"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." -- 1 Corinthians 15:26
"Death is the essential condition of life, not an evil." -- Charlotte Perkins Gilman
These quotations encapsulate the core debate between the naturalistic worldview and the creationist worldview. The evolutionary naturalist insists that death is a "good" and "essential" mechanism to produce the upward movement of "time's arrow." By contrast, the Bible defines death as an enemy and the result of God's judgment on Adam for his rebellion. God's good creation was cursed by death that was "passed upon all men" (Romans 5:12).
Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935) was an ardent American Darwinist, utopian feminist, and evolutionary humanist, whose prolific writings on sociology through her novels, short stories, poetry, non-fiction, and social reform lectures heavily impacted early 20th-century thinking. Sadly, her view of death as an "essential condition of life" has been embraced by many within the theological world.
Did God design eons of death into the creation?
Some have suggested that all living things were originally designed by God to die, that over the millions of years in which animal and pre-human life was developing, death played a perfectly natural role in the creation. Some have even taught that the death which God threatened Adam with was a "special" kind of death that applied only to humans.
Necessary death and long ages are exactly what atheistic science would advocate. How can the God who is life create death as part of His own signature? How ludicrous to think God would design death into His creation, and then agonize over the necessity of His own death in order to bring us salvation. Death by the design of God is absolutely foreign to the revealed nature of God (Romans 1:20).
In Genesis 3--the turning point in Scripture--all of the "good" was instantly withdrawn by God, who by His word activated the "groaning and travailing" of the earth and its inhabitants. The ground was cursed, yielding thorns and thistles, surrounding Adam with sorrowful labor for the rest of his life until he himself would return to the earth from which he was fashioned.
But was God lying? Was He now blaming Adam for what He Himself had done? If the death pronounced by God is nothing more than a "symbol" of a greater message, then death can be relegated to a mystical musing that has no tangible meaning.
Is physical death irrelevant for salvation?
A most dangerous extension of the "death" equation is that physical death becomes essentially irrelevant in the punishment of sin. Gethsemane's agonizing was for nothing, and the hundreds of warnings, curses, and consequences detailed in Scripture are now twisted into allegorical advice or suggestions.
However, physical death is specifically identified as absolutely necessary to accomplish the atonement for sins (Hebrews 9:22). If the "blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19), how is it possible to separate this formal and demanding requirement from physical death? Jesus participated in "flesh and blood" only because we are flesh and blood, and by this means He brought reconciliation through His death on the cross (Hebrews 2:14-18), thereby destroying the devil's power of death.
If there were eons of pain, suffering, and death before the awful rebellion of Adam brought "death" into the world, then the suffering of our Lord Jesus becomes unnecessary. If the "wages of sin" is nothing more than some sort of spiritualized distance from the Creator, then the entire burden of sin becomes nothing more than a mental attitude. Heaven and hell are "what you make of it."
Twisting the words of Scripture so that Christ’s physical death had no meaning is a terrible heresy.
* Dr. Morris is Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Morris III, H. 2009. The Issues of Death. Acts & Facts. 38 (11): 22.