An interesting observation I heard a speaker once make said that war does not increase death. By extension we could say the recent terrorist assault in San Bernadino, California, or the murders in Paris, did not increase death. The only thing these atrocities did was to increase the speed at which death came to the victims, but each person was going to die someday.
This was the title of Jim Morrison’s biography (and a line from his 1968 song, Five To One). He died at the age of 27, suspected of incorrectly snorting heroin that he thought was cocaine. But again, Morrison was going to die someday. All he did was change the timing by his hedonistic choices. If he was still alive today, he would be turning 72 this December 8. So we would not expect him to live more than a decade or two at the most. After all, the Psalmist said in Psalm 90:10,
“Our days may come to seventy years,
or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”
With the possible exception of a Bolivian man whose unverified age is 123, there is no one alive who was born before 1898, and these very few born around 1900 will soon “go the way of all flesh” and their remains will be buried or cremated and they will be gone. Even Methuselah, who lived to be 969 years old (Genesis 5:27), could not last forever on this earth.
But this raises the question of what did Jesus mean when He said, “ Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death?“ (John 8:51) For clarification of what He meant, let us use His own explanation that He gave in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live even if he dies; and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.“
So what is this thing called death, that is the fate of every living person, even if you are a believer in Jesus? And how can one “live even if he dies?” The key to understanding life and death is tied up in relationship. One who is alive has a relationship with other living beings; one who is dead is out of relationship with the living.
In the Garden of Eden was a Tree of Life which apparently granted whoever was eating from it to continue living and never die (Genesis 3:21), that is to live in relationship to God. God had given specific instructions to Adam that he could eat from any tree except one: ““You may freely eat from every tree of the garden; but only from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, otherwise on the day that you eat from it, you shall most certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) Thus Adam expected to live forever . . . until he and Eve disobeyed and ate from the forbidden tree. The serpent tempted Eve and Adam by claiming God was lying, “You certainly will not die!” (Genesis 3:4)
So Adam and Eve were now faced with a choice of who to believe, who to trust; the Provider who had placed them in the Garden, or this visitor who claimed to know more than God? But it was their choice; their free will. We can wish an angel had appeared to argue God’s case: “Eve, everything in the Garden is good! All you can learn from the serpent’s idea is what is evil.” Or Adam could have spoken up and told her the same thing.
But God left the fate of mankind only in the minds of Adam and Eve. They knew what they knew, yet they chose to distrust the Creator, and believe instead that He was holding out on them. He was keeping them from something they should be able to enjoy. So Eve took some of the fruit and ate it and gave some to Adam who was with her. She was deceived, but it was only in collusion with Adam’s silence.
You know the rest of the story from Genesis 3. God had a harsh conversation with them, announced their punishment, made garments of skins for them, and ran them out of the Garden of Eden. But why did He not kill them? Had He not said “on the day that you eat from it, you shall most certainly die.” Yet we read later that Adam had sons and daughters and lived 130 years before his son, Seth, was born, and he lived for 800 years more, for a total of 930 before he died (Genesis 5:3-5). Or did he?
We make a mistake of assuming life and death are instant things when both are processes. In fact, Adam and Eve died on the day they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That very day they were separated from the source of Life, not only in the Tree of Life, but from the God of Life, the Giver of life, the One who had breathed into Adam’s lungs and molded Eve from his rib. The process of death was begun, and in a very real way, they were dead, at least until Genesis 4:26. Six generations after Adam, after Cain had given birth to Enoch and his progeny after him, “men began to call on the name of Yahweh, the LORD.” We know this was at least after the birth of Seth, so Adam and Eve had lived probably more than 100 years without a relationship to their Creator, without the daily walks with Him in the cool of the day that they had enjoyed in the Garden.
When they “called on the name of Yahweh,” this signified a missing relationship. Mankind, both individually and corporately, was dead. They were now separated from the source of life and had to seek Him. They had to make time to try to find Him. They had to try to make sense of the process of separation that was happening as Lamech killed a young man (Genesis 4:23), and others were leaving their land of the living. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people.” (Romans 5:12)
Without a relationship with the source of Life, we are all “dead in our transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) and the process of death is at work in us separating us farther and farther from the source of Life.
So the next time you are reading your Bible and come across the word, “death,” simply replace it with “separation from the source of Life” and see if it makes a difference in your understanding of the process. And we can be among those here who make it out alive!