Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Death: Inability or Separation (Part 2)

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is the second part of a two part blog. If you have not had the chance to read the first part, entitled "Death," please do not read this until you have read it. This blogs builds on that one.

Previously I had mentioned two different views on death. One view is a pagan view that the death of a man is like the death of dog: the essence of the person ceases to exist and death may be mainly called inability. Farmer Frank sees farmer Joe die, and realized that farmer Joe is no longer able to help him with the harvest, or with anything else for that matter. Joe is dead and cannot do anything.

Farmer Joe

Another view is that physical death is departure from one place and entrance to another. From this view, you get the phrase "he is in a better place." The Christian view is that second view, with the added note that some people will enter a good place after death while others will be entering a truly dreadful place. All of this was discussed a bit in the last blog.

Now, I would like to discuss breifly the doctrine of Total Inability. This doctrine, in short, teaches that natural man is dead in sin and therefore unable to have faith in Christ until he is regenerated and made alive. After all, can a dead man have faith? Of course not. A dead man cannot do anything! They support this view with verses such as:

Colossians 2:13
"And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,"

Ephesians 2:1
"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,"

There are many verses about the depravity of man, but for the most part, people who believe in total inability will harp on these verses. Man is not dying, they will say, that he can call for help. Man is not sick, so that he can sign a consent form for surgery. Man is not just wounded, but dead. Dead! Spiritually, he is completely dead, and thereby unable to do anything spiritually good! Death, they consistently imply, means complete inability.

Now, I am not in this blog concerned to debate the whole doctrine of Total Inability, but only to disagree with their interpretation of these couple of verses. Perhaps they can show me that unsaved men cannot have faith from many other verses in the Bible, but they have not shown it to me in these verses. Perhaps you can relate to these verses, and will think to yourself that it makes sense. Dead people cannot do anything; zombies are only legend. From a pagan perspective, that does make sense. Farmer Joe, when he dies, does not seem able to do anything. However, this view, as intuitive as it is, contradicts the Bible. Dead man can do nothing? Farmer Joe can do nothing? What if dead man can do things?

Luke 16:19-24

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.

Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.

The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’

This was a story told by Jesus. Yes, a story, not a parable. Here is a dead guy, and this dead guy is completely able to suffer, to think, to talk, to desire, to cry out, and to make requests. Yes, the body of Joe is not able to move itself, but the former body of Joe is not Joe. Joe is a soul, a spirit, and is able to continue to think and act after he is separated from this world. "You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." There are a great many things I cannot do here on earth that one day I shall be able to do in heaven. When I die, I shall not be unable, but able to do so much more. My body will be limp, but my body is not me. I will be gone.

Scripturally, the main idea of death is not inability, but separation. Yes, I realize that this is counter-intuitive. It made seem obvious that a dead man cannot do anything, but I would say that to learn from the Scripture, we often need to set aside our own presuppositions. A dead man is able to do many things, and it is only his old body which is thrown off like old clothes. Now some will say to me "yes, death is separation, but it also includes inability. For when you are in heaven, you will be separated from this earth and thereby not able to witness to unsaved people anymore."

I would agree with that proposition that death includes inability, for even in the example I gave, Lazarus was unable to come to the rich man, and the rich man was unable to go back and warn his brothers. I would even agree that life includes inability, for I cannot fly. Death and life both include inability, but I believe that main idea of death is separation, and that while death can include some inability, it is not an all-inclusive inability. As I said before, life also includes inability, but is not an all-inclusive inability. When I have eternal life in heaven, I will not be able to beat God at chess, but I will be able to do other awesome stuff. Let me go back to what Biblical dead is, briefly:

  • Initial death: Spiritual death, which is the separation of our spirit from God. Isaiah 59:2 "But your iniquities have separated you from your God."

  • Physical death: The separation of a person from this physical universe. 2 Corinthians 5:8 "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord."

  • Final death: The final and eternal separation of a person from God. Matthew 7:23 "And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’"

Pop-quiz: Q - What is deader than dead? A - Being cast away from the presence of the Lord.
The only thing more deadly than death is separation, not more inability somehow. Separation is the core concept of death.

Going back to Ephesians two
I would like to look at that the reference to being dead in sin in context a bit. One verse out of context can be taken to mean, well, almost anything you want it to mean! Sadly, I don't have room in this blog to just start quoting the whole thing, but I will spell out a progression of words in the chapter here:
We were... made alive... dead... fleshly... dead... made alive.... separate... excluded... strangers... without God... far off... brought near... peace... reconciled... etc
We were dead in sin, and the author does not leave us wondering what point he is trying to make with that. We were dead, separated, far off, and without God. We were dead in sin, for our sin had separated us from our God. This chapter is putting forward the idea of spiritual death as spiritual separation from God. It does not seem to be putting forward the idea of inability. The chapter uses the words "far out," "separate," and "without God," and yet does it once use the word "unable?" No, not once.

Now I also think that the idea that "dead men can do nothing" in regard to spiritual affairs contradicts itself plainly. For a man will say "can a dead man have faith? No. A dead man cannot even have a little faith! A wounded man may do a little, but a dead man can do nothing." Yet a physically dead man can do nothing physically, whether good or evil. If a dead man can do nothing, then a spiritually dead man could also do nothing, whether good or bad. Just a physically dead man can neither murder nor save, a spiritually dead man could neither accept Christ nor rebel against Him.

If a man is separated from the physical realm, as in physical death, he would be unable to do anything that has physical significance. In the same way, a spiritually dead man perhaps could act physically, but anything he did would not have spiritual significance. Death is inability. Physical death means inability to do anything. Spiritual death means complete inability, but only in regard to spiritual good? So then a dead man can do evil things? A dead man can do things? Death, then, does not mean inability. It is an argument that contradicts itself, and thereby shoots itself in the foot. They use a faulty analogy to prove that death is complete inability, and then define complete spiritual inability to only mean inability regarding spiritual good, and therefore not complete inability.

Going back to what I said about life and death both including inability, I want to point out especially that the dead rich man was able to cry out and ask for things. In the same way, I believe that spiritually dead people by the grace of God are able to cry out and ask Him for salvation. The idea that death is mainly stems from the natural understand of death that does not take into account the continued existence of a soul after death. I believe that the christianized version of the "death is inability" doctrine comes from faulty presuppositions that must be checked carefully against the Word of God. Biblically, I see that death is mainly separation, and only includes inability as much life does. One must define specific inabilities separate from the ideas of life or death then. Perhaps a person can prove from the Scriptures that unregenerate man cannot have faith, but I do not see that it is proved by this verse. We were dead in sin and separated from God, and I praise God that He has made me alive.


Kevin Jackson said...

Good post!

The parable of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) gives a good example of death in the Biblical sense.

The father states "my son was dead, but now is alive. He was lost, and now is found. (v32)" The son was separated from relationship with his father. Yet the son was able make decisions! He was even able to make the decision to go back home to his father. But he was dependent on his father for the reconciliation.

To be dead is to be separated from Christ. To be alive is to be in relationship with Christ.

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