Greetings once more friends! Let’s talk of a subject hardly discussed at the dinner table – eternal life or immortality!
The Most Important Question About Life
Is the belief in eternal life something viable for mortal humans, or is it just imagining a fool’s paradise? Why do millions believe death is not the end of our existence? Most religions have some form of belief in life after death. The ancient Egyptians practiced elaborate ceremonies to prepare the pharaohs for their next life. On the other hand, many more believe that like animals, once we die that is the end of everything, there is no afterlife. Someone said everyone is afraid to die, so this is how we deal with this fear through belief that there is a magical realm in which you will forever be reunited with your loved ones, and above all experience complete bliss for all eternity. Of course belief in immortality goes with the belief in the existence of a God who has the power to give immortal life to man. It is not my purpose to discuss the pros and cons of this topic which has been subject of debate for centuries, but to provide the Christian view of immortality which millions claim to believe, which same belief is revealed in the book of the Christian faith, the Bible.
Fountain of Eternal Life, downtown Cleveland, Ohio, USA (Wiki Commons)
Christian View of Eternal Life
Though religions have different forms of belief about eternal life, they are not all identical with the Christian belief. The Christian concept of immortal life, based upon Bible revelation, is that eternal life is attained through belief in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and by a resurrection from the dead to immortal life. (1Thes. 4:16-17; 1Cor.15:12-58) Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lay down His life for the sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:7, 11, 27-28) The hope of the dead is the resurrection.
Bible ‘Silent’ about Afterlife
The Bible is virtually silent about the afterlife or what we will be doing there, but it has much to say about what we ought to be doing here and now in this earthly life. What we do on earth will ultimately determine our eternal future. Jesus said as much as we extend a hand of Love to our fellow humans, or lack of it, we are in reality doing it to Him. (Matt. 25:31-46) In other words, our actions have eternal consequences. In fact the entire Bible is about how to live life on earth, not the afterlife. If there’s an afterlife whether in heaven or hell as many presume, what then is the purpose of the resurrection which is clearly revealed in the Bible? The Bible teaches that the resurrection is man’s entry point into immortal life, not at death. (1 Cor. 15) It says prior to this we were all ‘asleep’ – for those who are dead – “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of the eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true, ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory'” (1 Cor. 15:51-54). Sleep is the symbol of death. (1 Kings 2:10; 11:43; Job 14;12; Psa.13:3; Act.7:60)
Resurrection at The ‘Last Day’
Whether we believe someone is in heaven or hell, it presupposes the judgment has taken place. But the Bible speaks of the judgment of all in the last day. The resurrection presupposes the dead will be raised in the future to be judged. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent Me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:44) Martha spoke to Jesus about the resurrection as it concerns Lazarus, “I know he (Lazarus) will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24; also, Rev.20:4-6, 11-13) There is no hint of a life after death until the resurrection. Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (V.25) The Hebrew thought on the other hand, predating the Greeks, is based upon scripture (Bible) which upholds the dead to be in their graves awaiting the resurrection. (Eccl.9:10; Psa.6:5; 16:8-11) The New Testament speaks eloquently about the resurrection. (1Cor.15:12-58; 1Thess.4:13-18)
“Immortal Soul” Originated in Greek Philosophy
The common teaching in Western thought about the afterlife actually originated in Greek philosophy. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were prime proponents of the concept of the “immortal soul” which predated Christianity. Socrates explains death saying, “Is it not the separation of soul and body? And to be dead is the completion of this; when the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and body is released from the soul, what is this but death.”** These are not words from the Bible, but by pagan philosophers. Socrates explained that the immortal soul, once freed from the body, is rewarded according to good deeds or punished for evil. The term “immortal soul” appears nowhere in the Bible. By presupposing the afterlife, and thereafter reward the good and punish evildoers, it follows that Western thought have the afterlife presented in two broad concepts: heaven for the good, and hell for the evildoers. This is not of Hebrew or biblical origin, but Greek philosophical thought.
As a blogger claims, existence of a “immortal soul” (or immortal life), if it were assumed to be true would mean that death, the greatest absolution known – become suddenly meaningless. And that’s just the point, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25) Jesus was not affirming the “immortal soul” concept, He qualified the afterlife by a resurrection. In Western thought, we have used Greek philosophy as the paradigm to filter and interpret the Bible, at least on this subject. Yet, the Bible warns us about adding to, or taking away, from the truth it reveals. (Rev.22:18-19) This passage from scripture was spoken in the context of mankind’s eternal inheritance of immortality which God gives to mankind.
Pope’s View on “Hell”
The Catholic Church has changed its teaching about a literal hell, when Pope John Paul II said, “Hell is symbolic and figurative of the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a physical place, hell is the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the Source of life and joy. Hell is a condition resulting from attitudes and actions which people adopt in this life.” Hell is not some place where evil doers are made to suffer in torment in an undead condition. Life on earth is a ‘hell’ for many. Only the fallen angels exist in an undead state for they were created spirits, man was made of the dust of the ground. As a blogger says, if we spent our mental and physical effort in consideration of future generations like we spend it on a form of afterlife, the world would be a better place to live. If the concept of the afterlife inherently demands of a judgment, then morality will be one’s compass in life, because handing judgment to a higher power forms part of moral consciousness.
Fountain of Eternal Life, downtown Cleveland, Ohio, USA (Wiki Commons)
“Hell” – Hard Concept to Stomach
Hell is a difficult concept to stomach with a God who openly declares Himself a God who is Love in His Triune nature. He is not made of Love, He is Love. (1John 4:8) I don’t believe as humans we would want such a fate on another even if we have only an ounce of God’s Love in us. To suffer in hell fire in an undead state for eternity is unimaginable. So, are we suggesting man who is intrinsically evil, is more compassionate than God? God forbid! There is something amiss with this worldview as it contradicts God’s very basic nature of Love. God did say He made man from the dust, and to the dust he is to return. (Gen.3:19; also, Eccl.3:19-20; Psa.146:4; 115:17) That’s about a death as eternal as any if you think about it; but existing in an eternal undead state is not biblical. (Eccl.9:5; also, Job 14:12) Hell is the grave (sheol) where man return to dust, not some unknown place where evil-doers suffer in an undead state. In Hebrew thought to be ‘alseep’ is the symbol of death. If I believe in the immortality of the soul the Greeks believe, then I’m expected to believe in a hell for the undead.
“I Am The Resurrection And The Life!”
Immortal life in the Bible cannot be stated more clearly, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25a) Paul says, “There shall be a resurrection (future) of the dead, both of the just and the unjust.” (Act.25:15) We are not judged immediately after death, there’s a future judgment day coming for all in the last day. The resurrection to immortality presupposes the existence of an eternal God who confers immortal life to man. Like all life forms which produce after their kind, the Creator God is no different. He is Creator of the universe and this earth which He made specifically for humans, and for man’s grand purpose. This demonstrates His sovereignty over all creation. The scripture reveals His purpose of creating mankind is to form man ultimately in His immortal image and likeness. At creation God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, so they may rule…So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Gen.1:26-27) This raises an obvious and legitimate question, what is God’s image? God is immortal in His Tri-Personal Being as Father, Son, and Spirit.
Jesus – Only Human to Attain Immortality
Only one human has so far attained to the resurrection to immortality: He is Jesus, the Savior of mankind. This is the Gospel account of it, “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; He is risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay.” (Matt.28:6) Here, we have an angelic messenger testifying to Jesus’ resurrection and by extension God’s plan to resurrect humans to immortality like Jesus’ own resurrection. Jesus paved the way for man’s immortal life by His own human resurrection to immortality. Paul gives the answer to man’s immortality, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son (human made immortal), that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Rom.8:29, emphasis added) So human immortality is to resemble Jesus’ own immortality when He was resurrected from the dead. Jesus is the firstborn human made immortal, among the many that will follow in the future resurrection to immortality. He is the “firstborn” and only human who has attained human immortality. The “many” to follow awaits His second coming, Paul comforts the church with this hope, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God: and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (1Thes. 4:16-17) This is man’s only hope for immortality!
Man’s Purpose To Reign With Christ
Immortality is the heart and core of the Gospel message. It is the basis of man’s eternal reign on earth. (Gen.1:26b, 28). Man is to rule the earth in Love according to God’s image. Rulership is the prerogative of the Creator God He shares with man. So though we may deny man’s potential for eternal life, we cannot deny the human essence to reign because we exercise dominion everyday over this earth in practically everything we do. Please note, it is not dominion over another human which is precluded in the Genesis dominion mandate, but dominion over creation apart from our fellow man. (Gen.1:26b, 28) As far as humans are concerned, we do not exercise rulership but relationship with people. Human relationship is governed by a continuous fulfillment of the “debt of Love” because we are all made in His image of Love. (Rom.13:8) Man was made to have dominion over all creation with the exception of man. How can the ruler be ruled? Jesus washed His disciples feet to show the humility needed to relate with our fellowmen. Jesus did not ‘rule’ His disciples, He served them, so ought we to do likewise.
Immortality & Reign – Flipside of the Same Life
Rulership and immortality are prerogatives of God and flipside of the sole expression of God’s Being. To rule means one has the ability to sustain his reign eternally. When it comes to God, you cannot accept one and deny the other – that’s His image. God rules eternally in Love. If you accept one, you accept both. Otherwise, what’s the point of dominion if death is the end-all. Humans like to express this bent in his makeup for the afterlife by building monuments and legacies for themselves to be preserved for posterity. Humans think this way because he is made in the divine immortal likeness of the Creator. This poses a dilemma for those who don’t believe in man’s future immortal life. Man has exercised dominion over this earth, but the earth has remained while man has returned to its ashes from whence he was taken. Yet, the earth exists solely for man’s divine purpose. The Scripture says the earth groans and waits in eager expectation for the manifestation of man’s immortality as children of God. Why, because the earth’s ongoing meaning for existence in the universe is forever tied to God’s and man’s future upon it. “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God.” Yes, they will dwell in the new earth and in the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming from heaven as God’s gift. (Rom.8:18-23; Rev.21:1-4)
All human dynasties die eventually, only Jesus’ dynasty is eternal. Paul enlightens us, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (kingdom/dominion), if indeed we suffer in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory (immortality).” (Rom.8:17, emphasis added) So we see rulership and immortality are one expression of God which He shares with those who become His children in faith. As the scripture say, “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1Cor.15:44) If there is to be reign, then there must of necessity be immortal life to eternalize man’s reign. He said this about man’s reign, “I appoint to you a kingdom, as My Father has appointed to me.” (Luk.22:29)
Though man’s existence is temporary and ends in death, he has the potential for eternal life in the resurrection to reign in God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus said, “The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25b) Man’s immortality is secured in Jesus who, in Himself is the Personification of the resurrection. He said, “I AM the resurrection and the (true) life.” (John 11:25a) All life in the universe and this earth springs from, and is sustained by God, who is the Fountain of life, both physical and spiritual life. No human dies without His knowledge, not even a bird falls to the ground without His knowing, for all life springs from Him. He is omnipresent as He is omniscient. (Matt.10:29-31) Nothing created has life of its own, not even man. Only God is immortal and occupies true life. Life oozes out from Him, from whom all life forms are beneficiaries by His grace. Man is mortal, not immortal. Only the “uncreated” possesses immortality, the created possess mortality. Paul said to Timothy, “Who (God) alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (1 Tim.6:6) Of man, the scripture say, “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same. As one dies, so does the other. They all have the same breadth, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” (Eccl.3:19-20)
What Happens at Death?
The Spirit of God is the life-energy which envelopes our universe and all life forms upon this earth. Nothing can exist outside of God’s life-giving energy.The Spirit is the ‘divine spark’ (soul) which give the human mind his intellectual and spiritual faculties. Man has no self-sustaining immortality in him. Of all creatures, only man was blessed with the ‘divine spark’ (mind) to keep him connected to his Creator, for the purpose of remaking man in His image. Because man was formed in His image, the ‘divine spark’ (mind) enables him to live inter-dependently with his Creator, not independently apart from Him as some self-sustaining entity. (Gen.1:26-27) To the Greeks, belief in the “immortal soul” essentially means “uncreated” – not created. (“The immortality of the soul: a protest,” – #46 – Immortality)
How man uses his thoughts ultimately forms his subconscious mind which controls his life, whether for good or evil. Love is freedom, so man has to choose his thought process and thought form which will form his attitude to life. (read my blog post, “Penny for Your Thoughts,” 3/18/14) Also, this spiritual union show the vitality of the “Triune Life” whose underlying motivation is the collaborative, humble, inter-personal, and mutual way of life of the Trinitarian God. An independent self-sustaining life is non-existent in the “Triune Life.” Upon death, man returns to the earth from whence he was taken, and the ‘divine spark’ returns to the Spirit who gave it. (Eccl.12:6-7; 9:5; Gen.3:19; Psa.146:4; John 3:13; Psa.115:17; 89:48) At the return of Jesus, man is raised to give account in the judgment. (1 Thes.4:13-18; 2 Cor.5:10; Matt.12:36)
Fountain of Eternal Life, downtown Cleveland, Ohio, USA (Wiki Commons)
It All Comes Down to ‘Faith’
There is so much that can be said about this topic. It must be said the subject of man’s immortality has been debated for centuries, and will continue to be debated for a long time to come. Be that as it may, I have tried to expound its salient features as it concerns the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible. I realize people will say they don’t believe the Bible is the last word on the subject. That may be so, but whatever position a person may take, they do express faith like Christians do. His faith rest upon the authority he has chosen to support on the subject. It is for us to question the validity and integrity of the authority we uphold and support. For Christians, it is the inspired word of the Bible, which they believe is authored by God Himself. (2 Tim.3:16; 2 Pet.1:21) It has survived for centuries, despite attempts to destroy it. When all is said and done, it is about our faith, isn’t it? Atheism is a faith which expresses disbelief in the existence of God and the supernatural. So accusing one’s faith in God as a ‘crutch,’ while expressing faith in the god of atheism, is hypocrisy usually found in the blind.
The Biblical Account of Resurrection to Immortal Life
I close with this passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “If the dead are not raised then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ is not raised your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive…The body that is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1Cor.15:16-18, 22, 42-44)
Paul goes on to tell us of that miraculous moment of truth when suddenly, like being awakened from a deep slumber, we find ourselves in an indescribable and transformed state of existence. What does it feels like to be an immortalized human and be profusely alive and not dependent on our humanity for existence? No one knows how that feels like, but here’s how Paul describes it, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Cor.15:51-57) The weight and credence of the Christian faith rests upon the promise of immortal life.
What was the Question?
Let’s pose the question we asked at first, is immortal life viable? Paul said if there is no resurrection to eternal life, then what is the point of it all? “If Christ is not raised then your faith is futile (empty). If our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (Vs.17, 16, 32) But if there is a Higher Power who made man in His Loving image, who is the Judge of mankind, and who confers immortality, then there is moral palpability in the way we live and in all we do.
Until we meet again in my next post, may the blessing of the God who ceaselessly expresses Himself in His dependable Triune Love, be with you today and give you strength for authentic creative “Triune Living” as a Bula man-river.*
If you wish to read more, please obtain a copy of my book, “Bula Man-River – The Miracle of Triune Living,” from my web site: www.bulamanriver.com. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write me in the space provided below, or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kiang (Your Servant in Christ)
**Five Great Dialogues, 1969 P.93
*The “Bula man-river” is the metaphor describing the union of man with the Love of the Triune God flowing in humans, making possible the “Triune Life” – the source of the miraculous life in man. Man is the “riverbed” and the Spirit is the “living waters” that cover him and flows to all in his valley (destiny). (John 7:37-39)
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All scriptures are taken from the NIV Version 2011, unless stated otherwise.