Why Do We Die After the Resurrection?

Why Do We Die After the Resurrection? May 19, 2015

A reader writes:

Hi Mark! I have a silly question but it’s something I’ve wondered about for a while now and I was hoping maybe you could shed some light on it for me.

So I know that we believe that death came into the world through Adam’s sin, and that Christ, as the New Adam, came to undo the damage caused by that sin. I also know that the Resurrection was Christ’s victory over sin and death.

What I’m confused about is, why do we still have to suffer and die? I know at the end of time we will get our bodies back, but I’m just wondering what the wait is for, if that makes any sense.

I guess it just doesn’t seem like Jesus really changed much. I do believe He did. It’s just hard sometimes when I still see all this sin and suffering in the world, and I kind of wonder what exactly God’s waiting for, you know?

Anyways, I hope that long-winded question made sense. Any help you can give would be appreciated.

These are deep waters. Our faith tells us that God does what is a) to his glory and b) for our good (one and the same thing ultimately). So the question is, “How is this to his glory and our good rather than simply waving a wand and making death go away?” My guess is that we tend to look at things backward and assume that the order of things is our good (by which we mean *my* good) and his glory. Why do I have to die? Second, why do people I love have to die? And only third, if ever, where is the glory of God in that?

But Athanasius (following 2 Peter 1:4) says that God became man that men might become God (that is, partakers in the divine nature). Viewed that way–and putting Christ at the center of the universe–it could be that death is, as Tolkien calls it, God’s strange gift to us. Angels can’t experience it. We are the only creatures in the universe (so far as we know) who can participate, as rational animals, in exactly the same thing Christ experienced. So we are, as Paul says, conformed to his death that we may be conformed to his resurrection. Paul, of course, notes that we will not all die, but will all be changed. But for some reason, God has chosen that the bulk of those in Christ endure death as he did, for the sake of a better resurrection.

That is frankly mysterious. But it is a mystery in keeping with the larger mystery of the gift. Chesterton talks about the strange logic of Faerie and how it reflects the strangeness of our world in Orthodoxy:

If the miller’s third son said to the fairy, “Explain why I must not stand on my head in the fairy palace,” the other might fairly reply, “Well, if it comes to that, explain the fairy palace.” If Cinderella says, “How is it that I must leave the ball at twelve?” her godmother might answer, “How is it that you are going there till twelve?” If I leave a man in my will ten talking elephants and a hundred winged horses, he cannot complain if the conditions partake of the slight eccentricity of the gift. He must not look a winged horse in the mouth. And it seemed to me that existence was itself so very eccentric a legacy that I could not complain of not understanding the limitations of the vision when I did not understand the vision they limited. The frame was no stranger than the picture.

Similarly, the question “Why is there still death and suffering after the Resurrection?” begs the question “Why do we get a Christ, or his passion, death, and Resurrection?” As Robert Farrar Capon once wisely said, “God has loves, not reasons.”

I regard our participation in the death of Christ in the same way. We know from revelation that it is not strictly necessary that we suffer death since the resurrection. Mary, say millions of Christians, did not experience death (though the Church is silent on whether or not she died). But whether Mary died or not (and there are arguments for and against this) Paul clearly declares that “we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed” (1 Cor 15:51-52). So death is not, strictly speaking, necessary. But God has elected to give us the gift of a share in Christ’s death–a secret of his inscrutable counsels I for one don’t understand and certainly do not, in my flesh, desire. But I recognize that it gives me the chance to say, with Christ, “Not my will, but yours, be done.” As near as I can tell, that is the point of the gift.

But then, what do I know?

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