I’ve begun listening to the course, “The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World” with professor Robert Garland. I’m in lecture 2, where he identifies the two central themes of the course. One is how climate and geography shape human life, but the other is the one that perked my ears more, all the way down to how Prof. Garland expressed it, which was thusly: “How all human beings are subjugated to that most basic imperative of existence: merely keeping themselves alive.”
This is interesting to me on multiple levels.
1) It is a true statement, as far as it goes. But it is a statement that only reflects truth in a post-fall world. Before the fall, keeping oneself alive was not a “basic imperative of existence”, because the nature of existence itself was one devoid of death.
2) Mankind’s principle struggle since the fall has been one of fighting to maintain something as close to a pre-fall state as possible. Whereas, before the fall, continued life was a given, subsequently it has become only possible (in the raw physical sense) through continued striving and effort on the part of man himself. Before the fall, God completely and totally sustained man’s life – after the fall, he has given part of that responsibility to man (“you will be like God” indeed), who is insufficient for the task and always ultimately fails; he does not have life in himself as God does.
3) Only one man does have life in himself: the Son (John 5:25). And in a twist, he is the one who, though God, did not count equality with God something to be held onto at all costs (Phil. 2:6). Also in a twist, he tells men that the way to find life is to lose it for his sake (Matt. 10:39).
4) The use of the word “subjugated” by professor Garland is noteworthy. To subjugate is to bring under dominion or control. To use language in this way, the good professor is suggesting that death, and our efforts to avoid it, has us in bondage. This idea is scriptural in the sense that sin is said to be the cause of death, and those perishing are said to be slaves to sin (the book of Romans is great on this).
5) But notice again that our efforts to avoid death are included in the idea of being subjugated. Indeed, all our efforts to seek life through the law must end in death, as Paul says in Romans 7:10 – “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.”
6) In the final analysis, Jesus changes the basic imperative of existence from keeping ourselves alive to letting him kill us. A dead slave no longer has to serve his old master – he has been freed from that subjugation. Jesus then raises us unto himself, all within baptism, unto a new life where he is again the only one responsible for keeping us alive. And he does all things well.