In my prior post, I discussed the significance of the Garden of Eden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and why and how death entered into the world.
In this post, I will attempt to answer the question: if Christ has come to renew our nature, why do we still die? Also, we will discuss the hope we have through death.
A solid understanding of the significance of the incarnation will enable us to understand it in relation to our own death. When God saw that His creation that was formed in His image had fallen into death and decay, He took action.
St Athanasius gives the example of a painting of a great king on a block of wood. Should outside causes corrupt the image of the king on the wood, it is not disposed for it has become a noble and ‘holy’ thing simply for bearing the image of the king. Instead, the king comes to the block of wood so that the image it once had can be restored.
In this way, the Word of God came to heal our nature that had marred the internal image of Him. We were not cast aside as a hopeless loss because we were and are image bearers of the Great King. Therefore, there is something intrinsically holy and beautiful about each one of us.
Our humanity had a problem: corruption and death due to the abuse of our free will. As an aid to correction, God gave us three things: His internal image within, all of creation that proclaims His glory, and the law (the Mosaic Law and natural law). Yet, none of these things were enough. The King Himself had to come to us in the body to show us the way of life.
His incarnation provided Him the means to teach us, human-to-human. It also provided Him a way to experience death. Being immaterial and incorporeal, the Word had to take upon Himself a body. Our corruption caused us to be indebted to death. The only way for us to be free of that debt to death was for the Word Himself to become human and enter into the realm of death for our sakes. His resurrection destroyed the power of death, and we now sing:
Christ is risen from the dead
trampling down death by death
and to those in the tombs bestowing life
When we enter into the life of Christ, we receive from Him life for we commune with Life Himself. For those who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ. (Gal 3:27) When we physically and spiritually have received Christ upon ourselves, we begin to understand the words of Paul:
For the corruptible must put on incorruptibility and the mortal must put on immortality. And when the mortal puts on immortality then shall come to pass the word that has been written, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory: O death, where is thy sting?’ (1 Cor 15:53-55)
HOPE THROUGH DEATH
If our nature has been renewed through the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection, why must we still die?
A seed is planted in the ground. When it sprouts, it does not form a larger seed, but rather something much different. We are all seeds, and we will all be planted in the ground one day when we die. (cf. Jn 12:24) Those seeds who have put on incorruptibility and communed with Life Himself will be raised into something beautiful. Seeds that have rejected Life and have the corruption of disease (sin) in their members may not experience any growth.
We cannot hold an acorn in our hands and wish it into an oak tree. Rather, it must “die,” that is be planted in the ground first. When planted in the ground, it begins its resurrection. We are the same. Our fleshly bodies have experienced corruption. Though we are renewed by Christ every day that we commune with Him (2 Cor 4:16), a part of us still experiences corruption. And so, like the acorn, we must be planted in the ground, we must die, that we may be resurrected into something new, glorious, and beautiful.
Christ is the first born of the resurrected ones, and it is Him that we shall be like. The image bearers will be perfected in the Image Himself by being partakers of His nature. (2 Peter 1:4)
Like the acorn, through death, we are given the hope of resurrection; and not only that, but beautification and divinization. Death has lost its power over us. It still strikes, but its poisonous sting has been removed for it has already lost the war. We are victorious through Christ, and we will live with Him forever.
O Death, where is thy sting?