Imagine being in Joseph’s shoes, or I should say sandals. Mary informs him she’s pregnant, but she says it’s OK because it was “supernaturally” caused. Really? He’s no dummy. He knows quite well how pregnancy starts. So, being the type of guy he was, he decided to call the marriage off. That changed, however, when God’s messenger confirmed the virgin conception (here and here). The baby was to be both human and deity. Chesterton put it this way: “…Christ was not a being apart from God and man, like an elf, nor yet a being half human and half not, like a centaur, but both things at once and both things thoroughly, very man and very God.” (“Orthodoxy,” Chapter 6, by G. K. Chesterton). In other words, Jesus was fully human and fully God, not a mixture.
Consider this angle to Jesus’ birth. While God created humans, he also was born of a human. He was born of the woman he created! Let’s not miss the very important point I made above: God donned living human flesh. Now, obviously he donned it to save the human race. However, I think we can also draw another conclusion. I think this gives us a peek into human value too. Not only did God value humanity and the human person to come to earth as a human, but also he seemed to value the human body itself! Remember, the Creator himself, the invisible, immortal and all powerful God put on human flesh! Obviously, that is lowering himself. But still, he did it anyway, and it seems that in doing so he is saying that he values humanity, the human being and even human flesh! Does this give us an insight into Jesus’ consistent commands that we honor, esteem and love others?
If this is true, why would God let people die? Sure, the spirit lives on, but the human flesh turns back to dust. Well, the Christian worldview curiously teaches that human physical death is just a temporal condition. The two-thousand-year-old Christmas saga of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection gives us a window into all the above. This window should help give us courage in the face of fear. Instead of letting the thought of death debilitate us, we need to remember that there is life after death, and after death there will be life.
During the China virus I’ve been concerned with so many Christian’s who seem to be capitulating to secular society’s worldview of human life and death. In a strange way, we have imbibed a low view of human life. Often, we have responded out of fear and reaction rather than faith and reason. As society is confused, frightened and unhinged, we need to be showing forth fortitude, strength, confidence and courage.
Society’s Confused Ideas
Society often meshes various worldviews that make beliefs run in disjointed and shattered ways. Consider how the secular worldview teaches materialism and evolution. If, however, these are true, we only have the here and now, there is no afterlife. This leads many to live a life where they maximize personal pleasure and their main aim is individual happiness. Sure, everyone typically wants to be happy, everyone typically has a strong desire to live and everyone typically is devastated by death. If this life is everything, however, death by the China virus will debilitate you. But, on the other hand, if the secular worldview is true, why does life and saving lives really matter? Do you see the confusing disconnect? If we are just part of a mass evolutionary experiment where the strong kill the weak, death is just helping drive evolution to some unknown end. Really, who is going to care about your existence or nonexistence in two million years, or even just fifty years? You can be a nice person, you can be a do-gooder, you can work to make a positive change in the world. But, really, who cares? What does making a positive change in a materialistic world even mean? Ultimate reality, morality and meaning are void of value in such a world. If void, why even try to survive? Why not shrivel up and die?
Add the contemporary anti-human environmental movement and you are in for a real twist! We are preached perpetually at to preserve the earth for our progeny. The strange thing, however, is that this seems to fly in the face of the contemporary environmental movement’s underlying anti-human assumptions. Aren’t humans made out to be earth’s scum, parasites, scabies and viruses? Doesn’t the message sound like we need to save the earth for our beautiful non-human superiors? We need to go green, no matter the cost on human life? Now, go back and add Materialism and Darwinism and your worldview becomes extra confused. Your life is meaningless in our dog-eat-dog world, and human flourishing is evil! If this lovely, sans-human world is such a utopia, why is nature constantly at its own throat? Animals killing animals, insects killing insects, bacteria and viruses killing all sorts of life. Weeds, insects, viruses, bacteria, carnivores, heat, cold, floods and drought are constantly being fended off. We try to defend ourselves from “the most holy mother earth’s” killing hands that drip with natural disasters and pestilences. So, are we the bad parts of nature when we protect ourselves to survive from a contagious virus?
Now, in the above disjointed worldviews, one can only draw the conclusion that nature has no real aim and no real ultimate value. Who cares about the extinction of some species? Endangered or not, all life forms will be extinct when they face the universe’s heat death. Who really cares about the rain-forest’s existence in ten million years, or even a thousand years? There is no meaning, there is no value, there is no purpose. Just a dark, pitiless dead end, as we can see from Richard Dawkins infamous quote “The universe… is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” (Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life).
Society has a broken and confused view of being human. The above confused secular ideologies devalue humans, even to the point of disdain! The physical body is seen as a tool for the psychological self; maybe it’s hardware that houses the real me, the software. I own my physical body, but it’s not the real me. My essential identity is disassociated from my body. The real me is my spirit, mind, will and feelings (“Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality” by Nancy Pearcey, Chapter 1). We have been cleaved in two: the modernist physical body and the postmodernist psychological self.
To see the outworking of the devaluing of the human, consider a number of today’s actions against the body. First, consider the response to gender dysphoria. How dare we say it’s a psychological disorder (as we do in anorexia nervosa)? The body is what’s at fault, not my feelings. That’s why many say “I’m not my body” or “I was born into the wrong body” or “I’m trapped in the wrong body.” When someone thinks there’s a mismatch between their physical body and their view of their psychological self, it’s the body that needs to change. Also, consider how some view their body as a big canvas for extreme body modification to fit their feelings or desires. People get surgery to change their sex to surgery to make them look like a monster. We see tattoos on the face and eyes. Another area we see the devaluing of the body is in the prevailing culture’s affirmation of homosexual behavior, which says the physical design and shape of my body doesn’t inform me of how I’m supposed to use it. One worst body devaluing is in the culture of death movements. For example, we are seeing that the the “right to die” movement is on the rise; we are seeing the acceptance and promotion of assisted suicide and euthanasia. Also, we must not forget the big one: abortion. It’s justified because the unborn is said to only be a human body, not a person.
This may help us see why there is an outrageous cultural reaction to the China virus. It is true that we should preserve life, it is true that we shouldn’t take unnecessary risks, and it is true that we are called to care for our bodies. But there also seems to have been an overreaction. Sure, leaders fear legal concerns and logistical concerns with hospital space. But I think the above shattered worldviews also play a role as well. If this life is all that I will ever have, then it needs to be preserved at all costs. If my main goal is to never experience pain and suffering, rather to always have happiness and pleasure, then my life needs to be preserved at all costs. If this is my body and I have personal autonomy, my life shouldn’t be extinguished because I have consciousness and self-awareness. While some of this is partially true, it’s a shattered worldview that doesn’t really mesh well with the Christian worldview.
God created the world and called it good. This includes all biological life, including humans. Humans were created, however, with special attributes that the rest of creation doesn’t possess. God created us in his own image and as creatures interwoven with both biological and spiritual attributes. My body, mind, soul and spirit are united into the real me. Nancy Pearcey puts it this way:
“A biblical ethic is incarnational. We are made in God’s image to reflect God’s character, both in our minds and in our bodily actions. There is no division, no alienation. We are embodied beings.” (“Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality” by Nancy Pearcey, Chapter 1)
She goes on in the same chapter and says:
“The Bible proclaims the profound value and dignity of the material realm—including the human body—as the handiwork of a loving God. That’s why biblical morality places great emphasis on the fact of human embodiment. Respect for the person is inseparable from respect for the body. After all, God could have chosen to make us like the angels—spirits without bodies. He could have created a spiritual realm for us to float around in. Instead he created us with material bodies and a material universe to live in. Why? Clearly God values the material dimension and he wants us to value it as well. Scripture treats body and soul as two sides of the same coin. The inner life of the soul is expressed through the outer life of the body. This is highlighted through the parallelism characteristic of Hebrew poetry”
In answer to the environmentalists’ human racist view, our relationship to the rest of nature and the environment is that we alone of God’s creation were given dominion over the earth. We are called to be “gardeners” to wisely take care of God’s world. Since humans are sacred, the Christian worldview doesn’t look at humans as the scum of the earth. We are called to wisely take care of this world and use it’s abundant resources for the growth, progress and prosperity of humanity. This care for God’s creation includes caring for God’s most valuable creation: other humans. We have been called to love our neighbors, care for the downtrodden, the poor, the widow, the orphan and the ill. Early Christians took this seriously; they started the hospital system, they condemned abortion, they rescued unwanted babies, they valued woman, they valued their elders and they cared for the lame and the disfigured. In fact, their high view of the human body is why they buried their dead instead of cremating them, and they helped bury the poor who died because they thought all people were created in God’s image and should be valued.
Remember, Jesus also modeled valuing being human, as we talked about before. Let me reiterate that God really did put on a physical body and wore the dust of the earth. It was definitely massively inferior to his being (Hebrews 2:9 and Philippians 2:7). Humbling, sure, but worthless, obviously not. So much so that he seemed to be repulsed by going to the cross. He didn’t tempt God by jumping off of the temple’s pinnacle, and he slipped past the clutches of the murderous mob. In fact, he habitually healed people, raising them from the dead and even wept at the grave of his friend. Pearcey puts that account this way:
“Why did Jesus weep at the tomb of Lazarus even though he knew he was about to raise him from the dead? Because “the beautiful body was split apart.”” (“Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality” by Nancy Pearcey, Chapter 1)
To Live Is More Than to Just Being Alive
Life is worth living, even in the face of pain, evil, suffering and death. Someone who apostatized from God challenged me on this point; why would God create us if he knew that there would be pain, evil, suffering and death? The response was simple, parents across time and space have continued to reproduce even though they know that their offspring will experience all the above. Parents want to share the joy of life with their children. We know that life is more than just being alive, it’s about living.
God created humans to enjoy his creation, to enjoy life and to be in communion with other persons, including him. Energy commentator, Alex Epstein, noted this about living: “If we can only survive in a way that is miserable, why survive? Happiness is the reward of life.” (“The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels” by Alex Epstein, Chapter 3.)
Remember, life is more than just being alive. God created us to live, not just to be alive. However, without communion with other persons, people tend to shrivel away. In the face of the isolation caused by the virus scare, many of the older population face loneliness and a meaningless existence. Void of human connection and purpose, life is causing despair and the shriveling of the mind and body. It is concerning to see that is some areas, more are dying of drug overdoses than the “world’s worst pandemic.” We know that we are called to care for our bodies and not called to live flippant lives, tempting God. We are not called to live flippant lives void of wisdom, but called to minimize the risks of death and danger. But remember, life is still full of risks, danger and death.
But we also know that our lives and our ends are in God’s hands and we will go at the times God allows us to die. Just like I didn’t have the authority to say that I was to be born and when and where I was to be born, so I don’t have the proper authority to say when I die. This doesn’t mean that I should take unwise risks, “test” God and try to kill myself. Rather, I’m called to live life, and living life means that I need to take rational risks. I can do everything by the books to live a long and healthy life, but ultimately my life is in God’s hand, and so is my death.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
As a young boy, I imagined living in the antediluvian age. I imagined searching for the Garden of Eden and searching for a way around the angels who guarded the entrance. I imagined that it would be so cool to reach the center of the garden, find the tree of life, pick its fruit and live forever. Looking back I was not alone in my desire for eternal life. Past people have trekked the earth looking for the “fountain of youth.” Today, I think we have the same idea. While God created the earth for our own prosperity, sometimes we use “science” as the “fountain of youth.” We think magic pills, plastic surgery and genetic editing will help us “live forever,” in a way. Our response to living forever was God’s original design. Because of sin, death splits apart the body and soul. Death not only splits the soul from the body, but it splits families and friends. Death rips God’s unified design. This is why we all fear pain, suffering and death. Pearcey says this about death:
“It is true that at death, humans undergo a temporary splitting of body and soul, but that was not God’s original intent. Death rips apart what God intended to be unified.” (“Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality” by Nancy Pearcey, Chapter 1)
But death, though our enemy and the wages of sin, is still allowed by God for a very important purpose. As I noted in a previous article, without physical death, living eternally on earth would be living in eternal hell of sin. God could have let us live forever, but in a way death was also the only merciful way out for sinful beings. Ante-Nicene Church father Irenaeus said this concerning this topic:
“Wherefore also He drove him out of Paradise, and removed him far from the tree of life, not because He envied him the tree of life, as some venture to assert, but because He pitied him, [and did not desire] that he should continue a sinner for ever, nor that the sin which surrounded him should be immortal, and evil interminable and irremediable. But He set a bound to his [state of] sin, by interposing death, and thus causing sin to cease, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh, which should take place in the earth, so that man, ceasing at length to live to sin, and dying to it, might begin to live to God.” (Irenaeus (A.D. 180) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.1 pg. 457)
Ante-Nicene Church father Methodius concurs by saying:
“And, therefore, God invented death for our sake, that He might destroy sin, lest rising up in us immortals, as I said, it should be immortal. When the apostle says, “for I know that in me – that is, in my flesh – dwells no good thing,”by which words he means to indicate that sin dwells in us, from the transgression, through lust; out of which, like young shoots, the imaginations of pleasure rise around us. (Methodius (A.D. 311) Ante-Nicene Fathers vol.6 pg. 372)
The human race wasn’t originally born to die, but because of human immorality, we have human mortality. Death allows us to shuffle off our sin-prone bodies. Even though death is a strange and painful gift, it is still our enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26).
Jesus’ Faced Death Too
Now, there is another strange twist to this whole saga. Even though Jesus was repulsed by death and death seemed to break his heart, he faced it straight on. He exposed himself to contagious diseases so he could heal the sick to save human life. He wept in the face of death, even as he was preparing to raise his friend from death. While he excessively promoted human life, healing of the human body, he faced death straight on with his own death, and he did it willingly. In a way, he was born to die which is the essence of the Christmas message. But, it is only a part of the Christmas message; there is more.
Death doesn’t mean we cease to exist, rather just our physical bodies die. Jesus lived on, but his spirit, if you would like, was split from his body, as ours are when we die. As Christians, while we despise death, we also know that death is not the end. Now, many stop at this point and ignore one more really interesting way God values the human body. While it is not the end spiritually, in a strange way it’s also not the end physically. Jesus is the key to what I’m about to say next. The Jesus story doesn’t end with his birth, with his life or even with his death. The Jesus story apexes at Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus is the first to obtain a new physical body, a resurrected body. N.T. Wright is fond of saying there is “life after life after death.” This new resurrected body is unlike the pre-worn bodies that others have received before when raised from the dead. Jesus had an upgrade, if you will. This body didn’t have the broken relationship between the temporal terrestrial and the eternal heavenly. Pearcey says it this way: “In the new creation, body and soul will be reunified, as God meant them to be. Eternally.” (“Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality” by Nancy Pearcey, Chapter 1).
So, for the believer, the idea of death, while it is painful and something we rightfully weep about, isn’t the end. We will have it replaced with something better. This is why we live as C.S. Lewis explains how we should live. He wrote a piece in the late 1940’s about living in an “atomic age.” People were petrified with this new risk, and he counters that the risk of death isn’t new. Every generation has death because death is part of life. He says:
“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways…It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”
In fact, he calls us “to pull ourselves together.” Still talking about the bomb, he tells the actions we should be doing when the bomb comes (or in our case, the virus):
“…let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.” (“On Living in an Atomic Age”, C.S. Lewis, first published 1948)
As believers, we are not called to be distraught, anxious and full of worry. While we need to be vigilant, wise and not “tempt God” with unnecessary risks, we can rest knowing this is not the end, because there is “life after life after death.”
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