Matters of Death and Life

I am long on ideas, but short on time.
I expect to live only a hundred years.

--Thomas A. Edison

 

I watch very little television. Occasionally PBS has something worthwhile. The nature shows can be a relaxing diversion after a day answering email. Emergency Vets suggests to me that some people love their pets more than their kids. Steve Irwin, the Croc Hunter could get eaten any day, and Jeff Corwin could be swallowed at any time by a hungry python. But even on these "wholesome" nature shows it is only a matter of time until the narrator says something off the wall about "Mother Nature taking millions of years" to evolve a certain geological formation or life-form. Worst of all are those intrusions of the myths of evolution--claiming to be science--which assure me that "death is a natural part of life."

Truth be told, death is not a natural part of life! Death is the great enemy of mankind. From the moment we are born we begin to die--our bodies have been genetically damaged keeping the human mortality rate at precisely 100%--no matter what science says or does. We are stalked and hunted down by a silent killer and no one escapes from his relentless pursuit.

Time Magazine (Can We Learn to Beat the Grim Reaper, January 21, 2002) says, "Give the human body half a chance, and before you know it it tries to die. If it's not cancer, it's heart disease. If it's not heart disease, it's stroke. With all the ways the body can do itself in, you would almost think it wants to end it all. The fact it, it does."

The article continues, "ìf science cured every known disease of the elderly, you'd add only 15 years to current life expectancy."

Moses knew these basic facts. He lived to be 120. "LORD, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God. Thou turnest man back to the dust, and sayest, 'Turn back, O children of men!' For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. Thou dost sweep men away; they are like a dream, like grass which is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers. For we are consumed by thy anger; by thy wrath we are overwhelmed. Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance. For all our days pass away under thy wrath, our years come to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of thy anger, and thy wrath according to the fear of thee? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on thy servants! Satisfy us in the morning with thy steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as thou hast afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. Let thy work be manifest to thy servants, and thy glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish thou it." (Psalm 90) (1)

It seems plausible to me that the genes which cause our present human mortality and limited lifespan were designed into Adam in the first place. If so, these genes were only "switched on" after the fall. If Adam and Eve had not disobeyed God I think they would have lived a thousand years, growing mature but neither old nor senile. Then, God would allow them to stage up (or be "translated") to the next higher level of cosmic experience where they could go on learning, growing and serving Him in a new, more challenging, season of life, still without sin and death. (2)

The origin of death and the grave consequences of man's original rebellion against our Creator is recorded in Genesis Two.

"And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, 'You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die ('dying thou shalt die')." (Genesis 2:16-17)

Genesis Chapter Three shows us that God sought out both Adam and Eve after they ate from the forbidden Tree of the Knowing of Good and Evil. They were forgiven, and their relationship with God was restored, but of course serious, ongoing consequences remained. Sin brings shame, self-consciousness and causes us to hide from God. Left to themselves, Adam and Eve and their offspring would all have perished eternally. We don't go looking for God--He must come and find us "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God." (Romans 3:10,11)

Our limited lifespans and our propensity for evil to this day are consequences of Adam's sin. We prove this is true because we all sin--and we all die.

"...sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned--sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord "(Romans 5:12, 13; 19-21)

All of us know what death is--we experience it everyday in one form or another. Death is the absence of real life, and only God possesses real life. What this really means is that the majority of people in the world are not really alive, according to God's definition of life. They are "dead in trespasses and sins without God and without hope in this present world." (Ephesians 2:1, 12)

It is God who has initiated the solution to this universal tragedy of death: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit; the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him." (John 3:16-19, 34-36)

Death in the Bible never implies extinction of consciousness, nor eternal sleep, nor reincarnation into another level of existence. Death includes boredom, loneliness, emptiness, and futility. Because death is at work in us here and now we suffer from a thousand secret fears. No wonder some people keep the radio on all the time, or jog with an ever present Walkman. The sound of silence or the quiet voice of conscience is too frightening for many people to hear. (3)

God's gift, eternal life, is not only everlasting, but it is a deeper, richer, fuller form of life. It is granted immediately to those who trust Jesus as Lord. Our natural biological and soulish life pales in comparison with the life of Christ poured into our spirits. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

"...we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by men and hating one another; but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:3-7)

When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is freed from sin and made completely new on the inside. All our sins are forgiven and the record book of charges against us is erased. What remains to be done mostly concerns the outer man, the body. Our physical bodies link us to the material world which is also dying and decaying, waiting for its renewal. (4)

"...all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8:14-23)

One of my favorite New Testament words is archegos, usually translated author, captain, or trailblazer. I like "trailblazer" best because it fits a major theme in the Epistle to the Hebrews. In blazing a trail for us to follow, the Son of God came into our world as a man, (the Second Adam), to undo the effects of the Fall. In the highest court of the universe, He voluntarily became a substitute for each one of us, dying in our stead. "He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus also cut a trail through the doors of death, freeing us not only from death but also from the myriad fears related to death which haunt our race:

"...we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every one. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies [makes whole] and those who are sanctified have all one origin. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted." (Hebrews 2:5-18) (5)

Actually in His very complete work on the cross two thousand years ago, Jesus not only "destroyed the devil," He also abolished death forever. We are simply waiting now for God to bring this all-encompassing victory to pass in human history. "God saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2 Timothy 1:8-10)

The Apostle Paul wrote Timothy, "I charge you to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ; and this will be made manifest at the proper time by the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:13-16)

The Apostle John saw Jesus in the splendor of His resurrection, "I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden girdle round his breast; his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters; in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth issued a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand upon me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.' (Revelation 1:12-18)

We need not fear the hour of our own death as Christians, nor should we shrink from running after Jesus down the path He has been opened up before us.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou'art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy'or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
(John Donne, 1572-1631)

Notes:

1. Teach Me to Number My Nanoseconds, http://ldolphin.org/nanos.html.

2. Lifespans of the Patriarchs, http://ldolphin.org/longev.html

3. The Ruin of Creation, http://ldolphin.org/Ruin.html

4. The term "the second death" in Scriptures refers not to the death of the body, but to final separation from the presence of God forever. Jesus said, ""I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Luke 12:4,5) (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, Revelation 2:11, 20:14, 21:8). For more on the genetic transmission of original sin see Arthur Custance's book, The Seed of the Woman, http://custance.org/Library/SOTW/Index.html.

5. Ray Stedman writes, "almost with a shout the author cries, But we see Jesus! He is the last hope of a dying race. And that hope lies both in his deity and his humanity. He alone, as a human being, managed to fulfill what was intended for us from the beginning. When we read the Gospels, we are forced to ask, Who is this man who stills the winds and the waves with a single word; who multiplies food at will; who walks on the waves; who summons fish to bring up coins at his command; who dismisses disease with a touch; and calls the dead back to life? Who is he? He is the Last Adam, living and acting as God intended us to act when he made us in the beginning. It was the First Adam who plunged the race into bondage and limitation; it is the Last who sets us free in soul and spirit, so that we may now learn how to live in the ages to come when the resurrection gives us back a body fit for the conditions of that life.

The writer traces in terse phrases the steps Jesus took to solve forever the problem of human sin. (a) He was made a little lower than the angels. There is the whole wonder of the Incarnation; in John's phrasing, "the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us." Then (b) because he suffered death, he was (c) crowned with glory and honor and thus he achieved as a human being the position intended for us in the beginning: the being who was to be closest to God, higher than any angel, and in authority over all things! Then, lest we should forget the cost, the writer adds (d) so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. To taste death does not simply mean to die, but to experience death in its full horror and humiliation. He comes under the penalty of sin in order that he might remove it. The emphasis here is that what Jesus did through his death and exaltation was for everyone. Salvation is now open to all; no one who comes to Jesus will ever be refused. His death was for everyone in the sense that everyone was thereby rendered savable.

Ever since the death of Jesus the way to glory has always included a death which leads to life. Some forms of media-evangelism have presented the Christian life as the way to fulfillment of great possibilities without also making clear that it includes a death to self-indulgence and learning obedience. We dare not extol the incredible benefits of the Christian life without reminding ourselves that they will also lead us to a cross.

To whom, then, is the world to come subject? Not to angels, that is clear. It is to be subject to the human race---to the human race as God intended us to be, redeemed and restored through sharing the life of the Man in glory, seated at the right hand of God. (Commentary on Hebrews, IVP, by Ray C. Stedman, http://raystedman.org/hebrews2/)

Addendum:

Monday 4 February 2002

Scientists find key to eternal life

ALASTAIR DALTON SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT

THE search for the secret of eternal life has advanced a step, after scientists claimed they had located the gene responsible for healthy old age.

Icelandic biotechnologists said they had isolated the Methuselah gene, which they believe could lead to the development of drugs enabling people to live longer.

The gene - a stretch of DNA - has been named after the Old Testament figure said to have lived for 969 years.

Kari Stefansson, the chief executive of DeCode Genetics, said: "There is no reason why we cannot do this. We know the location of this gene. Soon we will study its exact DNA sequence and work out how it works in the body. You can then think of making drugs that could replicate its action."

Researchers pinpointed the gene by using Iceland's uniquely comprehensive family records to compare 1,200 people who had lived beyond 90 with a similar number with average lifespans.

They found those who lived longer were much more closely related than in the other group.

Mr Stefansson said: "Our tight heritage and records are ideal for this sort of work. We have the same genes as everyone else on the planet, but because we have a small, tight population of only 270,000, it is much easier to pinpoint those of us that carry genes that have interesting functions."

The scientists discovered that those who lived longer appeared to have inherited a single gene that protected them against old age, rather than being born into families which did not inherit genes that made them vulnerable to illnesses.

DeCode's work follows research published by Harvard Medical School in the US last year, that claimed people who lived past 100 had in-built defenses against old age.

The study, which was aimed at protecting people from aging, found such people had a longevity gene which was inherited, so their children were also likely to live ten to 15 years longer than average.

It also found that the brothers and sisters of centenarians were four times more likely than average of living to 90. The Harvard researchers discovered that all 137 100-year-olds they studied had Methuselah-type genes, which appeared to enable them to fight off conditions such as cancer, dementia and heart disease.

Scientists had previously believed thousands of human genes worked together to determine how long people live.

Professor Thomas Perls, a geriatrician involved with the Harvard study, said: "An average set of genes will allow you to live to your mid to late eighties. To get another 20 healthy years, you have these disease -resistant genes." (The Scotsman: Scotland's National Newspaper On line, http://thescotsman.co.uk/index.cfm?id=135692002)


lambert@ldolphin.org
January 31, 2002