#98 Why Do We Die?
Chris is Risen! Yet, if Christ really has conquered death, why do we still die? With a little help from St. Paul the Apostle and Fr. John Behr, we'll take a closer look at our relationship with God and explore how we perfect our union with Christ.
1) How can we avoid sin which causes death?
2) How can we learn to not be afraid of death, but to accept it?
3) Why are memorial services important for remembering the dead?
Hey everybody this is Steve and Christ is risen! But there's an interesting challenge for us as Christians: if Christ really has conquered death, why do we still die? As we've mentioned before death, in the deepest and scariest sense of the word, is non-existence. It's no longer being anything. Because God made us out of nothing. And without God, the source of life, we inevitably sink back into that nothingness. So Christ's victory over sin and death isn't simply the reuniting soul and body; it’s God’s victory over nothingness, the blessing of receiving a place in God's eternal Kingdom, of true life without end.
Yet if that's the case, why do we still experience death along the way? The answer goes back to the Book of Genesis. In episode 30, we talked about how Christ, not Adam or Eve, is the true human being, the first real human being. If you haven't seen it yet, it's worth taking a look. He's the first real human being because, He unites divinity and humanity, God and man. So to be truly ourselves as God intends us to be, we need to unite divinity and humanity in ourselves by connecting to Christ.
And this happens in setting aside the false version of ourselves, the broken version of ourselves that defines us by our desires and our sins but which isn't really us. We are not perfectly human because, just like Adam and Eve, who chose to separate themselves from God and each other, we so often chose sin and division and death rather than communion and life.
This is why our entry into the Church, the way we connect to Christ as members of His Body, is by putting aside that false version ourselves by passing through death. We become members of the Church by being baptized. As we descend into the waters we descend into the tomb; so the false version of ourselves, the one ruled by sin and separated from God, can be put to death. When we rise from the waters, we rise from the tomb.
We rise like Adam and Eve, whom Christ pulled up out of Hades. We rise only because Christ has grabbed us and made us His own; not simply friends or allies but literal members of His Body. And it's only when we are made new, made truly ourselves in Christ, that we can be who God meant us to be. This is what St. Paul meant when he said "it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. Because, in Christ, the false self is put to death.
It's what St. Paul meant when he said "For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered". Because, when we have the humility to get out of the way, the Holy Spirit can truly pray in us. So we need to connect with Christ but, the trouble is, we usually don't. Just as Adam and Eve distanced themselves from God and each other, we do the same: every time we choose gluttony or lust or pride, every time we sin, we harden the divisions in an already broken world.
It's the result of our pride, our desire to be better than others, to have more than others; to do what we want, when we want, how we want. And it's not only when we sin in obvious ways. Even when we do things that seem good, it's easy to fall into selfish and self-centered motivations. To help people, not out of real love, but because it makes us feel good; to pray or attend services, not out of a real love of God, but out of a desire to seem pious. When we choose simple pleasures or stuff rather than love, as we talked about last week.
Even when we do things that seem good, it's easier to love ourselves rather than God or neighbor. Yet we need to move ourselves out from the center, out from first place, so we can make room for Christ to live in us, for the Holy Spirit to pray in us. We need to stop seeing ourselves as in charge of our lives, and give God the space to work in us. We need to learn humility.
Humility is such an important part of our life in Christ: because it opens us up to God's saving work. It's why our lives should be spent perfecting the transformation of baptism, putting to death our false broken, selves so we can become our true selves in Christ. So when is the point in our lives when we're at our most humble, when we realize that God alone can save us?
As Fr. John Behr points out, that happens in the tomb. "Death will finally reveal in which direction my heart is oriented. " However, until that point, it is still I who am doing this, dying to myself. "When, on the other hand, I am finally returned to the dust, then I stop working. " Then, and only then, do I finally experience my complete and utter frailty and weakness. "Then, and only then, do I become clay (for I never was this), clay fashioned by the Hands of God into living flesh. " And so, it is also only then that the God whose strength is made perfect in weakness can finally be the Creator: "taking dust from the earth which I now am and mixing in his power, he now, finally fashions a true, living, human being -- 'the glory of God.'
It's why the martyrs of the Church aren't afraid to dying, because they have already died to their false selves and are truly alive in Christ. It's why, in his famous Paschal homily, St. John Chrysostom quoted the brave words of St. Paul: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” Because death has been transformed, from the end to the beginning; to the final perfecting of humility, of fully setting aside our pride, so that God could finally complete His work and make us true human beings.
So let's be the bee, and not fear death. Be the Bee, and Live Orthodoxy. Remember to like and subscribe, and share. I'll see you all next week. Thanks to our supporters on Patreon who helped make this episode possible. To support the creation of more Orthodox Christian content, please visit patreon.com/y2am.
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