God’s Design of Death

by Max Andrews

There are many facets to death and death is a character of many hats.  Death wears a natural hat and a spiritual hat, both of which I will address.  My proposition I want to make a case for is that death is designed by God.

First point of discussion, natural death.  Natural death will, of course, entails theological implications.  This is also an issue of fine-tuning.  Does death happen today? Yes. Does decay happen today? Yes.  Via astronomical inquiry can we see if the physics of the universe have ever changed? Yes. Have they? No.  I think there can be a strong case for a geological inquiry, but because I believe an astronomical inquiry ultimately encompasses a geological study, we shall include that.  Being that death and decay were predetermined by the laws of physics (that God created and designed), we have an issue don’t we?  If we assume that death is bad and had never been intended, then why did God create a universe of inevitable death? I think the answer is quite obvious and that is that we were never intended to live forever in this universe.  Well, okay, but that only puts the question back a step.  Why is there still death in this creation?  Why do animals and humans die? I mean, death entered the world as a result of sin, right?

Let’s have a thought experiment.  If Adam, before sin, had tripped and fell on a big sharp rock and cut his head open, would he die? Think about it, the neurological and cranial damage would be tremendous and even if that wasn’t damaged, there is still the risk of infection. What if Adam wanted to enjoy a swim in the river, what if he got a cramp and couldn’t swim anymore and drowned?  I hear the objections already, “Well God could alter the physics or perform a miracle,” or, “Adam would have seen that rock or would have known not to swim at that time.” Sure, these are possible, but not plausible.  I think those objections won’t work because you have a problem of a theodicy on your hands, why wouldn’t God interfere with Adam sinning?  Both were free decisions.  Also, you have a problem of noetic sin if you play the cognitive card.  Was Adam’s cognitive faculty super human (in comparison to today’s faculty) in that he would have known where all the big and sharp rocks were and would he have known where to step and what to do and when to do it to avoid any harm?  I think both objections are too ad hoc and are cases of special pleading.

I think it’s obvious that death occurs/could have occurred prior to the fall (personally, I believe non-human death did happen before the fall).  The death of plants and animals are crucial for health ecosystems (see William Lane Craig give an example).  Butterflies, grass, plants, bacteria, and all animals are not moral agents and thus, the consequence of the fall, the entrance of sin into the world, did not apply to those things listed.  The penalty of death into the world for humans is a spiritual one (and a physical one, God removed the tree of life, which we see returns in the new creation Rom. 5.12; Rev. 22).  In conclusion, natural death is good and is necessary in light of thermodynamics and healthy ecosystems.

Though theology was briefly discussed in the previous facet, this point will entail the personal impact and understanding of death and how it relates to God.  Let me try to bring this to a reality.  This past week a Liberty student died in an extremely improbable accident. One of the last Facebook posts for the student was,

It’s awesome when you follow God in what he is calling you to do.  I got an internship doing social work and a possible summer internship as well.  God is so great and he truly has a bigger plan for you than what you have for yourself. (Not verbatim, words and structure changed for privacy).

Remember, this student died just a few days later!  Read the last sentence again, “God is so great and he truly has a bigger plan for you than what you have for yourself.” She thought she was doing social work, but no, that wasn’t it at all.  God had a greater plan, and I do believe that.  I believe that God’s bigger plan was her death at that time.  We often say, “God has a purpose,” but do we understand what that means?  If death is teleological, purposeful, it was also designed.  Now let’s put this in a bigger perspective of divine providence.  God has designed and purposed every person’s death at an appropriate time.  If death wasn’t designed then it has no purpose, and if it has no purpose then God is not truly providential if something is to happen outside of his control.  Death certainly has a facet of mourning and sorrow.  We just lost someone who we will no longer be with in this life.  We see the dreams our loved one and how they will never be able to seen or fulfilled.  We naturally see it that way, we’re going to miss those who die.  Ecclesiastes 3 says there’s a time for everything, for mourning and weeping and a time for celebration and rejoicing.  Let’s think eternally, our loved one’s joy and ultimate dream is being fulfilled in the next life, not this life’s dreams, but an eternal desire and glorification of the self to be with Christ.  The mourning must turn to rejoicing for that person.  However, we are still here in this life and our pain may continue on and we may never know why that person died.  We may never have closure and we may have thorn in our side our whole life wondering, “Why?”  I wish I could answer that for you, but I can’t.

So why does God allow pain and suffering?  I don’t know and I don’t think we can know.  We are not spatiotemporally privileged enough to know why God permitted something to happen.  As long as humans are free and responsible for their actions, God is all powerful, and God is all knowing, then I cannot ask God, “Why?” without him asking me the same question in return.  Pain and suffering isn’t an illusion, it’s really there, but we must take comfort in the God who knows what we don’t.  So why does God allow death?  Because he designed and purposed death to happen so that he may usher in the new creation and a new life.  The metanarrative (for the lack of a better word) of life and death is incredibly beautiful.  Ecologically, death must happen so that life may happen.  Theologically, death is necessary for us to have life.  Christ had to die so that we may live.  Die to yourselves daily so that we may live in him!  What a beautiful design.  I must say, the design of life is the most beautiful design ever, but the design of death is beautiful as well.  It’s ironically comforting, to be able to know that death brings life.  Let’s not be naive, unless you’re in an intimate relationship with this providential designer, death is horrifying and the end to all things beautiful.  The design of death isn’t beautiful to the lost and perishing.  It’s beautifully just, yes, but only Christ’s death allows death to be the comfort that it is.

Recommended Reading:

The book of Ecclesiastes

The End of Christianity:  Finding a Good God in an Evil World (Dembski, William)

A Matter of Days:  Resolving a Creation Controversy (Ross, Hugh)

Why The Universe Is The Way It Is (Ross, Hugh)

Why Trust Jesus? (Sterrett, Dave)


9 Responses to “God’s Design of Death”

  1. Hi Max, I like your blog! I’ve been on here a couple of times now. Great post above. So I figure you weren’t speaking from a biology perspective here, but from one, I think these comments were spot on:

    “If death is teleological, purposeful, it was also designed.”

    “…[God] designed and purposed death to happen…”

    Lots of evolutionary biologists argue that ageing and death are epiphenomena, and that natural selection hasn’t ‘designed’ it to happen. It’s just an accident that got stuck in our genes way back in time. But contrary to the received view, there’s actually good evidence from the biochemistry of the cell that ageing and death are highly organised and ‘intentional’ phenomena. (In evolutionary lingo, I wrote a paper arguing this earlier this year, if you’re interested; http://biohorizons.oupjournals.org/content/3/1/77.full) I think this is good evidence that God designed or programmed our human bodies to age and die. So I totally agree with your post; and death is no accident, even it happens ‘naturally’ :)

    • Thank Lucy! Thanks for stopping by, it’s good to hear from you again!

      Your paper is very impressive. I skimmed through it and I’d like to take some time to really go through the details. My post was mostly a theological question of the problem of pain and suffering, an objection to the teleological argument. On it’s own terms, I’d love to really get down into the natural design of death aspect of it all. Very interesting :-)

  2. really odd feeling to google my cousin’s name and find this post.My cousin Max Andrews committed suicide in February of this year by standing in front of a train.
    This is not an understandable thing-I have many good and strong Christian faith friends who I live alongside, but I don’t share their beliefs. I was raised through Catholic schooling while my parents were agnostics-a rather confusing time for me! I learned to love Christ but held on to my personal belief that he was a great philosopher and advocate of humanity. I am a Christian, but do not have a belief of God as an entity. I don’t believe in judgement or a higher power’s forgiveness-this time last week I argued with a deeply Christian friend who stated that I couldn’t be a Christian if I didn’t agree that Christ was the son of God. I’ve read my bible-I deem it to be a fantastic and beautiful statement of humanity. Christianity to me is respecting the teachings of Jesus Christ. When faced with death I am not afraid because my time on earth is measured by my own behaviour. I am responsible for my treatment of others and if I am untoward, I will make amends-not look to be ‘forgiven’ by an entity I deem to have been created by humans to ‘explain’ our existence. When a loved one is removed from life by their own design (i.e.my cousin’s suicide)or by some tragic accident or illness, I am only comforted by the fact that they had their time-and my memory and love for them is strong enough to respect their existence. I think we’d all like to think we go somewhere better, but that’s ego. If we are all equal in God’s eyes then we are who we are-I’d prefer my epitaph to read “She did her darn best to be nice-didn’t always get it right, but we loved her anyway” than imagine that some invention gives me grace. Sorry, but it just don’t truck with me-not so long ago the Church wouldn’t respect burials of people who took their own life.When my troubled cousin took his life I told his mother to speak to the vicar of the church she lived next door to. She was immediately afraid to tell him the nature of his death because of that. Thank his ‘God’ I was right to give her that advice because he was amazing. He read the eulogy at the crematorium and said what we all wanted to hear.He told us to try to remove the nature of Max’s death from our minds and just remember him as a beautiful and wonderful boy. That is a true Christian-to comfort and care.
    I truly believe that if I did think ‘God’ existed, I’d be less forgiving-I’d say, why did you let that boy do that? I’d rather sit with it, knowing that he was deeply troubled, and that although I wish I’d done more to help him, ultimately, even if I’d been standing right next to him on the station platform, and held him and not let him jump-I’d only have delayed his need to leave us. There is no design for us-we just need to do our best while we’re here. I may be wrong, we’ll see when my time comes.For now,I extend my deepest respect to your faith-we’re all in this together x

  3. sorry this is a p.s.-just re-read my post to check i wasn’t being out of order, then re-read your post. I have a complete understanding of a seemingly’unfair’ death-how do you marry your belief of death being god’s design when, for example, a child is kidnapped, tortured and murdered? i know full well you’ll have an answer but i get the feeling i will STRONGLY disagree with it.It will bounce directly back to human accountability which will prove my point-humans are capable of terrible things and yet we are all equal in god’s eyes? unless we’re catholics, then we go to hell. But-oops-seems like the Pope’s been protecting and hiding paeodophiles for quite some time. So innocent kids get raped by priests….part of ‘God’s’ design? No no no…..

  4. I would like to start my response first off by saying that I am a young earth creationist, however, that being said, while I used to believe foolishly that physical death was created because of Adam’s sin, i now no longer believe such a thing. The basis for this false belief rests on very misunderstood concepts and interpretations of Scripture, especially Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Yes, all of creation is groaning for the fulness of the redemption to be brought forth. Yes, Adam’s sin caused some death. The context in Romans, however, is NOT physical death, as creationists often claim. No, the context is clearly spiritual death. Why then did Adam’s sin bring spiritual death into the world? Because spiritual death is caused by sin by very definition.

    I have also come to the conclusion you have come to, that is, that death is a natural and beautiful thing in its original intention. What is its original intention? Baruch, Jeremiah the prophet’s scribe, according to 2 Baruch (which I regard as Scripture) teaches quite clearly that Adam’s sin did in fact create premature physical death. What does this mean? Well, instead of living much much longer, according to another book I consider Scripture, the Book of Jubilees, God’s punishment was twofold: physical and spiritual death. Notice He said “on the day” that you eat of it, you shall die. In Scripture, such as the Epistle of Barnabas and 2 Peter quoting the Psalms of David, we see the teaching of the 1,000 years as a day teaching. We even find this in the Book of Hosea, where it prophesies that for 2,000 years the Israelites will be in exile, and the on the third day, they will return: “Hosea 6: 1 Come, and let us return to the LORD;
    For He has torn, but He will heal us;
    He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
    2 After two days He will revive us;
    On the third day He will raise us up,
    That we may live in His sight. ”

    Epistle of Barnabas ” The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: “And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.” Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, “He finished in six days.” This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, “Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years.” Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. “And He rested on the seventh day.” This meaneth: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the-sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.”

    Book of Jubilees “And at the close of the nineteenth jubilee, in the seventh week in the sixth year thereof, Adam died, and all his sons buried him in the land of his creation, and he was the first to be buried in the earth. And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; for one thousand years are as one day in the testimony of the heavens and therefore was it written concerning the tree of knowledge: ‘On the day that ye eat thereof ye shall die.’ For this reason he did not complete the years of this day; for he died during it.”

    This is all premature death. Notice also the following from 2 Baruch:

    “For though Adam first sinned
    And brought untimely death upon all,”

    “For [since] when he transgressed
    Untimely death came into being,
    Grief was named
    And anguish was prepared,
    And pain was created,
    And trouble consummated,
    And disease began to be established,”

    “And then healing shall descend in dew,
    And disease shall withdraw,
    And anxiety and anguish and lamentation pass from amongst men,
    And gladness proceed through the whole earth.
    3 And no one shall again die untimely,
    Nor shall any adversity suddenly befall.
    4 And judgments, and abusive talk, and contentions, and revenges,
    And blood, and passions, and envy, and hatred,
    And whatsoever things are like these shall go into condemnation when they are removed.
    5 For it is these very things which have filled this world with evils,
    And on account of these the life of man has been greatly troubled.
    6 And wild beasts shall come from the forest and minister unto men
    And asps and dragons shall come forth from their holes to submit themselves to a little child.
    7 And women shall no longer then have pain when they bear,
    Nor shall they suffer torment when they yield the fruit of the womb.”

    It is clear thus from Scripture (as it is also testified in the Book of Genesis where the fall of adam resulted in curses that affected the physical, such as more difficult working of the land, increasing pain in childbirth, and the serpents eating literal dust as they do and will continue to do until the next life) that Adam’s sin did not create physical death, but it did corrupt the environment in such a way that premature death was brought into existence. Disease, severe pain, a short maximum lifespan, and murder was NEVER intended to be existing, but this things came into being because of sin.

    Many object and say, “how dare you say that death is a good thing; such and such a person died in such a way, proving that death is evil, and not good.” But, that is a major fallacy. take for example sex: sex is in and of itself a good thing. But when sex is abused, it becomes bad and thus evil. So, someone dying in a bad way does not demonstrate death is in and of itself a bad thing, but demonstrates that the abuse of death is a bad thing. Notice how things are designed: in order for a creature to live, it must eat food. In order for a creature to have food, another creature must die. Animals eat plants. Animals eat other animals. Humans eat plants and animals. Some plants eat animals and humans. Its a wonderful relationship, and it is very beautiful and in order. This was clearly designed for death.

    We learn from Scripture, 2 Esdras (also known as 4 Ezra), that death was created for the sake of righteousness. In other words, this first life is our test. We will get rewarded for whatever grade we get on the test, and receive that reward in the entirety of the next life.

    You make great points from science demonstrating death is intentional and very much a part of God’s righteous design.

    You said: “If we assume that death is bad and had never been intended, then why did God create a universe of inevitable death? I think the answer is quite obvious and that is that we were never intended to live forever in this universe.”

    My response: I couldn’t agree more!

    We can clearly see that Adam was never created immortal. For, in the Scripture, the Book of Enoch, we read the passage that the Messiah referred to as Scripture, where God explains to Enoch why the angels were not given wives:

    ” And go, say to ⌈⌈the Watchers of heaven⌉⌉, who have sent thee to intercede ⌈⌈for them: “You should intercede”⌉⌉ for men, and not men for you: 3. Wherefore have ye left the high, holy, and eternal heaven, and lain with women, and defiled yourselves with the daughters of men and taken to yourselves wives, and done like the children of earth, and begotten giants (as your) sons? 4. And though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten (children) with the blood of flesh, and, as the children of men, have lusted after flesh and blood as those ⌈also⌉ do who die and perish. 5. Therefore have I given them wives also that they might impregnate them, and beget children by them, that thus nothing might be wanting to them on earth. 6. But you were ⌈formerly⌉ spiritual, living the eternal life, and immortal for all generations of the world. 7. And therefore I have not appointed wives for you; for as for the spiritual ones of the heaven, in heaven is their dwelling.”

    So, in other words, we marry only because we are not immortal/eternal. Immortal/eternal beings according to Enoch (and the Messiah for that matter, see Gospel of Matthew Chapter 22) clearly teach that humans were always mortal, because they were always intended to marry in this life, even before the fall of Adam.

    Now, in the next life (eternal life), I believe we will be immortal. There will be no pain or death. Are you aware of people who have no nerves whatsoever? They can feel, and do everything else, they just can’t feel pain. I believe this is how it will be for the elect righteous. They will never experience pain. And likewise, their bodies will never be able to be damaged. Thus, it will be like a video game in a sense where you grab that invincibility item that gives you invincibility, except, there is no item to grab in the next life, and the effect never wears off. You will always be invincible so long as you are in the presence of God in the eternal life. But the fact is, we have never yet been in the eternal life, and thus have always been mortal, never immortal beings.

    One need not to be able to physically hurt themselves in order for God to be justified. Physical death and pain have a plan and purpose, but this plan and purpose has no place in eternal life. In the next life, we will still have free will to sin, and this would be pain in a non-physical sense, which God is unable to remove, and would send us to hell, but I believe this will never happen by virtue of our free will. If God were to intervene in such a way as you suggest to make it so that Adam would never be able to sin, then God would be guilty of sin because it is a sin to violate one’s free will.

    Adam did have amazing cognitive abilities by necessity, however, this cognitive ability has no bearing as to whether or not he could hurt himself physically or even kill himself. Notice also that God said He shall INCREASE Eve’s pain in childbearing significantly. He did not say He shall create pain in childbearing. No, God’s words indicate that pain in childbearing was ALWAYS part of the plan, and the curse of Eve was that she would have an increase in the original amount of pain that was intended. And if pain was intended, it is likely that death was also intended. Let us also read Clement of Alexandria quoting a lost Scripture from the Messiah:

    “The Lord said to Salome when she inquired: How long shall death prevail? ‘As long as ye women bear children’, not because life is an ill, and the creation evil: but as showing the sequence of nature: for in all cases birth is followed by decay.”

    You said this: “I think it’s obvious that death occurs/could have occurred prior to the fall (personally, I believe non-human death did happen before the fall). The death of plants and animals are crucial for health ecosystems (see William Lane Craig give an example).”

    My response: I completely agree.

    You said this: “Butterflies, grass, plants, bacteria, and all animals are not moral agents and thus, the consequence of the fall, the entrance of sin into the world, did not apply to those things listed.”

    My response: I completely disagree, but this doesn’t prove your position wrong regarding God’s design for death, because we both believe the same thing regarding such (i think).

    You said this: “So why does God allow pain and suffering?”

    My response: Imagine this: when sin is committed, what happens? You just made pain and suffering for God. So, the answer to why pain and suffering exist is because we have free will, and if pain and suffering were impossible, we would be robbed of free will, which would be a serious evil. There’s also a second reason physical pain and death exists: without physical pain, a being could not be punished for their sins. Without punishment for one’s sins, righteousness cannot exist. God is all about righteousness, so everything exists for the sake of righteousness, and this is especially so with physical pain.

    You said: “Christ had to die so that we may live.”

    My response: I don’t completely agree. Rather, I believe that Christ had to die so that those that have sinned may live. Just thought I’d make the distinction between our views =). Also, I believe the atonement of the Messiah was His complete life, rather than His death. Part of one’s life is dying, but that’s only a very small part of it. That’s just the end. But if you never make the journey of everything before the end/death, then you will never get to the end. His death was just the end of the atonement, but the atonement was actually His entire life, in my belief. I advocate recapitulation view of the atonement.

    For those that view physical and eternal death for the wicked as not beautiful, I say that I believe it is beautiful because it is morally righteous and just, and that is beautiful, and it is also beautiful because they in a sense have life! They are alive. Notice those in torments do not ask to stop existing. They ask to stop being in pain. The point is, eternal death is extremely worse than eternal life, but eternal non-existence is even worse than eternal death. Thus, even in their death, it is beautiful, because they are alive rather than non-existent.

  5. Max, I spent a few years longing for death because of the pain inflicted by trigeminal neuralgia. I wondered why I suffered, why God didn’t end my life and allow me to join Him in Heaven. You probably know that people who have trigeminal neuralgia often ponder the topics of suffering and death. I don’t have answers but I feel confident that if God allowed His own Son to suffer, we won’t escape this life without experiencing it. Jesus was without sin, but he didn’t escape the wrath that was meant for us. Would I suffer with TN and GN again for the sake of people who don’t love me? I don’t have what it takes to say yes. His love is much greater than mine.

    Excellent topic. God bless you.

  6. Trackbacks

Leave a Reply