This was the root post of my "Slavery to Death" series.
With the encouragement of my readers here I've pulled all this material into a book which is now under contract with Cascade publishers. With the book on the way I've pulled the posts from this series out of respect for the publisher. When the book appears I'll pull this post and link directly to the book where my thoughts about the "slavery of death" can be found. Consider this first post in the series a teaser for the forthcoming book.
Awhile back I asked readers of this blog to recommend sources about the relationship between sin and death, with a particular focus on how the Greek Orthodox view the relationship. The idea I'm exploring is a reversal of the typical Protestant formulation:
Sin causing DeathThe formulation I'm working with flips the Protestant understanding around:
Death causing SinThe focal passage I'm working with is Hebrews 2.14-15:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.The idea is that we are "held in slavery by our fear of death." Fearing death we act in various ways that are prompted by needs for self-preservation. Life is ruled by a Darwinian survival instinct that makes us selfish, acquisitive, rivalrous and violent. Mortality fears create our sinful actions and attitudes. That is the key theological and psychological insight.
Given this situation, the work of the Christ is to "break the power of him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil." (See also 1 John 3.8: "The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.") Salvation in this view is obtained through Christ's defeat of the the devil who uses our fear of death to hold us captive to sin, using our instinct for self-preservation to tempt us into sinful practices. Christ came to destroy both the devil and death to set us free from our "slavery to the fear of death." And being set free from this fear we are able to escape the bondage of sin. This is the meaning of resurrection.
In my research the book The Ancestral Sin by the Greek Orthodox theologian John Romanides has proved very influential. More on this book to come, but at the end of the book Romanides quotes from a sermon from St. John Chrysostom that nicely articulates the view I'm working with:
[H]e who fears death is a slave and subjects himself to everything in order to avoid dying...[But] he who does not fear death is outside the tyranny of the devil. For indeed 'man would give skin for skin, and all things for [the sake of] his life,' [Job 2.4] and if a man should decide to disregard this, whose slave is he then? He fears no one, is in terror of no one, is higher than everyone, and is freer than everyone. For he who disregards his own life disregards more so all other things. And when the devil finds such a soul, he can accomplish in it none of his works. Tell me, though, what can he threaten? The loss of money or honor? Or exile from one's country? For these are small things to him 'who counteth not even his life dear,' says blessed Paul [Acts 20.24].
Do you see that in casting out the tyranny of death, He has dissolved the strength of the devil?