Acting Out Death
I was about eighteen years old the first time I saw a dead person. Just a few days earlier my grandmother had unexpectedly suffered a massive heart attack and had died nearly instantly. The family was given the opportunity to say “goodbye” to her before the funeral. We were ushered into a room in the funeral home, and there, across the room, she lay in an elegant coffin. I took a deep breath and walked over to where she lay.
Grammy didn’t look a whole lot different than she had when she was alive. She lay peacefully and could almost have been asleep. Almost. As children we used to pretend to be dead sometimes, but of course we weren’t capable of acting it out very well. But Grammy wasn’t acting. Her chest was not rising and falling as her lungs filled with air and her eyes were not fluttering as they do when people sleep. Grammy could snore with the best of them - I remember as a child giggling at the racket she made when she slept as I passed by her bedroom - but this time she made no noise as she slept. There was no doubt about it - my grandmother was dead. Death pervaded her entire being. It wasn’t just that one part of her had stopped working - all that she was; her entire body, mind and soul had ceased functioning.
I was taken aback by the finality of death. Grammy could only act out her state of being. She was dead and had no choice but to act dead. Nothing I could do, nothing the doctors could do, could ever make her act alive again. Her body was an empty, decaying shell that had served its purpose and was already beginning to return to the dust from which it had come.
As I looked down at her pallid face, how I wished that she would open her eyes just one more time, take my hand and tell me that she loved me. And how I wished I could spend just a few minutes to tell her about my plans for the future; if she couldn’t be there to witness them at least I could tell her that in just a few months I was planning on asking Aileen to marry me. I could tell her some of the goals I had set for my life. But it was too late for that. Had I spoken to her, the words would just have been spoken into a void.
It was irrational of me to hope against hope that she might just give me one more chance to tell her how much I was going to miss her and just once chance to make sure she really knew about Jesus.
If you have ever taken the time to read through the Bible, or even a portion of it, you’ll know that it devotes great attention to life and death. The words “dead” and “death” appear hundreds, even thousands of times within the pages of God’s Word. Why the great emphasis? The answer is evident when you look at the world. Take a look around in your school, your office and maybe even your home or your church and you will see dead men walking all around you. These people may still have a heartbeat and may still be able to hear and speak, but in a spiritual sense they are dead. The Bible is devoted to explaining the cause of and solution to this death.
I want to take you to just a couple of verses in that book, verses that most people read and just pass on by without ever reflecting on them. It is a pity to pass them by for they contain something that is too important to miss. Genesis is the first book in the Bible and we are going to look at the fifth chapter which speaks about the first man who ever walked this earth - a man who was created perfect in a perfect world. It was a world that knew no evil, no sin, no death. Verses one through three read “This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.”
You may be wondering what possible importance I could attach to verses that seem only to list some genealogical details. But look closer. The first verse says “He [God] made him [Adam] in the likeness of God.” So God created a man who was in His own image. That means man was perfect, holy and spiritually alive. Man had perfect, unbroken communion with His Creator. Now look to verse three. “When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image.” Do you see what has happened here? Somewhere between Adam and his son, a change took place. Where Adam was created in God’s likeness and in God’s image, Adam’s son was created in Adam’s likeness and in Adam’s image!
The key to understanding this transformation is contained in another book of the Bible - one written two thousand years after the first. In Romans 5 verse 12 we read “…Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…Yet death reigned from Adam.” We are all familiar with the story of how Adam and his wife Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. While the act of eating a piece of fruit God had forbidden them to touch seemed quite harmless, it was an act of willful rebellion against the Creator on the part of human beings. Through that act of rebellion and disobedience, sin entered the world. Having entered, it has multiplied, increasing to the point that it has extended to every being in the world. And that includes you and me.
Death reigns in this world, doesn’t it? They say that the only inevitabilities in life are death and taxes. You can cheat the government and avoid taxes, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who can cheat death. It’s a fact. A few months ago I saw a short program on The Learning Channel about a man who is obsessed with delaying death and even the onset of aging. This man consumes vast amounts of vitamins and minerals, literally thousands of pills every week. Yet it is a fool’s game and one he is guaranteed to lose. You and I and everyone you know are going to die some day. This man, despite all of his pills, will die too. We don’t know when, where or how, but we do know it is coming.
Did you notice that the Bible chooses not to speak about sickness reigning from Adam? It never says that illness and discomfort entered the world through one man, does it? It speaks of death. Finality. Decisiveness.
Ever since Adam, death is our natural state of being. When you look around you, you see dead men acting out death. A dead man can not act alive. My grandmother, when she lay in that casket, had no choice to act alive, did she? Death ruled over her, forcing her to act out her state of being. In the same way, people who are spiritually dead have no option but to act out death. They may have the vague appearance of life, but the fact is they are dead. They have no ability to change their state of being.
Is the same true in a spiritual sense? Can a person who is spiritually dead change his state of being and come to life? The answer is both yes and no. Stayed tuned for the second part of this article where I will explain.
Every now and then I go rooting through the archives and find an article either I did not finish or feel could be written better. This is one of those that I did not finish. Hopefully this time I can get it right!