Death, conditioned by the final cessation of all physiological functions of life, marks the irrevocable end of a living being. Whatever the direct cause of death may be, the ultimate reason lies in contingency, in the finitude of created reality, and encompasses everything that exists. That the human being cannot escape an awareness of being subject to this as well carries the greatest existential implications. With death, his or her existence is irretrievably at an end, and the meaning of the individual’s life is called radically and utterly into question. On the other hand, it could be objected that the human individual is not affected by such a biologistically and empirically reductionist view of death at all – that the individual is, instead, more and other than a mere case of world reality, and consists essentially of his or her immortal soul. This thesis has its roots in the mythological field of Orphism, a religious-philosophical movement of antiquity. Plato (d. 348/347 BCE) took up their ideas and developed them in his doctrine of radical mind-body dualism. In this context, death is interpreted as the separation of the immortal spirit-soul from its mortal body.
The Christian view of the world and humankind is radically distinct from such philosophical designs, although it must not be overlooked that, to this day, genuinely Christian ideas of death are falsely interpreted in a Neoplatonist sense. Any dualism is foreign to the Christian understanding of revelation. Human beings are created by God as an ineradicable inner unity of spirit and matter. The soul is the reality of the body, the body the appearance or existence of the soul. This is why death cannot be thought of as the separation of body from soul but rather only as the end of the whole person. No part of a person survives death.
The question of the end of earthly existence and of the possibility of existence beyond the boundary of death still fails to address the actual theological dimension of the problem of death. Where Scriptures mention death, the reference is not to a person’s medically identifiable end but rather to death as the actual result of sin. Sin makes an issue of the relationship of humankind to God. Sin means separation from God, and thus a fate worse than the biological end of life. A renunciation of sin, and with it an overcoming of the separation from God, is also the overcoming of death and, consequently, the attainment of eternal life as communion with God. This reality begins in this life. This is what is meant when Scriptures speak of the ‘resurrection of the dead’ (cf. 1 Jn 3.14; Jn 11.25; 2 Cor 5.5). Believing in God, on the one hand, while simultaneously falling victim to final death on the other, are two mutually exclusive moments.
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