Summary: A look at what the Bible says about resurrection and immortality and whether this is a good or a bad thing for us.
Immortality. For many it is the ultimate goal. To live for ever and never die. Woody Allen said “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” In many works of fiction immortality is on offer, probably, the most famous of which is the Highlander movies and TV series. However, in fiction it is not true immortality as the immortal characters can be killed, in Highland by chopping off their heads. Immortality though is still seen as a good thing. However, there are other works of fiction that depict immortality as a curse or a problem. The most recent of those is of course Pirates of the Caribbean where as a result of a curse a group of pirates are condemned to live forever, but without feeling, without being able to eat or drink or do any of the things that they as pirates wanted to do. For those of you who have good eye or memory for detail, will also remember that the immortal elf, Arwen, from the Lord of the Rings comes to view here immortality as a curse rather than a gift as she has to outlast her husband, family and all she knows and comes to be the last of her kind left in middle earth. And there is of course Queen’s famous song for the movie Highlander, “Who wants to live forever?” with a resoundingly loud “no” as the answer.
However, even given all these negative views of immortality, most of us still like the idea of immortality, of living for ever. There were many and varied view of Immortality in different religions and different philosophies. The ancient Greeks, believed in the immortality of the soul. So while this body died, the soul lived on forever and was actually a good deal better off without the body. Hinduism similarly believed in some sort of immortal soul, but it was condemned to be reincarnated over and over again until it could loose itself in a merger with the universe and or god.
But what does the Bible have to say about immortality? What should we as Christians believe about immortality? Is it something to be seen as a blessing or a curse? Is it on offer as a reward or a punishment? Do we agree with the Greek’s that we posses an immortal soul? What exactly is going on.
A blessing and a curse
Rather unexpectedly for some the Bible does actually portray immortality as both a blessing and a curse. It does so in too places, on in the very first book of the Bible in the very first section and when talking about a final judgement. But we’ll leave the judgement bit for a bit later in the sermon. For now let’s look and see what God says about immortality when He created us. In the story we are told that God created man and woman and placed them in the garden of Eden. Amidst the paradise where two special trees, the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. Adam and Eve are told that they can eat freely of any tree including the tree of life but they may not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. However, being the disobedient humans we all know and love, they do precisely the one thing, that God has told them not to do, they eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
In response to this God announces several curses. At the end of this bit God comments that if they eat of the fruit of the tree of life, they will live forever. In their present fallen condition this is regarded as a bad thing. Why? Well, its certainly not because God is worried about humanity challenging his position, of them becoming gods. He is the sole creator God, the one and only. With the benefit of the rest of scripture we can at least speculate, that the reason this was a problem for God was that immortality with sin, is not a pleasant thing or something to be looked forward to. Immortality in relationship with God and without sin, seems to have been what humanity was created for, but immortality with sin was not something that could be enjoyed. Thus, death is seen not as a curse in itself but rather as a release. However, death is still an intruder, not the thing that humanity was created for, it is still an enemy to be opposed.
So what becomes of the goal of human immortality? Does it disappear into the mists of time as the location of the garden of Eden was lost and perhaps the garden itself destroyed in the flood. Has humanity lost its chance at immortality in that one tragic event? Well at least on the surface that appears to be the case. The old saying goes the only two things that are certain about this life are death and taxes. Anybody who goes around either claiming to be immortal or offering immortality is pretty easy to disprove when they die.