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Friday, September 02, 2005

Eschatology and Thanatology

In a sermon series I gave a message in recently, I was assigned to preach on "life" and the other on "death". His sermon was outstanding (based on the texts Ecclesiates 12 and Psalm 90). One of the things that was very clear in it was that the Bible has a rich and clear view of death, that is, there is a biblical thanatology.

Just as man has a basic dignity being made in the image of God, it is precisely that dignity which obliges his final end, since he has failed the duty to image God from the very begining (the Fall) and consequently has made his own death just.

In the case of individuals, that mean that each individual is not just going to die but that each individual is divinely appointed to die. What this means of course for end-of-life situations is that one thing we cannot do is resist death at any cost as if to defeat God's divine appointment. So when it is clear that the patient is dying (a matter of judgement), one is in no position to try to resist it.

Not even Christians are delivered from this appointment in every sense. As Romans 8 makes clear, our bodies are dead because of sin and we must experince death in order to be free and must receive new bodies to be saved. Even if we are not dead when Christ appears, we must "die" right then, that it, we must be transformed in a twinkling of an eye so that the perishable will put on the imperishable.

One can see a little bit then how thanatology relates to individual eschatology. But this judgement false not just on individuals but on the race as a whole. Man must die because man sinned. There is thus an appointment with death for the whole race. That means that in some sense mankind is appointed to extinction. And this suggests the view that just as individuals (Eccles. 12) will face a rime when death is progressively taking hold of them draining them of their youthful powers and cognitive abilities until it finally becomes irresistable, so to the human race faces a collective malaise of death to which it will ultimately succumb.

Certain deathlike symptoms already may be apparent in the autistic character of the western worldview since the Enlightenment. Also the demands on human responsibility created by the rapid development of technology have radically increased and require a huge investment in creative attention in order to cope. But the shriviling up of moral understanding secures a multiplcataion of means and an Alzheimer's symptoms about ends. Mankind seems on the verge of pushing the button that activates the dynamite it's sitting on.

I suspect that the deterioration toward death will be coordinate to "Satan's little season", when humanity is running amok with impatience with God and rampant hubris. The manifestation of end of life features will be prevelant throughout existing humanity when Jesus returns. The Christian Church will appear to be in eclipse in a sense just as the best features of a human life are hard to see in someone who is close to death. So even when Christ claims the whole world substantially the light of this will fade from view as death makes its appointed approach to all humanity.

It would be difficult to call such a view pessimistic, since death serves God's appointed purpose, and its success in time means God's will is being accomplished. it also effects are attitude toward the difficulties we must face in the future as Christians by understanding why these things must take place and why there taking place will keep us from being afraid or fealing as if God has been defeated.

So based on the analogy between individual and universal eschatoogy already present in systematic theology, it seems reasonable to conclude that the analogy also extends to include an analogy between the death of individuals and the death of the race. The value of this conclusion is that it seems to makes sense of and to intergrate the various "amil" and "postmil" features of realized eschatology. God's will is going to succeed on both fronts, both on the front of seeing the judgement of death served on all humanity and on the front of all of humanity being redeemed representatively by Christ.