Thursday, January 04, 2007

Worse than death? II

Sin is worse than death

Our God is a God of salvation,
   and to GOD, the Lord, belongs escape from death.
     - Psalm 68.20
Death will be the last enemy to be defeated at the general resurrection of the dead and the renewal of all things. Yet while it will be the last to go, it is not the Great Enemy, the Adversary. There are things worse than death.

There are things that diminish life, that corrode joy, that devour the heart, shrink the spirit, corrupt the good. Sin is worse than death. Death brings an end to the goodness that is life, but sin can take what is good in life and turn it sour. Death is a negation; sin is a negative. Death reduces to zero; sin puts it in the red. Now, of course, the picture is more complex than this, since what is good is not removed when it is corrupted, and evil is not simply the reverse scale of quality as good. Created things remain good, even while corrupted. Fallen humanity in particular is a complex thing, simultaneously both blessing and problem, both gift and cursed.

When our first parents disasterously declared their independence from God, claiming their own pre-emptive knowledge of good and evil, God's gracious response was to cut them off from the tree of life:
Then the LORD God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”-- therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
The denial of everlasting life to the wayward husband and wife was to place a boundary on the spread of evil, to prevent it becoming forever woven into the fabric of the world. Death, the return of the dust to dust, was on the one hand the inevitable result of life that denies its own basis as the generous gift of God. Human death is a self-made self-annihilation, a suicidal turn from the source of life. But, on the other hand, it was also from the start useful as a curb on evil: a self-limiting curse.

Again, we must be careful here. Simply having boundaries, being embodied, temporal or dependent are not themselves problematic. Such finitude is part of the good gift of God. The finitude of death contains a darkness not found in being six feet tall or living in a world where snowmen melt. The tragedy is not change, not limit, but the disordering infection of rebellion, a will turned upon itself, an entity oriented to its own goals without reference to the whole or the head. This is the sad shock of sin: irrational, destructive, malignant - and ultimately self-destructive. Death is the result, but sin is the cause.

Sin is worse than death. Untrusting anxiety, apathetic lethargy, bitter regret, faithless betrayal: these are the real enemies of God and his people. These will blunt and bleed the soul, poison the spirit and stop the heart more surely and grievously than the cessation of brainwaves and breath.
Series: I, II, III, IV, V, VI.
Fifteen points for naming the novel in which the ill-treated heroine is finally captured at this ancient location.

4 comments:

Annette said...

'Tess of the d’Urbervilles'

michael jensen said...

She wouldn't have been able to go near it today without pay about 10 pounds, and dodging the traffic.

byron said...

Fifteen points. Well done.

And yes, it was another world as you read it. They just sort of stumble upon Stonehenge during the night and decide to stay there because it gives a little shelter. I won't give more away for those who haven't read it.

andrewE said...

Great post.