As I mentioned in the last post on the issue, one item that really surprised me in his response was how he shied away from defining death as the cessation of existence. I asked him how he would rather define life and death, and he said this:
I think that the concepts of life and death are normally left undefined, because everybody already understands them. I’m alive right now, and my grandfather is dead… It’s only when we get into theology and philosophy that we start to feel the need for definitions.
I’ve never though of not worrying about a definition for understanding death. If you can’t/won’t define something—do you really understand it?
The reason we “start to feel the need for definitions” when we get into philosophy and theology is because we’re seeking to truly understand things.
Death speaks of separation. Physical death—contra the conditionalists—is not the cessation of consciousness, or the ending of all of that person’s activity. Physical death happens when the soul and body are separated—see James 2:26. Physical death is the separation of the soul and body. Spiritual death is our spiritual separation from God. Again, not unconsciousness… not cessation of existence.
Mr. Grice did not want to define death. He insisted that everyone intuitively knows what we mean. But I disagree. If you can’t define it, how much do you really understand it? One of the most important disciplines in theology is defining your terms.
Perhaps a couple of syllogisms can best demonstrate the formal logic of the issue:
Here is the basic argument of Conditional Immortality syllogized:
- The penalty for sin is death.
- Death is the cessation of existence.
- Jesus bore the penalty for sin on the cross on our behalf.
Do you see the necessitated conclusion of the logic? It’s that Jesus ceased to exist (at least temporarily).
Now, Mr. Grice would probably challenge my representation of the second premise above, as he did in his response. But, having received no satisfactory definition in response, and given the way it’s stated numerous times throughout Rethinking Hell, I think it’s fair to say that, no matter the semantic gymnastics, conditionalists are functionally defining death as the cessation of existence.
Allow me to try to put my own argument from the initial post into a syllogism as well:
- The penalty for sin is death.
- Jesus bore the penalty of sin on the cross on our behalf.
- Therefore, however one defines death, Jesus experienced it.
- But Jesus did not cease to exist.
- Therefore, annihilation (cessation of existence) is not the penalty for sin.
Another syllogism, taking the above conclusion (and the foundational premise) and applying it to the definition of death then:
- Death is the penalty for sin.
- Annihilation is not the penalty for sin.
- Therefore, death is not the cessation of existence (annihilation).
There are a couple of other ways to syllogize the logic, but I hope this exercise has at least been helpful enough for now. Keep studying!
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