God and Death – Does Death Mean That God Has Failed?

God and death

‘People die, so there is no God!’ he said. Believe it or not, this sums up a peculiar objection that is increasingly more common today about reconciling God and death. Oddly enough, people expect that for God to exist, He must first meet their preconditions; in this case, that God should grant them life, at least into their good old age. And maybe even that God should, if he exists, give them peace and comfort. What’s wrong with these unrealistic expectations?

The claim is that if there is a God, then people should not die, at least not until our subjective demands of a “good” life are met. In other words, if God existed, He would not create the kind of world that undergoes any sort of decay and in which our subjective demands of a full life are compromised. But why? Why would an omniscient, omnipotent being be constricted to creating that kind of world? Before one comes to impose an expectation on the way things are, one must first understand the things in the context in which they are at the moment. Now then, let’s examine the various pieces of this objection.

What is Death?

Let’s examine our shared understanding of the material world. In this universe, the material view of death is the decay of cells, tissues, and organs or a complete system failure of an organism due to some trauma. Physical death is either the result of decay or trauma. Now, how are we to understand those things? Decay is a byproduct of the universe. All material things that come into existence must undergo decay. If an organism undergoes more decay than its system can handle, it will die.

What we are to make of decay and death depends on our worldview. In a world without God, physical life is all that there is. There is no soul. Your consciousness will one day cease and you will go extinct. You simply try to sustain your physical health for as long as possible and then fade into nothingness. Within atheism, death is extinction so there is no point in asking if within the atheistic world death is a tragedy, as it most certainly is the greatest of tragedies since there is no hope of our existence continuing after the grave.

In a world with God, specifically God as understood within theism, in addition to the physical bodies, we also have souls that persist after physical death. Within theism, death is a doorway to the next realm in which the soul lives on and not a cessation. Human life is a body-soul unity. Within theism, the body cannot live without the soul. However, the soul is capable of existing without the body. Death within atheism is cessation. Death within theism is a transition from a form of existence of a body-soul unity to the continuation of the soul without the body.

Couldn’t God Create People Who Would Not Die?

Technically speaking, within theism, there is no such thing as death since the soul continues to exist after the physical body has died. Therefore, claiming that God has failed because people die doesn’t make a whole lot of sense once we take everything into consideration. But what about physical death? Why would God not create creatures who simply wouldn’t die?

If there was no death, God would have to create creatures who would be eternal into the future, creatures that even He would have no control over – could not judge and would lose the prerogative of explicitly ending their lives himself. God would have to have created creatures over which He would cease to have control. But an omnipotent Being could not create free creatures over whom He would lose control. So the kind of world that is being asked for by people who want that kind of world is a logical impossibility.

It is true that heaven is an eternal state of being in the presence of God and not experiencing any kind of pain, suffering, and decay but there is an enormous difference with heaven – people have themselves freely chosen to go there. God never forces anyone into heaven. God will try to woo you but he won’t force you. If God loves humanity as the Scriptures tell us, and his chief aim is to want love in return, the compulsion of anything in regard to that relationship between God and man can play absolutely no role. As C.S. Lewis put it,

“Either we say to God ‘Thy will be done’ or in the end, He says to us, ‘Thy will be done.'” ILewis, C. S., The Great Divorce (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) 75

A heaven for those who do not like God and do not want Him would be a far worse hell than the real hell. Imagine a person who does not like opera being forced to sit in the front row of an opera house, where he is forced to watch La Bohème indefinitely.

The choices we make in life reveal our longings and desires. The time we spend doing this or that reveals what we value most in life. If we denounce the God who’s pursuing our love, we are choosing an eternity apart from that love. If we don’t want God in this temporary life, we’re not going to want him in the next life for all of eternity. The biggest problem is that most of us get so used to having control of our time, we often feel invincible and don’t consider what it would mean if our time runs out.

If Death is Not Final, Why Avoid It?

Do we still fear death? Absolutely! Do we dread it? Yes. We typically fear and dread anything that is mysterious. Based merely on our human experience, how much more should we fear and dread death? The cessation of our physical bodies and the unknown of what is to come is sure to strike at least some fear even in the bravest among us. However, though we may fear death, we can also have a faith of the realm to come in which those who have sought God in this life, found forgiveness in His sight and accepted Him as Lord and Savior will dwell with Him in eternity.

This is precisely why, the apostle, Paul, uttered,

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)

But Why Would God Create This Kind of World?

I suppose this is an interesting question to think about but as a way to reject God, it falls flat. Think about it – a finite creature supposing that the greatest conceivable being could have absolutely no good reasons for the decisions He made regarding how He formed the universe and ordered reality. It’s simply nonsense. The one claiming this would have to demonstrate unequivocally that this is the case – an order so tall no philosopher alive attempts to undertake it.

For anyone to assume that he's more knowledgeable than God about all the entailments of all the events in human history is mind-boggling. For anyone to assume that he knows the purpose of the universe better than one who formed it is… Click To Tweet

For anyone to assume that he’s more knowledgeable than God about all the entailments of all the events in human history is mind-boggling. For anyone to assume that he knows the purpose of the universe better than one who formed it is the height of arrogance. For anyone to deify himself to reject God is the epitome of foolishness and futility. People assume that pain and suffering play no role in this realm. People assume that their comfort is the chief responsibility of God and any compromise of that comfort spells the end of God. The pinnacle of fatuity!

Physical death is part of this world, whether we like it or not. And the creator of the world could have millions of reasons for ordering the world the way He’s chosen to order it. We’re simply not in any favorable position to pronounce judgment over whether there was a better way to achieve the chief end of the creator’s purposes.

References   [ + ]

I. Lewis, C. S., The Great Divorce (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001) 75
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