a christian perspective on the world today

Death and Immortality

As I write this, the world is fawning over the latest film in the Twilight saga series Eclipse-in ways that are more terrifying than the monsters in the movie.

For the uninitiated, the Twilight story is a best-selling book series written by Stephanie Meyer that revolves around a teenage girl named Bella, who falls in love with a vampire named Edward, and he returns her affections, despite being several hundred years her senior. He is supremely handsome, massively powerful, faster than a speeding bullet-and immortal in a way that the books refer to as “undead.” As their relationship progresses, Bella desires not only to have Edward but to exist as he does-as an undead vampire. The concept of “undead” pervades the Twilight books and films.

Edward and Bella argue over her wish throughout the series, especially because Edward is uncertain of where his own salvation or soul lies. As a result, Edward is not anxious to “transform” Bella into a vampire, because he does not want to jeopardise her own eternity.

As beautiful as this love story appears to some, in reality the process it proposes to attain immortality-the undead state-is rather gruesome. You must first be bitten and infected with the vampire’s venom; then tremendous pain overtakes your being as you die- or at least your body does. After the anguish is over, you emerge as a transformed undead creature whose personality survives death and continues living. While this makes for entertaining fiction, its premise is one of the most basic tenets of spiritualism. And that’s dangerous.

While out of vogue as a formal practice, spiritualism’s influence in pop culture is on the rise. In his dissertation on spiritualism, practising spiritualist Todd Jay Leonard makes the point that interest in the afterlife and spiritualism historically spikes after war, when people are looking for escape and information about the whereabouts of their lost loved ones. As we face economic hardships and constant conflict overseas, it’s easy to see why people would turn to films such as the Twilight series for escape.

Some people will no doubt claim that the Twilight books and films are “only stories,” which don’t influence their beliefs. I propose, however, that they do influence people’s thinking and beliefs in subtle ways, conditioning them to accept similar ideas later in life. The only real source of truth about life after death is found in the Bible.

what the Bible says

In order to understand the biblical concept of death, we need to understand what the Bible says about life. And the best place to begin is with the Creation story itself. Genesis 2:7 gives the formula for the creation of human beings: “The Lord God formed the man [Adam] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” The King James Version says that after God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, “man became a living soul” (emphasis added).

Some people have assumed that God created Adam (and by implication Eve also) with a soul, an ethereal entity that constitutes an immortal part of our human nature, which resides within the body and survives the death of the body. Note, however, that this “soul” (KJV) or “living being” (NI V) is the entire finished product in God’s creation of human beings. It includes both “the dust of the ground,” which is the body and the “breath of life,” which is the life force that makes this body alive. Thus, rather than saying that a human being has a soul, it’s more correct to say that a human being is a soul.

According to the Bible, animals also have nephesh. The Hebrew in Genesis 1:30 speaks of “all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground-everything that has the breath of life [nephesh] in it.” Like humans, the animals are made up of the dust of the ground and the breath of life. However, I don’t know of any Christian who would argue that animals have an immortal soul. The difference between us and the animals is that God made human beings in His image (Genesis 1:26) and personally breathed the breath of life into Adam, the first human.

In his book Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilisations, the Jewish scholar Martin Goodman says, “Incorporation of the Greek notion of the immortal soul was… partial and sporadic among Jews in the late Second Temple period… . In the Hebrew Bible, man was conceived as an animated body rather than an incarnated soul… . Most of the authors of the biblical books seem to have envisaged the nephesh as the vital principle which gives life to the body without imagining it as something which could survive in separation from the flesh. For most biblical writers, an individual did not have a body. He or she was a body, animated by the life principle” (emphasis in original).

what about immortality

So does this mean that immortality is an ethereal dream for us humans? Not at all! While God alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:15, 16), the Bible says that He will give immortality to all those who accept Jesus as their Saviour. The Bible’s most famous verse says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Faith in Jesus guarantees eternal life.

Since we humans are not inherently immortal and since obviously in this life we all die, when will we become immortal? The Bible is very clear about that as well. The apostle Paul wrote, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep [that is, those who die], or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him… . For the Lord himself will come down 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” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14, 16). Note that the dead in Christ will rise-that is, they will be resurrected at Jesus’ Second Coming.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul explained that when those who believe in Jesus are resurrected, they will receive immortality. They “will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52, 53; emphasis added). The Bible knows nothing about humans being undead. Rather, at Christ’s Second Coming, those who have put their trust in Jesus will be made immortal.

Finally, elaborating on this resurrection, Revelation states, “Blessed and holy are those who have a part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him” (Revelation 20:6). Death will no longer bind those who have a part in the first resurrection. They will be brought back to new life, transformed to reign with God. This group of people will not be undead beings, as the Twilight books and films suggest. They will be people who have been brought back to life, their characters and personalities intact, and their bodies completely transformed to spend eternity with God.

We should not desire to be among the undead. Rather, we should accept Jesus so that we can be among His immortal followers in God’s eternal kingdom.

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