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Resurrection or immortality? Which is better?


This weekend, Christians around the world will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ and reveling in the hope of the resurrection. This is not the only time when we celebrate it. When the early church moved their day of worship from the Sabbath to Sunday, the Lord’s Day, every Sunday became a monument to and reminder of the resurrection. They celebrate not just Jesus’ defeat of death, but the hope of, as the Apostles’ Creed states “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

But there is an alternative vision of immortality that has captivated many, including some of the tech billionaires of Silicon Valley who are spending vast amounts of money to reverse aging and even cure death. People like Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Peter Theile (PayPal), Sam Altman (OpenAI), and others are investing big money in longevity ventures. This includes funding many new biotech companies, breakthrough prizes for scientists who discover ways to extend life, as well as other projects to stop or slow the aging process, and “solve death.”

A variety of paths are being explored in this quest for a new fountain of youth — everything from parabiosis (the transfusion of young people’s blood into older veins), to stem cell therapy, telomere extension, and nanotechnology. Transhumanists are even trying to figure out ways to preserve the brain by uploading the mind to a computer, or freezing the brain after a person dies with the hope of someday bringing it back to life.

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The literature promoting this new quest for self-manipulated immortality sometimes makes bold predictions, as equally as fantastic as those Christians who try to predict a date of the return of Christ. They’ll claim that we will achieve immortality by one means or another by the year 2030, 2045, or 2050!

It may surprise you that these man-made attempts at biological immortality share some commonalities with the Christian vision. For example, both visions view death as an enemy. Both exhibit a longing for eternal life. Both are interested in good habits that increase one’s health span. Most Christians have no problem with slowing the aging process and extending the length of life. In fact, they are thankful for the development of antibiotics, improved sanitation, and the defeat of diseases that were once fatal, all of which have expanded our average life expectancy.

However, we should not overlook the massive differences between the technological vision for immortality and the resurrection hope of Easter.

Christians contend that our problem is bigger than aging or human death. Significant life extension or the defeat of human death, (if that were possible) would not solve the problem of living in a fallen world. It would not cure the sin that drives the warring of nations, it would not solve our favorite star’s predicted demise (the sun). Our problem is bigger than aging and human death. Our scientific fixes are not big enough, because it is not just we who are wearing out. In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul says, “All creation groans and waits its day of redemption.” He says that death came as a judgment for human sin and this curse spread to all creation.

If technology could let you live forever, even to 150 years old, would you even want to live that long in a broken world still plagued by sin? There would still be suffering and misery. Things would still wear out — dental crowns last between 5 to 15 years. How many visits to the dentist can you endure? Just half of knee replacements last over 15-20 years. How many knee replacement surgeries would you want?

Such scientific breakthroughs would not give us an answer to the meaning of life. If life has no meaning, why live for 50 more years, let alone 100, let alone forever? To find life’s purpose one has to look beyond science. Eternal life without meaning would be Hell.

And then there is the problem of who gets to benefit from these expensive life-extending technologies. Even in our present age, there is an equity problem with things like clean water and antibiotics. If the tech billionaires succeed in these life-extending enterprises, how many people would be able to afford these treatments? The gap between the elite “haves” and the “have nots” would undoubtedly grow worse.

Look, I’m not dismissing the science of longevity. I am saying that while science and applied science are a wonderful blessing, it also has limits. There are some things science cannot fix.

In the end, this new vision of immortality is a secular attempt at self-salvation through human manipulation. It is driven by arrogance, not unlike the builders of the tower of Babel. It looks to science and technology as a secular savior. In so doing it exhibits a misplaced hope that comes up short.

This Easter I am reminded that the Christian vision is much more grand. The Gospel of Jesus Christ holds out not simply more years, but hope and meaning, not simply an extension of this life, but an answer to human sin and the brokenness of this world; not simply the immortality of our body, but the promise of a new Heaven and earth. That’s what we will be celebrating this resurrection Sunday.

Dr. Donald Sweeting serves as Chancellor of Colorado Christian University.

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