As groundbreaking science inspires new debates about morality issues, our society identifies itself with an instinctive reverence for mortal life. Mindless human bodies vegetate in hospital beds, respirated and nourished by plastic and steel machines controlled by computers. Sheep are “cloned.” Embryo stem cells are biologically tested and altered. The debate rages over when life begins and ends and what stage constitutes a life for which society must accept moral responsibility. Senators debate. Religious leaders sermonize. Letters to the editor mount to the ceiling. The radio talk shows cycle through the parade of callers.
The danger for Christadelphians is entering the debate at all. This commentary makes no judgments about the beginning or ending of life or the moral implications associated with those presumptions. This commentary centers on the life itself.
The foundation for most of these questions is the false presumption that life is basically holy or sacred. This instinctive human imagination springs from the ever-deceptive heart. There is certainly a sacred category of life but it is not mortal life. Mortality is the consequence of God’s condemnation, His condemnation of sin. Mortal life is divinely cursed. Mortality is the manufacturing plant for sin. Mothers were required by divine law to offer a sin offering to God for having given birth, even though having children fulfilled a divine order to replenish the earth. Even the mother of God’s son had to offer a sin offering for having given birth to Jesus (Luke 2:22-24; cp with Lev. 12:6-8).
Four distinct life categories
There are four categories of life presented in scripture. The first and greatest is the life of our Heavenly Father. God’s life is defined as existing from everlasting and to everlasting. That life is entirely unique.
The angels and the Lord Jesus Christ have immortal life, which is the hope of the saints, and is identified as never-ending. Unlike our Heavenly Father, this blessed condition has a beginning. This is the second category of life and separate from all others.
The third category, in descending order, is non-dying life. This is the life Adam and Eve were created with initially. They had the capacity to die (unlike angelic immortality) but death was not assured. This category is confirmed by the introduction of death following the introduction of sin into creation and the fact that God defines their initial state as being “very good” along with the rest of the features of creation. It would be utterly impossible for death to be part of something God defines as “very good.”
The fourth category of life is mortal life. Death is assured and this life category is ever progressing toward that cessation of life from the very time that life is initiated. This form of life began following the divine implementation of death in the garden of Eden. This form of life will be eclipsed in the fourth millennium following Christ’s resurrection from the dead. He was in the grave for three days and three nights reflecting the thousand-years-for-a-day timeframe marking the elimination of death from creation. Just as death was done away in Jesus Christ after three days and nights, so creation would suffer with three thousand more years of death before it would be completely done away.
The only non-sacred category of life presented in scripture is mortal life, the life we currently stumble through, hoping for something far greater. God punctuated the sentence of death for sin by adding trials, childbirth pain, subjugation, hard labor, disease, sorrow and tears. Society is oblivious to the divine lessons and cattle prods of mortality. Mankind worships condemned humanity. This attitude is evident in the products of our society. Mortal life is frequently presented as morally superior to immortal life. Over more than five decades I have personally acknowledged this attitude displayed unapologetically in novels, movies, plays, general conversation and even comic books in my youth. Movies depict angels who yearn for the glory and freedom of being a human being and escaping the boredom and monotony of immortal angelic life. Science fiction television shows depict immortals from other planets as morally inferior to the mortal human space travelers. Religious leaders corral and exploit fearful believers, fueling their fears with tales of a wicked immortal angel.
Scripture exclusively expresses the understanding that immortality and sin are impossible partners. It is sin and death that are the inseparably attached twins. Our society embraces the presumptions of the deceptive human heart, completely reversing the divine relationships between good and evil and immortality and mortality. This presumption, this taken-for-granted-but-unspoken premise of human life being holy, is a great danger to Christadelphians.
Pouring out our life
This life is not to be worshipped or revered. It is a sin-cursed life from which we ache to be saved. Our philosophy is not to elevate this life, indulging in this life, grabbing all the gusto and smelling all the roses. Our philosophy is to pour out this life at the feet of our Master and King.
The divinely appointed symbol for cursed life is blood. One might presume that blood represents life in general from God’s declarations to Noah and Moses, but that would be a misleading oversimplification.
But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat (Gen. 9:4). For it is the life of all flesh; the blood of it is for the life thereof (Lev. 17:14).
The understanding that blood represents cursed flesh is underlined by the Apostle Paul when he explains that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 15:50). When Jesus describes his resurrected nature to his shocked and frightened disciples he describes himself as “flesh and bone” (Lk 24:39). Blood is not a component of immortality, as it is the symbol for the sin-cursed life in the flesh that we call human life.
The blood laws
There were two great laws concerning blood displayed in the Patriarchal Age and the Mosaic Age. When God gave mankind permission to eat flesh as Noah exited the ark, He stipulated that mankind eat no blood (Gen 9:4). The blood chapter of Leviticus 17 declares emphatically that blood must not be eaten.
What had to be done with blood constitutes the second great blood law. Deuteronomy 12 presents both laws (verses 23-27): Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh. Thou shalt not eat it; thou shalt pour it upon the earth as water. Thou shalt not eat it; that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, when thou shalt do that which is right in the sight of the LORD…And thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, the flesh and the blood, upon the altar of the LORD thy God: and the blood of thy sacrifices shall be poured out upon the altar of the LORD thy God, and thou shalt eat the flesh.
The blood of sacrificial animals had to be poured out at the altar. These two laws speak volumes about unholy human life.
Blood represents death-prone human life, the life of the flesh. This life must not be eaten or consumed. This life must not be indulged, elevated or worshipped. This life must be poured out at the altar. The antitypical altar is the Messiah. Hebrews 13:10 tells the believers of the ecclesial age that we eat from an altar from which the priests of the Mosaic age were forbidden; Paul parallels the sin offering under the Mosaic age when the blood went into God’s sanctuary to Christ’s sin offering.
The powerful exhortation of the blood is that we must live sacrificially, pouring out our human life at the feet of Jesus Christ. We are not free to worship this life, joining society’s self-delusion concerning humanity’s inherent holiness. This life must be sacrificed hour by hour, day by day and year by year.
We do this because we love our Heavenly Father and His Son. It is sacrifice that defines love. A spouse sacrifices for his/her beloved. A parent sacrifices for his/her child. A child sacrifices for his/her parents. Sacrificial love is divine love. Indulgent, unrestricted and unbounded love is vile, immoral, temporary and self-defeating. It is indulgent love that defines our current society with its love at first sight drivel, guiltless self-indulgence and constantly evolving moral definitions. A love without sacrifice is a lie.
The blood trail
The lesson of the blood representing unholy human life intricately weaves its way through laws, historical records, visions and promises with complex but perfect symmetry. The destination of a clean animal’s blood was determined by its compliant nature. A wild, unwilling-to-serve animal that qualified as ritually clean and eatable had to have its blood poured into the dust and never brought to the altar. A domesticated clean animal had to have its blood taken to the altar. While in the wilderness wanderings, if the blood of a sacrificial animal was not brought to the altar, the offending party was to be permanently ostracized from God’s community (Lev. 17) emphasizing the significance of the reflected principle. In the promised land God granted permission to eat sacrificial animals without bringing the blood to the altar by declaring these sacrifices as comparable to the ritually clean, wild animals whose blood was bound to the dust.
This tells us that wild, unrestrained human life is bound to the curse of the dust (“dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return…dust shall be the serpent’s meat”) as opposed to life that is defined by willing service being bound to the blessing of the altar. Anything that came in direct contact with the altar was automatically holy (Ex. 29:37). The dependent, service-oriented, domesticated life meant the blood was destined for the blessing of the altar. The independent, self-absorbed, wild life meant the blood was destined for the curse of the dust.
Death is the righteous answer for sin
Blood is a theme lesson that can be tracked through scripture with amazing consistency. Understanding the lesson of the blood is impossible if we elevate mortal life to a status of a holy or sacred nature. The cessation of mortal life is the righteous answer for the ungodly behavior flowing from humanity like a brackish spring. This is why an offerer placed his hand on the head of the animal before personally executing the sacrificial animal under the law of Moses (Lev. 3:8; 4:4). After associating themselves with the sacrificial animal, their execution of it was a statement that sinful human nature deserves death, that death is the righteous judgment for sinful life. The offerer recognized God’s righteousness in his own personal condemnation to death; the acknowledgment came in his execution of the animal after holding its head in his hands.
Mortal life is not holy or sacred. We should not concern ourselves with the self-centered, self-elevating delusions of society based on the presumption that mortal life is sacred. It is not. It is cursed, and we hope for the day when all mortal life is a distant, unpleasant memory.
Jim Dillingham, Dunbarton, New Hampshire