NO living being naturally wants to die. But the stark fact of death is with us whether we like it or not. No human being has yet avoided death. And all living things begin to die as soon as they are born. There is no apparent escape.
The Vanity of Human Pursuits Throughout history man has been painfully aware of his own mortality. He has sought to escape it in a variety of ways. Ponce de Leon searched for the fabled fountain of youth. The Greeks perpetuated the philosophical concept of the immortality of the soul — that man's righteous soul would finally divest itself of its evil body at the moment of death.
More practical minds sought to preserve themselves through "immortal" works of art, magnificently constructed edifices bearing their names, or classic books which they authored. The ancient psalmist well expressed this proclivity of man: "Their inner thought is, that their houses are forever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they have called their lands after their own names" (Ps. 49:11, New American Standard Bible).
But none of the trappings of human civilization are truly immortal. The Alexandrian library of ancient Egypt burned to the ground. Palestine is the graveyard of several civilizations. The hulks of Crusader fortresses dot the Mediterranean coast in modern Israel. The ruins of several Roman tiattas (theaters) have been unearthed by archaeologists in the Holy Land.
So even the most enduring elements of civilization must eventually perish — even if it takes millions of years. The best of buildings will ultimately decay into nothingness.
Everything that the eye can see — whether organic or inorganic — is aging or decaying to one degree or another. There is no arguing with that fact. It is a basic law of the physical universe. Thinking people recognize there is no apparent practical solution to the cycle of birth, babyhood, youth, middle age, old age and death. So they seek to preserve themselves through future generations — their sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. But this has no practical value in preserving their personal beings. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the earth will always sustain the conditions necessary for organic life. The dominating fact of the last half of the twentieth century is humanity's newfound ability to totally destroy all life by a host of terrible means.
All avenues of escape seem effectively sealed. Averting our own personal mortality seems impossible. The physical universe offers no hope for survival. All seems hopeless in the ultimate sense. We seem doomed to oblivion.
Even modern man has dimly recognized that no natural force offers any practical solution to his problem. Explanations born of faith and fantasy are far more appealing than the certainties of science.
But is each generation born only to die in a never-ceasing stream of time? Are all but a lucky few limited to the biblical threescore and ten — and the lucky only to that plus a few more years? One thing is certain: Physical knowledge has not provided the answer to these questions. An ever-increasing amount of understanding about the physical world in which we live has not significantly dented the mysteries of immortality. We, on the average, may live a few years longer than our progenitors, but we are no closer to preventing death than they were. Any particular individual's final demise cannot be long delayed.
Nothing seen by the human eye can solve our problem. Nothing confined within the limits of space and time can help us in the long run.
The Bible itself affirms these truths. The apostle Paul spoke of spiritual survival made possible only from a spiritual source. He was not discouraged by the prospect of perishing physically because he possessed a source of knowledge unobtainable by the natural mind.
Notice an excerpt from one of his letters to the Church of God in Corinth: "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (II Cor. 4:16-18, RSV).
Jesus on Immortality Jesus did not disagree with Paul. He told some who trusted in human tradition and their vaunted national heroes for salvation: "Your fathers ate the manna [bread from heaven] in the wilderness, and they died" (John 6:49, RSV). Jesus had to explain to them: "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (verse 63, RSV).
Man has always been preoccupied with the physical aspects of religious worship. The woman at the well pointed out to Christ that her ancestors had worshiped God at Mount Gerizim in Samaria. She erroneously thought that Jesus strictly enjoined worship only at the Temple in Jerusalem. He corrected her misassumption: "Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain [Gerizim] nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.... But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth'" (John 4:21-24, RSV).
Jesus later explained that the seeds of this permanent spirit life may be sown in the flesh now. He said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24, RSV).
Permanent spirit life residing in the flesh cannot be tested by the five senses of man. It is an ingredient that is totally spiritual — yet totally real. It is the germ of immortality. It is the Holy Spirit of God.
It cannot be bought with money. It is truly priceless. God offers it free of charge through Jesus Christ. "Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (Isa. 55:1).