Christ is the first fruits of our resurrection. By understanding what happened on the first Easter morning we gain insight into the meaning of our eternal destiny. Because it is this way and not the other way around, the same may be said concerning the meaning of death. We cannot understand Jesus’ death by looking at our own death, but we can gain comprehension of our own death from the death on the Cross.
In talking about death we are talking about what happens to the life of the creature. The life of the creature is the soul, but since the body has life we necessarily ask what happens to the body in death and how the body is related to the soul both in life and after death. In a little book called The Shape of Death Jaroslav Pelikan exhibits the views of some early church fathers in terms of neat geometrical figures. He begins with the observation that since there is no Christian doctrine of the soul, theologians have had to borrow conceptual tools from non-Christian thought. Taking the concept of the soul as life substance, the ancient fathers described the path of the soul as it travels through death in various ways. Thus Tatian saw its course as an arc, Clement viewed its path as a circle, Origen described a parabola, and Irenaeus saw a spiral. Besides being an artificial over-simplification, this scheme is misconceived because the original question was formulated wrongly. Pelikan is right when he says there is no Christian doctrine of the soul, but Christian theologians need not borrow non-Christian metaphysical categories to provide one, nor have they always done so in the past. Pelikan asked what the shape of death is because he thought of the soul as a thing. Things have shape and form, and if the soul is a thing ...1
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