Why Do People Have To Die?
Good Friday and being Six Feet Under
Last time, I wrote about how the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil wasn’t itself a bad thing. What about death? Where is the good in that?
Tracy: Why do people have to die?
Nate: To make life important.
Six Feet Under
Remember Six Feet Under? It was a high-class TV show, and one of the early indicators that all of the serious talent was now making television, rather than movies. Freed from the shackles of mainstream broadcasting regulations, HBO used their freedom to lead the way with The Sopranos, The Wire and, one of my favourites, The Larry Sanders Show. Six Feet Under was another jewel in the HBO crown which was able to go deep and long, asking profound questions without the tyranny of ad-breaks and wrapping things up, much as I like the discipline of the sitcom format (see video at the very bottom).
Six Feet Under tackled the reality of death head-on through a family funeral business. I watched the first series and to say I enjoyed it probably isn’t quite true. I admired it. But wasn’t minded to push on through and watch it to the end. I admire mountains, but don’t feel the need to climb them.
I’m informed by Vulture (ironically) that :
On August 21, 2005, the HBO drama Six Feet Under concluded with a seven-minute montage of flash-forwards revealing how each of the remaining main characters die. The episode, “Everyone’s Waiting,” was immediately hailed as the most satisfying TV ending ever, something the show’s creator, Alan Ball, still hears all the time. “People say they love it, that it was incredibly moving, that they watched it over and over,” he tells Vulture.1
Death fascinates and repels us. We don’t want to face it – or at least most of us don’t. Yet death feels like the right punishment for the truly worst crimes.
Good Friday is a day about death, and the word ‘Good’ seems puzzling for a day in which humanity murdered God. We rigged a trial and brutally executed him with common criminals in the most painful and public way possible. Tom Holland writes about the grisly details in his book Dominion, information that is not for the faint-hearted.
But if we go back to Eden and look at the origins of death, a silver lining appears on this undoubtedly black cloud. After Adam and Eve’s rebellion, they realise they are naked, sew fig leaves together and hide. It’s a pathetic scene and we’re expecting the consequences to be dire, painful and swift.
A promise of punishment has been meted out. Adam will die – although later we read he still lived for over 900 years. Eve will experience pain in childbirth, but childbirth is still possible. And mercifully, women forget that pain quickly to the point where they are often prepared to go through it again. But then we read what God did about Adam and Eve’s clothes of fig leaves:
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)
Astonishingly, God kindly caters for their new state of rebellion by providing them with garments not made of fig leaves – but animals. The garments that cover their shame are made of death. In the third chapter of the entire Bible, we are seeing that death can bring blessing.
A Flaming Sword of Fire
Read on and we’ll see a curious second blessing:
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:22-24)
What could have solved the problem of death for Adam? The Tree of Life.
But Adam had to be prevented from eating from this tree. Why? Because it would have meant that Adam would live for ever – and his state of sin would be irreversibly permanent. It’s hard to imagine a worse outcome for his rebellion.
This might have some of the philosopher spluttering about how God can reverse anything. Surely he can’t create a rock so big that he himself cannot move. Or can he? Whatever. God willingly limits his infinitude in some ways we find hard to fathom because we would never do that.
An honest reading of scripture shows that God does appear to voluntarily limit himself in certain ways and act within certain parameters. He uses processes rather than the instantaneous transformation. Creation took seven days when it could have been instant. The Holy Spirit works in the heart believers slowly over a lifetime.
God also imbues items with significance that he chooses not to reverse or annul. Touch the Ark of the Covenant and you die. End of. Literally. We find this idea of essentially magical items to be the stuff of fairy tales. But have we forgotten that we live in a fairy tale?
So Why is it Good That Adam died?
Adam had to be chased from the Garden of Eden while he is mortal, and the entrance permanently guarded. For if Adam eats from the Tree of Life he will be doomed to live like Satan himself, who tells God in Job 1:7 that he has been “roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it…” There is a sense of hopeless despair in that line, as if there is nothing he can do about his situation and that he is merely waiting to be cast into the lake of fire. (Remember: Hell is not where you go to be punished by Satan and the demons. Hell is a place of eternal punishment for Satan and the demons.)
But Satan isn’t going without a fight. He attacks Jesus in the wilderness with temptations, only to be beaten back by the words of God. He causes Judas to betray Jesus, but in so doing, brings about the means of the salvation of Adam, the death of the Lamb of God, the true covering for Man’s shame, and the Passover sacrifice that liberates God’s people from slavery in Egypt and from bondage to the sin of Adam. As Peter put it in his first letter,
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18)
Adam’s death, after 930 years, was actually a blessing. Permanent life would have been an intolerable eternal curse. While it remains a time for sombre reflection, we can thank God for Good Friday.
You can find some of these themes about temptation, sin and running away from responsibility in The Lion King. I had a really interesting chat with Nate Morgan-Locke about this on the Popcorn Parenting podcast. Have a listen over here.
Water into Wine
My Water into Wine tour has sprouted another leg, taking me to Exeter, Chessington, Balham, Eastbourne, Canterbury, Stone and the mighty Shepton Mallet. Do come! Ticket dates and details are here.
Don’t Write A Movie By Mistake
And if you’re interested in my other life as a sitcom writer, you might be interested in my fast-paced YouTube videos explained how sitcoms work, and how to write a pilot script. In my latest one, I look at how you might end up writing a movie by mistake. Don’t do that. Here’s why: