DEATH – GOOD OR EVIL?
WHAT WILL OCCUR AFTER DEATH
Although we have an idea of death and are subject to its constant threat, there is more concerning death that is good and edifying knowledge. First from where did the idea of death come? Not from heaven for there is no death there. Not from Satan for he became insane being unable to understand anything. The first mention of death is by the Lord. This occurred after His commandment to Adam, forbidding him to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, under the penalty being death. Thus the idea of death originates in the Source of life. The question is whether or not this temporary death is good or evil, remembering that it is God’s idea. Common wisdom claims that death is bad and to be avoided for as long as possible. But is this true?
According to Holy Scripture and tradition of the Church, there are two deaths, the unavoidable physical death with which we just mentioned and the avoidable second death with which we are less familiar. The first death separates us from the material world. The second death is more fearful than physical death because, due to our foolish choice, it renders us unable to love God, but not from
His love for us, and this becomes a permanent state of permanent sadness and bitterness. For rejecting God’s love, by our own free choice, and being unable to return that love will become the cause of terrible torment. Our Lord describes the second death with these words: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” “It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands go into Gehenna, into the fire that shall never be quenched, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” “Their worm” that is their perpetual accusing conscience. There is no form of torture that the Lord prepares out of vengeance, as many surmise. But it is a description of the agony with which we afflict upon our souls, realizing how great is God’s love, and our inability to return that love to Him. It is certain, that if we fail to love Him here in this present world, we will certainly be unable to love Him in the future world. God is love and by failing to love God in return in this present world, we render ourselves permanently unable to benefit from returning that love to Him, and this will become the cause great suffering and remorse.
Whatever our present desires and passions, they will remain unfulfilled with us for all eternity becoming the cause of further torment. ( remember the rich man in Hades and Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham). The second death is filled with the pain of knowing God’s endless love. Our continuous suffering, remorse and regret will never leave us. It was by our own choice that we separated from him, failed to love Him, and it is our inability to return that love that is so terribly tormenting, and no one can escape His endless and limitless love.
Adding to these torments are the loss of many daily consolations which we experience in this life, for they will vanish. Here on earth, each day we experience God’s love. He gives us sunshine, rain, snow, favorable winds, and pleasant weather. We thirst and are consoled by His water, when hungry we eat His food. Cold and heat extremes are consoled by the comfort of a dwelling place. When we tired , He provides us with sleep for rest, and when we are sick, he provides us with doctors and hospitals. When we are lonesome he provides us with companions. These and many other consolations are now lavished upon us out of the love of God. How sad and tortuous it will be for those who did not want the good and kind Lord in our lives. There will be no choice or change after death, for then it is too late, and if we fail to choose eternal life in Christ in this world, we will be cast out where we will weep and gnash our teeth in the outer darkness.
The first death is the physical death of man, and the temporary separation of his constituents. His spirit returns to God; his body is interred in a shallow grave, and his soul goes to Hades awaiting judgment. However since the victory of Christ, souls who have believed in Him are baptized and who lived according to His commandments do not depart to Hades, but to a place of rest until judgment day. We remember this in funeral or memorial hymn: “Give rest, Lord, to the soul of your servant.”
So we know that the first death is temporary, and firmly believing and hoping in the resurrection, we also know that Christ will rise us up again with a new resurrected body. The first death is therefore beneficial, even desirable, and not in the least evil to those who love Christ.
An example of the first death is that of a watchmaker who consigns defective watches to death, by taking them apart, and then putting them back together, repaired and renewed after replacing any defective parts. The watch responds with its new life by ticking in appreciation. So God takes apart the soul, body and spirit of a man, and then puts them back together repaired entering a better eternal life. The renewed and resurrected man responds with joy and gratitude, worshiping the undivided Trinity, living in everlasting joy and jubilation.
The mitigating factor with Adam and Eve was their being deceived into breaking the law. The flesh also played a part as the fruit appealed to their senses. Although they broke the law, they were also deceived by the serpent with his slander and lies. Therefore the death of man can be remedied by his resurrection in Christ and His great mercy. It is important to note that there is no death among heavenly creatures, so neither is restoration possible. When the Evil One, formerly the heavenly archangel Lucifer, rebelled against God, he did not die, nor can he be resurrected. He was not deceived, but became the source of disobedience to God. He rebelled against the Logos of God who rules over all creation, and he is the originator of envy, arrogance and bitterness. He is without excuse and is filled with blame, for his enmity against man was really his enmity against the Logos of God and Ruler of creation.
Therefore, physical death for man can be either good or evil, depending on the choice he makes while on earth. If he believes in Christ, keeping His commandments, his death is good, but if he instead follows the Devil, his physical death will lead to the terrible second death which is endless.
The fear of the first death vanishes from many of those who truly love Jesus Christ, and many joyfully lay down their lives for His sake, whom the Church honors and glorifies. They are sacrificial martyrs of the Lord, which Orthodox Christians are called to be, not only to die for Christ, but to live for Him, bearing witness, representing Christ by our Faith, hope and love, and good deeds before men. Christ says: “You are the light of the world!” Also: “ Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
The first death separates mankind into two classes, those who love the Lord and the Prophets He sent into the world, with those who were baptized into Christ, keeping His commandments, and those who scorned His Holy Passion and failed to live in the glory of His resurrection.
“We bow down before your Cross O Christ, and your Holy Resurrection we glorify!”