In “why we are so mortal” Jefferson Vann answers Ethan the Ezrahite’s question about why humans are mortal.
“Take note of my brief lifespan! Why do you make all people so mortal? No man can live on without experiencing death, or deliver his life from the power of Sheol (Selah)” (Psalm 89:47-48 NET).
The Coronavirus pandemic has turned our world into an anxiety factory. It really is not surprising. Two of humanity’s basic fears are the fear of dying and the fear of losing freedom. Along comes the coronavirus, killing people at an alarming rate, AND forcing us to hide ourselves from the public!
But there are some good things that are happening, even as this plague continues to ravage the planet. Our forced incarcerations have led to cleaner air for us to breathe, and suddenly the oil manufacturers are taking steps to slow down oil production because of stock surpluses!
There can be a positive theological take-away from this crisis as well. It can get us all asking the question that the psalmist Ethan the Ezrahite asked: Why are we so mortal?
Really, God, how can a microscopic virus kill hundreds of thousands of people, disrupting the planet and scaring the rest of us into heart failure? Why did God create such a flawed system?
Ethan came to a point in his life where he realized that those theologians who tried to teach him that he was indestructible were all wet. He assumed human mortality. He had already come to the conclusion THAT he was mortal — body and soul. His question was not WHETHER he was mortal, it was WHY does God make us that way.
Ethan says it in a poetic way, repeating the same idea with different ways of saying it.
- First, he asks God to take note of his puny lifespan,
- Then, he asks why God makes people so mortal,
- Then, he reminds God that he created lives that have to come to an end. Our lives are 100% fatal.
- Then, he asks (expecting a “no” answer) can anyone deliver his life (Hebrew: throat) from the power of Sheol?
Sheol is the intermediate state: where everybody goes when they die. Good, bad or ugly, we all end up in Sheol — the waiting place between this life and the next. The next life does not begin until the resurrection, so everyone who dies goes to Sheol and waits in an unconscious state.
Ethan was a smart man. When we are smart enough to ask God why he created us all as mortal beings, then we can seek the answer to that question in the Bible.
We can walk around in theological denial all our lives, believing Satan’s lie:
“The serpent said to the woman, ‘Surely you will not die'” (Genesis 3:4 NET).
Or, we can ask God why we are mortal. God’s answer to that question is the gospel.
Paul answers Ethan:
“So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned —“(Romans 5:12 NET).
We are mortal because someone sinned. Since the wages of sin is death, Adam’s sin infested us all with something like the coronavirus. It caused 100% mortality.
But there is a chance for another life — one not infested with that fatal flaw:
“For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people” (Romans 5:17-18).
Adam did something that caused mortality for everyone. Through the one Adam, mortality came to all. But Jesus did something which has the potential to bring immortality to all. Through the one Jesus, life for all people is possible.
That is the message of the gospel, and it makes no sense if humans are born immortal. If we have already been blessed by inheriting an immortal soul from our parents, then Ethan’s assumption is wrong, and Paul’s solution is irrelevant.
But Paul’s solution is highly relevant, because our mortality is evident all around us, and the only ones who will escape eternal death are those in Christ. So, while we all have the potential for immortality because of what Christ did, only those of us who choose to put their trust in him will actually gain immortality at the resurrection.
So, Paul says…
“For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NET).
“…our Saviour Christ Jesus. He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel! “(2 Timothy 1:10b NET).
We were not there when our Saviour came out of the tomb that first Easter morning. But we have the chance to come out of our own tombs when he returns. We can start a new life which is not cursed with mortality. By trusting the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can overcome the fatal flaw built into human DNA, and live a permanent life. That is the best way to answer Ethan’s question.
For more on human mortality, see: