Death is Not a Sin, part 2

Every story in the Bible has at least two layers: a layer based somewhat, but not necessarily accurately, in history, and a layer meant to convey a spiritual ideal. When we read about death in scripture, on one level it is about the physical death of something, but on another it is about the human things we must allow to pass as we become ever more spiritually attuned to the universe around us.

The idea that death is a punishment for the transgressions of our species can be traced back at least to St. Augustine, who misinterpreted the Bible because he read it out of its historical Jewish context. He was also a literalist who entirely missed the spiritual overtones. This still happens today. If you search the web for a string like “death and sin” you’ll find all sorts of horrible interpretations of Romans 6.23 (“The wages of sin is death”).

What Paul is talking about, though, is a spiritual disconnect. The natural entropy of life is not a sin. The message Paul is trying to convey is that willfully doing things that disconnect us from God is a sin—and it causes spiritual death. For Paul, especially now that we have the example of Jesus Christ, the example from God that shows us exactly how to think and act to stay perfectly in tune with God, doing anything else is a sin. And he’s absolutely right. Later in Romans he’ll say, “You used to let the different parts of your body be slaves of your evil thoughts. But now you must make every part of your body serve God, so that you will belong completely to him” (Romans 6.19).
In a very real way, we must allow ourselves—force ourselves, even, because it’s hard work, to die to the things of the world in order for the world of God to break through us. We need to allow God to reprogram us, and we need to do whatever we can to reprogram ourselves, in order to see the world differently. “ For now we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Cor. 13.12). There are instructions throughout scripture, and in many other texts, about how to do this. One of the main instructions is charity. By being charitable to each other, the veil begins to lift from our eyes. Our clouded hearts become filled with love. Now we see the world not as inevitably marching toward ultimate doom (and in some unfortunate cases cherishing the thought, because that means Jesus will return), but instead as a Lotus blossom, working its way from the muddy bottom of a lake, cracking through the hard shell of global, systemic sin, until it ultimately comes into the bloom of spiritual fullness, gently resting on the baptismal waters that give it life--eternal life, if you consider that the Lotus will sprout seeds that will make the same journey someday.
God is not punishing us for anything. Physical death is natural. Read through a spiritual lens, the passages in the Bible that talk about sin and death are meant to help us understand that we must die to the ways of the world in order to live into (and for the world to live into) the world of God. One of the most effective ways to do that is to start giving more than we receive, loving others more than ourselves, and speaking and living this truth into the world.
This means we must stand with those who want to change the global systems of oppression. We must fight for immigrant worker rights. We must raise awareness about the plight of the homeless in this country. We must constantly educate ourselves and others about new ideas, ideas too often tyrannized and oppressed by the global corporate power structure, about reforming and recreating education, healthcare, politics, economics, and the other global social systems that right now emphasize sin—the things that tear us apart from God, because they emphasize self-preservation and profit. We must always remember that the key to God’s kin-dom is not self-preservation. It is death, always and forever followed by new life.
Meditation: Kill my selfish heart so that my true, selfless, God-attuned being may be born anew.

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