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Doug TenNapel – On Death

March 16th, 2014

One of the reasons why I am a Christian is that this religion got what’s wrong with the world right. In my wanderings through philosophy and reason I went looking for any religion that would best demonstrate man’s great problem. All philosophies (including no philosophy) exist to address what’s wrong with the world. I found something wrong with the world, and I intuitively knew this from a very young age.

When I was four I remember both receiving cruelty from my peers as well as dealing it out to them. Doing bad was an act of religion, bad religion, that all of us participated in. We weren’t convinced we should do bad by a world view or philosophy, and though most of us were never taught to do wrong, that is what we all chose to do at some point.

Now look around the world and ask why we do wrong. Why is it that few people have the goal of doing what is bad and yet we somehow always manage to do something wrong? It became obvious to me that not only was there something wrong with the world, but that it was largely beyond our choice or upbringing, for I did what was wrong even to my own moral code and upbringing.

I had a reoccurring dream from those early years, I believe I was four or five years old, but I was walking through hot mud under a scorching sun and staggering between dead trees. I was lifted up in the air by the sun and it’s beams of light pierced through me, they knew me, and I was found wanting. It obliterated me. Now I don’t know if that dream was any kind of a sign, I don’t look to personal experience to exegete what God did or didn’t do. But regardless, it was clear in word pictures in my mind from early on that I believed something was deeply wrong with the world, my culture, and myself. So I’ve always been on a hunt to find a world view or life philosophy that embraced this fact, that there was something wrong with me. Most world philosophies actually tell me the opposite. They tell me there is something right with me. Those world view stories get an automatic rejection from me. You’ll have to come up with something better than “nothing is inherently wrong with you.”

In fact, when atheists criticize my religion the first thing I do is hang on the edge of my seat asking for their best shot against my religion. Many think I’m joking about wanting so badly to find a better argument or explanation than what I’ve got, but I’m serious. I so long to hear a decent, philosophically coherent explanation for the world’s problems. I get nothing of the sort. The only thing more ridiculous than Christianity’s explanation for sin and death is any alternative I’ve heard so far. Still, I’m always open to a good shot at that explanation. It makes for better conversation around a drink than what most people talk about.

My other problem with everything was that there was not only sin or imperfection in the world, but that there was physical death. When I was four years old, I considered that my time would one day end, and I wanted some kind of meaning or explanation for why. As a four year old I knew that people died and I wanted anyone else to admit that it was a problem. If someone couldn’t find that death was a problem then I had no interest in that world view. My own dad had some residual nihilist philosophy passed around from the 60s and seemed to have a hard time articulating death having any meaning. As a kid we used to sing meaningless songs about death:

“The worms crawl in

The worms crawl out

The worms play Pinochle 

on your snout.”

My second criteria for finding a legit religion had to embrace our physical death as real. There is something worse than mankind being sick or wrong, but that he experiences death and that death is a deeper evidence that something is out of order. This eliminates most Eastern religions that either embrace it as a recycling project, fertilizer project or deny death altogether.

I wasn’t raised in Sunday school, but I knew the scriptures well enough to know the shortest scripture in the Bible which is John 11:23:

“Jesus wept.”

Why is Jesus weeping? The context of the verse is that Jesus just learned that his old friend Lazarus has died. In just a few more verses, Jesus is going to raise him from the dead, and yet there are still tears to be had. Death is bad, and even when Jesus is going to resurrect Lazarus physical death is still a bad thing.

But I was aware of more than just dying, for I knew that I was guilty before a good God of some kind. I wasn’t merely guilty of sin, physically dying here on earth, but I was eternally dead. How could a four year old know he was supernaturally dead? I don’t know. I can’t explain how I know because back then I hadn’t been exposed to any formal religion and got glimpses of philosophy from the neighbor kids or perhaps my Pentecostal grandmother. Nothing explains why my view was so developed so early on, and yet, when I found the Bible some years later, I found a philosophy that made perfect sense:

Ephesians 2:2 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sinsin which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient…  But because of his great love for us,God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6″

Dead in my transgressions? Where do I sign up?! There are many reasons to believe in Christianity, and perhaps a few lingering details that give me doubt or trouble… but I’ve always been in love with how it got my spiritual death right. I am a walking dead man, both physically and spiritually. The story begins with something being completely wrong and this is where other world views, myths and stories often get things wrong.

One day I’ll have to get at the rest of the story, but for now I’ll say that one reason why I’m a Christian is that it gets what’s wrong with the world right.


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