Can death be abolished?1

by

Published: 10 May 2018 (GMT+10)

There is no doubt that life expectancy is higher than a century ago.2 There are now 14,000 centenarians in Britain, and according to the Office of National Statistics, one in three of today’s babies will live to see their 100th birthday. Some scientists and medical experts are even claiming that ageing could be delayed indefinitely.

Postponing death?

wikipedia.orgPhilippe-de-champaigne
Can we really cheat death? Life, death and time are pictured in this 17th-century painting by Philippe de Champaigne.

British doctor Dr Aubrey de Grey believes people who have already been born could live for ten centuries because of ongoing research being done into “repairing the effects of ageing”.3 He hopes ultimately to create treatments that mean death could be postponed by constantly repairing our bodies, so that we can live as long as 1,000 years or possibly even forever. Dr de Grey founded the aptly-named Methuselah Foundation. Its website states that, “By advancing tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, we want to create a world where 90-year olds can be as healthy as 50-year olds—by 2030.”4 Helping people to live a long, healthy life is a laudable aim, but for Christians, the idea of living forever in our fallen world is not very attractive—we look forward instead to the perfections of a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1–5). Plus, it doesn’t solve all forms of death—anti-ageing treatments could forestall (not cure) some types of death but could never prevent death by such things as explosion or plane crash.5

Most scientists skeptical

wikipedia.orgliquid-nitrogen-tank
Bodies are stored in liquid nitrogen (–196°C) in the hope that, at some future date, new medical advances will make it possible for them to be revived.

Others have pinned their hopes on a process called cryonics, which involves preserving people’s bodies by immersing them in liquid nitrogen at the super-low temperature of –196°C (–321°F). This is done in the belief that, in the future, cures will be found for whatever caused death, and that the bodies can be brought back to life. Cryopreservation can cost anything from $28,000 to $200,000 (£20,000 to £143,000), and has to be started immediately after death.6 There are currently four facilities where bodies are stored, three in the USA and one in Russia. Most mainstream scientists are skeptical, insisting that there is no feasible way a human body can be brought back to life. Even if it were feasible, how could someone who was revived, perhaps centuries later, sensibly survive the huge culture shock and interact with the world as it would then be?

The origin of death

Although death is a physical thing, the reason for death is spiritual, as the Bible makes clear. Referring back to the Fall in Genesis 3, Paul wrote, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). Paul also described death as an “enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26). It was never God’s intention that we should die. Death was an intruder into His “very good” creation (Genesis 1:31). That’s why He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die and rise again so that the sin which brought death can be forgiven and we can receive the gift of eternal life. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21–22).

The destruction of death!

Those who are attempting to conquer death are 2,000 years behind! As Paul again wrote, “our Saviour Christ Jesus [has] abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10). This includes new resurrection bodies for all believers in the future (1 Corinthians 15:42–44; Philippians 3:20–21)—how much better than the vain hope of ‘conquering’ death by science (e.g cryonics)!

A final thought: ‘Theistic evolution’, which accepts the theory that humans evolved from non-human ape-like creatures, cannot be reconciled with the biblical view of the origin of death, as it implies that we evolved from ancestors who later died. Rather than being an “enemy” to be conquered, death is seen as part of a process which God supposedly set up as part of His method of creating life. The secularists (who hope to conquer death by scientific means) and the theistic evolutionists (who believe God used evolution) have both got it wrong!

References and notes

  1. First published in Creation Update 108, Creation Resources Trust (UK), Spring 2018. Used with permission. Return to text.
  2. The reason for this is largely because more people are surviving childhood (due to advances in nutrition, hygiene, and medicine; see Genetic entropy and human lifespans). Overall, our maximum age limit has long been about 115–120 years; see Living for 900 years. Return to text.
  3. Austin, J., Key to eternal life? Someone already born ‘live to 1,000 and immortality IS possible’, www.express.co.uk, 1 May 2016. Return to text.
  4. See mfoundation.org. Return to text.
  5. A true cure for death (as only the Gospel can provide) would have to cover all forms of death. Return to text.
  6. Hastings, R. and Ballard, M., Cryonics: The chilling facts, www.independent.co.uk, 26 July 2011. They state, “The price of all this work varies. The Cryonics Institute charges $28,000, while most of the Alcor patients pay through life insurance, with a minimum policy of $200,000 required for a whole body preservation.” Return to text.

Reader’s comments

Norman P.
Thanks, Geoff - your perspicuity hasn't waned with age! :)
In the context of a study on the Holocaust, I've been pondering the awesome words of Ezekiel 37, as well as Romans 11:15. What a thrilling vision emerges, as the Lord asks the prophet, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' Like the prophet, we may wonder, how can these things be? 'O Lord God, thou knowest.' But note what then ensued!
What a great salvation shall one day redound to God's glory, through his beloved Son! 'He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:11)
He was there at the beginning, and 'he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness' (Romans 9:28).
'O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?' (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Robert H.
Have these scientists considered the existence of genetic entropy? How will they ethically decide who gets to live longer, if such treatment will be selective? They anticipate that tomorrow's 90 year olds will live like today's 50 year olds, but has there been any evidence that the aging process is changing, or does scientific evidence still show youth, middle age and old age, with the exception that old age has been extended?
Gert P.
Such a beautiful and simple explanation of the gospel! And to think that not even once going to hell or going to heaven was mentioned. Because the gospel is not about going to hell or heaven, but about death and resurrection and restoration of the creation so that you can live forever on a new earth. The only means of gaining immortality is through the resurrection, exactly as stated in this article. With God Almighty coming down from heaven to tabernacle (live) with men on earth for all eternity (Rev 20). What a glorious future!
Philip Bell
The Gospel is good news. One of the main reasons for this is that "God has provided a way of escape from the curse of death and the judgment to come", instead making possible the blessing of eternal life (forever with Christ). To reject the good news has consequences, for, "whoever spurns God’s offer will suffer His wrath in the judgment to come, of which the Bible clearly warns repeatedly." These statements (and much more) can be found in CMI's article, Good News!

And the gospel is indeed about death, resurrection, and the restoration of creation (The New Earth). Nonetheless, the righteous dead reside in Heaven with Jesus now (Philippians 1:23) awaiting their final resurrection, and Hell is the final destination of the wicked (Matthew 25:46, Revelation 20:10–15). See Soulless Humans? and Why would a loving God send people to Hell? for more information.
Nate S.
Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years."
(Gen 6:3) Appears to be the God-created limit.

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. (Psa 90:10) Reality at the time, under the limit.
Philip Bell
Actually, for generations after the Flood, lifespans exceeded 120 years (see Genesis 11:10-25). Even Jacob died at 147 years (Genesis 47:28) albeit that he was unusually old by that period of history. Some have exceeded 120 years even in modern times (e.g. a French lady, Jeanne Calment died in 1997 at 122 years, 164 days).
Actually, there is not strong evidence for the biological inevitability of a 120 year absolute limit; see Living for 900 years. The reference in Genesis 6:3 is much more likely to represent the period of God's delaying of judgement in the sending of the Flood; see Noah - the man who trusted God and Genesis as ancient historical narrative.

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