is enmity against Him (Romans 8:7) and we all have a heart that hates Him (John 15:18).

There are many verses which leave us in no doubt as who is in charge of humanity.
Proverbs 16:9: "A man's heart, it devises his way, Yet Yahweh, He establishes his steps."
Proverbs 19:21: "Many are the designs in a man's heart, Yet the counsel of Yahweh, it shall stand firm."
Proverbs 21:1: "Like rillets of water is the king's heart in the hand of Yahweh; wherever He desires, He redirects it."
Job 23:13: "Yet He is One, and who can turn Him back? What His soul has yearned for He shall do."
Isaiah 14:27: "For Yahweh of hosts, He has counselled, and who shall annul it? And it is His hand that is stretched out, and who shall reverse it?"
Isaiah 46:9-10: "Remember the former things from the eon, For I am El, and there is no other! Elohim! and no other like Me! Telling from the beginning, the hereafter, and saying from aforetime what has not yet been done, Saying, All My counsel shall be confirmed, and all My desire shall I do:"

This is what Daniel (in 5:23) told Belshazzar, "Also you have lauded the elohim of silver and gold, copper, iron, wood and stone, that are not perceiving and not hearing and not knowing. Yet the Eloah in Whose hand is your breath to Whom are all your paths, Him you have not honoured." That same night Belshazzar was despatched. Another lesson for the people to know who was God, and Who has control over humanity.

Psalm 135:18 describes those who put their trust in idols thus: "Like them, [the fetishes made of silver and gold, the work of human hands] may they become. All who are trusting in them."

There are also many Scriptures showing that God has control over spirit beings as well as humanity. Suffice it to say that God uses 'good' messengers and 'evil' messengers and His own spirit to do His will.

The will is the faculty of choice - the refusal of one thing and the acceptance of another. The will's choice is influenced by something which determines the decision. So it is clear that the will cannot be sovereign because it is the servant of that something. The will cannot be sovereign and servant. It cannot be cause and effect. Therefore, we cannot describe man's will as free in an absolute sense.

So we have established the fact that God is in complete charge of the Universe and He can do everything He wants, whether physical or spiritual beings like it or not. Why, then, doesn't He rule a world which has no pain or suffering, and especially where death is unknown? I repeat, why is death a part of His plan and purpose?

The purpose of the death penalty in 17th Century England was an attempt by the rich to protect their property by warning people of the consequences of theft. But that is not God's purpose. God's purpose is not punishment. Incredibly, it is another example of God's love for all humanity. God's purpose is to be ALL in all. God will be everything in all humanity. And death is required to make that a reality.

The purpose of human life is to glorify God for ever. That purpose is described in Revelation 4:11, "Worthy art Thou, O Lord, our Lord and God, to get glory and honour and power; for Thou dost create all, and because of Thy will they were, and are created."

So where does death come into that plan? God in His wisdom prepares the minds of the human race to receive His lavish gifts. We have to experience the evil of sin and death to contrast the results of our ways with His ways, our thoughts with His thoughts so we can, in a limited form in this life and in full in the life that will come after our death, resurrection and vivification, enjoy and APPRECIATE all that God has prepared for us. Death is also, in a way, a good thing. If individuals were to live for longer than the present lifespan, we would accrue even greater growth in evil.

God is carrying out His goal in stages. First, Christ the Firstfruit. Christ is our guarantee that what the Father has done for Christ, He will do for those in the body of Christ. Christ after His resurrection is beyond the dominion of death, and so will those of His body, at His appearing or the parousia.

God as a righteous Judge, cannot overlook Sin and pretend it isn't there. But as a merciful, gracious and loving Father, He has provided the perfect sacrifice for sin - His Son to take away the sins of the whole world. Eventually, ALL humanity will be made alive. Not just resurrected, but also vivified for ever. For the masses this will happen during the consummation, at the end of the final eon.

The cause of all evil is rebellion to God. We sin because we are dying. Death, the last enemy, will be destroyed and with it sin, suffering and rebellion. As a result, government will not be necessary in the future. Christ will hand over His kingdom, which had been in submission to Him, to the Father. In a kingdom people are under subjection; they are subordinate to a king. But they will then belong to a loving God as children of a Father. No longer in a kingdom, but in a family - God's family. YAHWEH will then not be called God any longer, as this title is no longer valid. Titles become of no use when the task they describe is finished. God is the Placer or Subjector, and when all are placed or subjected, the title becomes obsolete. His title as 'Father' is then the only title that fits and He will be called by that.

Anyone who is subject to God does not need any intermediary authority or power. We will enjoy a perfect relationship with a Father who is waiting to lavish His blessings upon us. Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has got prepared for us.

If death had been abolished earlier, there would have been no rebellion, no opportunity for human and spirit beings to witness the futility of human reasoning. There will be no boasting of what man has accomplished because God has called not many wise, not many powerful, not many noble. Why not? To disgrace the wise, the strong, so that no flesh at all should be boasting in God's sight. All the glory will go to God.

God will take the place in the heart of every human being which His love deserves. Yes, in the heart of EVERY human being. All knees will bend in admiration and all tongues will confess that Christ is Lord and God is GOD. If death had been permanent, then God would have been nothing to anyone. But life will make Him All to everyone.

Could any human being have devised such a glorious plan? A resounding, NO! Would any human being have imagined that death could be used to bring abundant LIFE. Again, NO!

No human judicial system can punish a crime with the death penalty and then raise the criminal to life. No wonder the twenty four elders fall down and worship Him with these words:

"Worthy art Thou, O Lord, our Lord and God, to get glory and honour and power."

"The author acknowledges with thanks the help of Wim Janse in the preparation of this talk."

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© James Johnson

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