Why Do We Die?
We can blame disease, old age, accidents, and even foul play, but the most fundamental answer is sin.
At the beginning of humanity’s creation, we read, The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die (Genesis 2:15-17). Unfortunately, the man did eventually eat from the fruit of that forbidden tree, and God quickly passed sentence, just as He said He would. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return (Genesis 3:19).
Death is a punishment for sin. God never intended for the man to die. God would much rather have had the man continue to obey Him. The man would have lived forever if He had not disobeyed. But the choice was left open, and the outcome of that choice was either going to be reward or punishment.
Does sin only affect humans, or did it affect other parts of nature as well?
Sadly, sin affects everything. Man was the pinnacle of creation, and when man sinned, everything suffered because of it. Genesis 3:17-18 reads, To Adam [God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.”
The ground itself is cursed. When God created the earth and made it to produce vegetation, only helpful plants grew. Now, thorns and thistles are introduced to make the man’s work more difficult.
In Genesis 1:29-30, God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Humans and every kind of animal were originally supposed to eat only those helpful plants. After the man sinned, however, the animal kingdom was cursed with the desire to hunt and with predators hunting them. God never intended for conscious beings to eat one another. The violence of the ‘food chain’ is a result of sin.
As the Apostle Paul wrote, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time (Romans 8:18-22).
I think Paul sums it up quite well. The creation is in bondage to decay, groaning for God to restore it to its intended, natural, peaceful state.
Of course, that still leaves the question of why we die. Adam and Eve were the ones who sinned, right? They ate the fruit, not us. So why do we die? Does Adam’s sin really have anything to do with my death?
Romans 5:12 says that it does. Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…
Adam’s sin causes our death because he is our biological ancestor. In Genesis 1:26-27, God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
In the beginning, humans were made to be like God. Adam and Eve were created in God’s image. But that image was marred when man sinned. God is perfect and so, when Adam and Eve sinned, they lost part of what it means to be like God. They became unlike God in a very fundamental way, and this unlikeness to God was passed on biologically to Adam and Eve’s children.
Genesis 5:1-3 says, When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, He called them man. When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.
Notice that Seth is not made in God’s likeness and image. Instead, he is made in Adam’s likeness and image. Seth is like his father. He is born rebellious toward God, just as his father had become. This propensity toward sin—this unlikeness to God—that we have all inherited from our fathers all the way from Adam to now is what we call the sinful nature. Because Adam became unlike God, that unlikeness has been passed down to each of us, causing our natures to be radically different from what God intended for us.
Interestingly, the sinful nature can apparently only be passed down to us by our fathers. We know this because Jesus had a natural mother (Mary) but not a natural father. Mary was miraculously impregnated and so, because Jesus did not have a human father, He did not inherit the sinful nature.
We die, then, because we are born with a desire to sin, a desire to be unlike God in that particular manner, and we all act on that desire. As Romans says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and, the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
This blog post is included in my book, Last Days: A Biblical Guide to the End Times.
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Read the answers to more interesting questions on my Theology 101 - Simple and Surprising Answers to Your Questions! page.