Common Grace, 1.28

Common Grace, 1.28 December 24, 2019

This post is part of a series walking through the first volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.

Just what is death?

“… the essential meaning of dying lies rather in the tearing loose or dissolving of the bonds that should be joined by virtue of our creation. Tearing loose, dissolution, that is the actual essence of death, and when death is presented as a personal force, it is the dissolve of what God bound together, the one who tears asunder what God united…. ‘And death shall be no more’… certainly does not mean, of course, that all the damned will have eternal life, but rather that there is nothing left to tear loose, nothing to dissolve. Damnation certainly remains… a death as profound and as all-encompassing as death can be. The consequences of death may persist and continue, but death itself, as a decomposing force, will one day no longer exist.” (245-246)

In other words, ‘death’ is the undoing of the various organic bonds God has created us with. We were made according to a certain order and harmony in a holy and organic unity, a bond that binds the soul and body together. But not just soul and body: we are also bound to God as our creator, and to other human beings as our brothers, and to the natural and created order as our stewardship. Death attacks these four bonds (1. God and the individual soul; 2. soul and body; 3. body and natural world; 4. person and person) and the organic harmonies of life are set against each other.

So the statement from God ‘you shall die’ was a warning of what would happen to these bonds should Adam and Eve disobey.

This also, Kuyper includes as a side-note, undermines any notion of annhilationism. To say that our connections are broken is not the same thing as saying that we cease to exist.

The good news for us is that in the atonement, Christ bore this death in our place and in the place of all who will repent and believe in the Gospel:

“The fact that the essence of death lies in separating what God has joined is confirmed by the death of Christ as Mediator, for us, in our place. [1.] It needs no further elaboration that in Jesus’ case it came to a separation of soul and body [Kuyper thinks the blood and water flowing from His side is intended to show the separation from soul and body]… But that was not all…
[2.] In this connection we must also note the word spoken on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ This also points to a separation, to the most fearful separation, to the separation between God and the soul. And although it is completely beyond our comprehension how and in what manner the Mediator in his humanity could be separated from God for even one moment, the fact is nevertheless irrefutable. Jesus’ own word in his dying is our guarantee…
[3] Jesus also struggled through the abandonment, the separation, the being torn away, from his friends. What is reported to us about Gethsemane… is so puzzling that anyone reading this sense how a mysterious force was at work here on the disciples… this abandonment by people, this tearing asunder of the most tender ties he possessed as a human being, was the draining of a bitter draught from the chalice of death that was handed him.” (251-252)

The one aspect of death Kuyper leaves out is the separation of man from nature and the natural world. Isn’t that also restored on the cross? I certainly wouldn’t work to put words in Kuyper’s mouth, so I don’t know for sure what he would say here. I will say that one possible reading is that the re-forging of our bonds with the natural world will only come after Christ’s return and we dwell in the new heavens and the new earth. As such, we still live in a fallen natural world and should not expect our bonds with animals and plants and such to be restored in the same way our bonds with God, with each other, and within ourselves are beginning to be on the other side of justification. I wouldn’t want to stand too firmly on that without thinking about it more, but it’s at least one possibility.

In addition to this particular, saving grace, we also see here where common grace steps in. At the moment of death, God slows and delays judgment while simultaneously setting the stage for the mercy of saving grace. Which raises the question of what ‘in that day’ meant–doesn’t that imply that judgment would be full and immediate? That is the subject of the next chapter…

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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