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Friday, November 06, 2009

God does not like human death

The Bible makes it pretty clear that God is not pleased by death.

As Ezekiel 18:23 puts it: Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (All scripture quotations from the ESV. See here for copyright policy.) See also Ezekiel 18:32 and 33:11. God is not pleased even at the death of wicked, sinful people, even though He ordered the death of such people over and over again in the Old Testament.

The shortest verse in the Bible has a point. Jesus was grieved at the death of his friend, Lazarus, even though He knew that He was about to raise him back from the dead.

Death is described as the last enemy, in 1 Corinthians 15:26.

Revelation 21:4 tells us that death will be gone from the final home of the redeemed.

So God does not like human death, and does not merely say this, but sent Himself to experience it and defeat it.

What about animal death?

Humans and animals are not the same, although humans may be said to be a kind of animal. Genesis 1, especially verse 26-28, describes our creation in more detail than for the animals, and it is possible that it is also describing a different kind of creation. The passage indicates that God treats us differently than He does the animals -- we are in God's image, and we have dominion over the rest of creation. Not in Genesis, but most important, God came to earth in human form. So we aren't the same as animals.

I'm not sure that God is so grieved about the death of animals. (Or plants, although I won't say more about that.) Besides the different status of humans, in relation to animals, why do I say this? For several reasons:
1) God prepared garments made from animal skins for Adam and Eve when they realized that they were naked. Presumably, God Himself killed some animals in the process of preparing the skins.
2) God was pleased by the animal sacrifice made by Abel, and throughout the Old Testament, accepted, and required, animal sacrifice.
3) The Flood apparently destroyed all but a few of the animals. It was not the animals that were being punished for sin, it was the wicked people of Noah's day. They had done something to deserve their punishment, but the animals hadn't. But almost all of the animals are said to have perished. God's concern seemed to be for the preservation of types of animals, not for their individual lives. (See here for some of my questions about the flood.)
4) God has allowed, or ordered, predation, which means that many kinds of animals are going to die, to feed others.
5) Jesus tells us that God knows about each sparrow that falls (Luke 12:6-7). It doesn't say that He does anything to prevent them from falling.
6) The chosen people ate meat. This practice was apparently continued through the time of Christ, and, according to Luke 22:7-13, Jesus, Himself, ate part of the Passover Lamb.
7) The disciples fished, and Jesus helped them do it. In one case, He ordered that Peter catch a fish, and may have even fished, Himself, after He was resurrected. (See John 21:6, John 21:9, Matthew 17:27, Luke 5:4 and Luke 24:36-43)
8) God has created, or allowed, the process of natural selection, whereby, say, an oyster may lay millions of eggs, but, on the average, only one of these will reach maturity. The others die, because they are not as fit, or because of various chance processes that eliminate them.

It seems difficult to argue that God is greatly grieved, or grieved at all, by the death of non-human creatures.

Natural selection is a process associated not only with the survival of the fittest, but with the non-survival of those who are not fit. Although much of this non-survival is simply a failure to produce offspring, some of it is individual non-survival -- death. At least after the Fall, natural selection has undoubtedly operated. It is possible to doubt that it operated before the Fall -- there are many who do doubt this, but it is also possible that natural selection, a messy process, resulting in vast amounts of non-survival, is a process that God has used, even before the Fall, to shape and develop non-human life. After all, He used a messy process, resulting, or at least allowing, vast amounts of human death, to bring mankind along until the covenant with Abraham, the Mosaic Law, and then more mess, up until the establishment of Himself as savior, redeemer, and Lord, by Christ.

I have previously posted about the question of death before the Fall of humans, here, here and here.

Thanks for reading.


George said...

Good thoughts, Dr. L. I've heard, and I know you have, too, the argument that animals will be present in heaven. I'm a skeptic in this area, mostly because I don't find much Bible support. If that were so, I guess God would have to give them a free pass, unlike humans...

i am Grateful... Kerry i am. said...

Thought provoking. And surely God does not like death. Jesus interupted every death processional and recessional recorded in the Gospels, it seems to me.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, gentlemen.

I don't know about animals in heaven, either, George. C. S. Lewis seemed to believe that all good things will be in heaven, including animals.

Kerry i am, I think you are right about Jesus and death and funeral processions. I hadn't thought of that.

superrustyfly said...

Amen to this post.

To George, some of us are convinced that God is merely going to "renew" and that the phrase "new creation" is not "new" as in completely distinct from the current reality, but that it will be a revitalization of what was originally good in the beginning. For animals, it seems that the two creation accounts and the Revelation to John seems to support animals as a part of this renewed earth. Just some thoughts for you.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your thoughts, superrustyfly. They are interesting. That's about all we can do, is think.