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Question 334

Morning Pater, quick question What is the purpose of death? I mean everyone wants to go to heaven but most of us fear death and nobody wants to die

   

 

Answer to Question 334

 

To understand what death is and where it came from we need to go back to the very beginnings and understand the creation of Adam and the fall that followed. Firstly we must understand that God did not create death, death is evil and there is no possible way for evil to proceed from God since God is only good. Neither does God take pleasure in destroying the living things he has created. God created man to live forever, but simultaneously he gave him a choice with the gift of free will to remain in this immortality or to become mortal. This choice was the commandment he gave to Adam and Eve not to eat of the forbidden fruit and he warned them that on the day they eat of it they would surely die. They chose to eat and sure enough they lost immortality. But why by eating a fruit did they die? The fruit is not important, what is important is that God gave them a commandment which was to help them grow spiritually and they chose to disobey Godís word. Thus of their own free will they chose to separate themselves from God and eternal life, because eternal life can only be in God: separation from God means death.

 

So what then is death? Death is the consequence of being separated from God. This is what God meant when he gave them the commandment not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The Orthodox Church understands death as the consequence of sin, but Western Churches regard death as Godís way of punishing man because of his sin and sees the inheritance of death on the whole human race as a heritage of guilt. Thus for western theology God created death to punish mankind. They paint a picture of an unloving God punishing and seeking revenge because his creatures disobeyed his commandment. For us Orthodox this goes totally against the grain and we cannot fathom a God so unloving that he can be the cause of death.

 

Death then entered human nature as a result of being separated from God, but it was not an immediate death as we usually understand death. There was first a spiritual death, which was the separation from God and then a slow deterioration of Adam and Eveís bodies which had undergone a transformation. In Genesis 3:21, we read: ďUnto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed themĒ. It is easy to come to the presumption that these skins were animal skins in which God clothed them to hide their nakedness, but the Church understands this as something completely different. The skins in question are the skins of our bodies. It was the transformation from the immortal bodies into mortal bodies. This drastic change was necessary for manís salvation, otherwise sin would have reigned in Adamís immortal body and union with God would have been eternally impossible. This change was in fact their death, because they had lost immortality. They were in a state of death and subject to cold, hunger, illness, diseases, pain, suffering and ageing bodies, which eventually would bring about their bodily death by the separation of the soul from the body.

 

 All these negative sufferings are nothing more than human nature going through the slow process of death. This will answer also those many questions like, ďwhy was that person born with an illness or a handicap and why did that person get cancer at such a young age? God did not create these illnesses, God did not create anything evil. These are just the fruits of death; they are ways in which death acts on the human body. Human nature deteriorates, and as it does so, this deterioration is expressed with various illnesses and diseases. Thus we shouldnít blame God for these evils: they do not come from God. If we are to blame anyone it must be man himself because they are the results and consequences of the fall.

 

Evil is the state of the free will that is opposed to Godís will, and death is the consequence of this evil state. A free will choosing not to follow Godís will, follows its own destination and destruction. God could not force Adam not to sin because that would have put a restriction on Adamís free will and therefore he would no longer be in the image of God: he would become a form of mechanical robot or android, programmed in what to do and say.

 

I think enough has been said for you to understand what death is and where it came from. Death in manís life is not what God intended and because he did not create death, death is unnatural to human nature according to how God originally created man. This is probably why most people fear death: it is against our nature to die. If it was part of the natural course of manís life then we would not have any fear, but God create man as a union of both a body and soul. This union comes into being from the conception of every man in his motherís womb. Man is what we call a psychosomatic being, which means that his soul does not constitute the whole man, but neither does his body. Both the body and the soul were created at the same moment, the soul was not, like some like to believe, living before the body and then at some moment entered into it. When this union is broken at death it is done again nature and by force: the soul doesnít what to live without the body and is frightened by this separation.