Can Death Be Conquered?

Can Death Be Conquered?
Some people say that nothing is certain except death and taxes. The truth is that only one of those things is certain. Not only will every one of us die, but every government that collects taxes will also die. It’s a scientific fact that all things, even the universe itself, will come to an end. Can death be conquered?

There is no escaping physical death for everyone and everything. Since we are limited to the dimension of time, and since there is such a thing as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, disorder will eventually catch up with us and with everything else. Our vehicles wear out. Our clothing wears out. Our bodies wear out. Even the Sun and all of the other stars will wear out.

If you spend your life getting all you can for yourself not caring whom you hurt in the process, you will not take your riches with you. If you devote your life to studying science and adding to the database of human knowledge, that too will go away. If all things in the universe, including humans, are merely accidents of chance, we ultimately have no purpose, no value, and no hope.

If you have read this far, you may be feeling depressed, but I have good news. There is a God who created the universe, and you, for a purpose. Yes, your body will die, and even the universe will die. But by God’s grace, you can choose to live on. God entered the time dimension in human form and conquered death for us. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, though they die, yet shall they live.”

How can death be conquered? In the beginning, God created time and space, matter and energy. Since He created those things, God is not limited by them. God had no beginning, and He will have no end. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus demonstrated God’s love and grace and His power over death. Because of that, you have the choice to believe and accept and live on beyond the universe. “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).
–Roland Earnst © 2018

Peaceful Death and God

Peaceful Death
One of the things that old age brings you is that you are constantly brought face-to-face with death. Since the start of 2018, eight people that I knew well have died. The most recent was my younger brother who died from a combination of cancer and Parkinson’s disease. All eight of those people died slowly over a period of months. All of them were aware of their impending death within their last week of life. None were sudden deaths due to an accident or an unexpected stroke or heart attack. Discover magazine (March 2018, pages 66-68) published an article about the connection between spirituality and peaceful death. It tells about a radiation oncologist named Tracy Balboni who is a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. A major part of the thrust of Dr. Balboni’s work is helping patients make important decisions about the end of life. They can choose whether to use every possible medical technique to prolong their life, or they can decline major interventions and use hospice care and medication for pain control.

I watched my brother die, and I have observed the difference between his dying and the death of atheists I know who died with similar ailments. Every atheist that I have observed exhausted every medical resource possible in an attempt to stay alive. Not only was it expensive, but it brought much suffering to them and anxiety to their family members. One man told me “If this life is all I have been given, then I want to hang onto it as long and as hard as I possibly can.”

In my brother’s case, two years ago this past November I baptized him into Christ. That was the culmination of a great struggle between the atheistic traditions he had grown up with, and the influence of his wife and myself encouraging him to embrace spirituality. When he accepted Christ, he was not facing death, but his mortality was obvious. In the last three months of his life, he became very weak, and his quality of life deteriorated significantly. In the last three weeks, he and I talked extensively. He was resolute in his determination to have no more medical treatments and to be in hospice. His death was a peaceful death.

Balboni has received a two-million-dollar research grant designed to put spirituality on solid ground. To those who would complain that you are measuring nothing in such studies, Balboni says: “No, no, no. There are too many associations that we’re seeing to say it’s spurious and meaningless. That argument doesn’t hold if you care for dying patients.”

A patient’s spirituality gives huge support at the end of life. In our day of rapidly expanding medical technology, faith is a very important tool for peaceful death.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

How to Stop the Aging Process

Stop the Aging Process
It’s scientifically impossible to stop the aging process. That is the conclusion of a new study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on October 25, 2017. You can read the full report here.

The problem is defined mathematically in that report. It involves two forces that take place in multicellular organisms, such as humans. As cells reproduce, mutations accumulate causing the cell functions to become sluggish and lose function. The result is wrinkled skin, gray hair, weakened bones, and many other things. When the body’s cells are young, they cooperate to weed out imperfect cells. With age, there are more cells with imperfections, and the body can’t keep up with removing the bad ones. At the same time, some cells start to reproduce uncontrollably. We call it cancer. Either we have sluggish cells or out of control cell reproduction.

Removing the sluggish cells leaves more room for the out of control cancer cells. Removing the cancer cells leaves the sluggish cells. A balance between the two is not mathematically possible to sustain. Eventually, the math catches up with us and death results. According to the report, scientists who are looking for the cure for aging are not going to succeed. Of course, we all know that lotions, creams, vitamins, and health foods have limited success in keeping us looking and feeling young. According to the research, either your cells will become more sluggish, or they will become cancerous. There is no other option. There is no fountain of youth. You can’t stop the aging process.

But wait! Genesis 2:9 tells us about the trees in the Garden of Eden, and mentions two of them by name. God commanded the first couple not to eat from only one of those two. The other one that they could eat from was called the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve were banished from the garden that God had prepared for them, they were cut off from the Tree of Life. God said that if they ate from it, they would live forever (Genesis 3:22). For them to live forever in their fallen state, separated from God, would be worse than death. On that fateful day, Adam and Eve died spiritually, and their bodies began to die physically. Ever since then, humans have tried to cheat death and live forever. The result has been a long history of failure.

But God had a better plan. He prepared a way to restore the descendants of the human race to Himself. He hinted at it in Genesis 3:15. The plan was revealed and completed by Jesus Christ. He set out to finish the task of restoration (John 4:34 and 5:36), and He did (John 19:30). We read in Revelation 22:1-2 about the River of Life flowing from the throne of God. Growing along the sides of that river we find the Tree of Life. No longer will it be out of reach. Until then–according to this scientific report–scientists are searching in vain to find a way to stop the aging process and death.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Epicurus on Death and Fear

Epicurus on Death and Fear
About 2300 years ago in ancient Greece there lived a man named Epicurus. He spent his time thinking about things and taught others about the things he was thinking. One of the things Epicurus thought about was death. That’s not unusual. There has never been a living human being who has not thought about death at one time or another. But Epicurus was a professional thinker (also known as a philosopher), so his thoughts were influential. What do we hear from Epicurus on death and fear? In his thinking, he concluded that death was the end of body and soul. When we die, we just cease to exist and therefore, he said, death should not be feared.

Epicurus died in 270 B.C. at the age of 72 in great pain because of kidney stones. However, he wrote a letter in which he said it was, “a happy day to me, which is also the last day of my life.” Since Epicurean philosophy says that death is nothing to be feared, why do people still fear death? Perhaps it’s because most people think that Epicurus was wrong.

What is the source of the greatest joy and fulfillment in life? Isn’t it love? The relationships we have with others bring us happiness and give us purpose as well as joy. Loving and being loved by family and friends is the greatest of human experiences. God never intended for us to be alone. (See Genesis 2:18.) Being rejected by those we love is the source of the greatest pain. Interestingly, Epicurus believed that a happy life is one in which friends surround us. We know that nothing makes us as sad as the loss of those we love. Death is the most permanent form of separation and loss. Death steals away those we love one-by-one if we manage to live long enough. Death gives us much to fear, and then finally death comes to take us.

If Epicurus is right, then death is the end of love. If there is no existence beyond the grave, there is no love. If you believe that death is the end of existence, seeing a loved one dying is the most fearful and terrible experience in life. But what if death is not the end? What if love goes on? Genesis tells us that death was not part of God’s original plan for humans. Death is a consequence of human sin. Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus out of sympathy for Mary and Martha. He must also have been weeping over what sin had done to the human race. Grief and anger over the mess brought on by human disobedience touched the emotions of the human Jesus.

But Jesus was more than human. He is also God. He had the power to bring Lazarus back from the grave and restore him to the sisters who loved him. But that resurrection was only temporary. Lazarus, as well as his sisters, died at some later time. Soon after raising Lazarus, Jesus conquered the power of death once and for all. His death brought both fear and grief to those who loved him. But as Timothy Keller wrote in Making Sense of God, “…the darkness of death swallowed Jesus, he entered it, but then he blew a hole out of the back of it.” The pain of those who wept was turned to joy as Jesus was alive again. When Jesus conquered death, he brought not only joy but also hope. Death is not the end of love and relationships. Love goes on.

So what can we conclude about Epicurus on death and fear? Epicurus was right when he said that death should not be feared, but he had the wrong reason. For those who accept the gift offered by Jesus Christ, death is the entryway to eternal life and a love relationship with the One who IS love (1 John 4:8).
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Should Christians Use Cremation?

Should Christians Use Cremation?
We have been asked, “Should Christians use cremation?” I have had to study this question for personal reasons. I have left instructions with my wife and children about what I want done with what is left of my body when I die. My desire is to have my body cremated. I can’t see any reason to go to the expense and trouble of putting my physical shell in the ground with a stone above it. It uses enormous amounts of money which my family can put to a better use.

In a very short time, that grave site will be forgotten. My parent’s burial site is in Bloomington, Indiana, and their three sons no longer live there. I believe I am the only family member that has ever visited it since they died. I wanted to see if it had been maintained–which it had not.

So should Christians use cremation? From a religious standpoint, I can find nothing in the Bible which suggests cremation is displeasing to God. The body is dust to dust, and the speed with which we return to the dust from which we came is not a biblical issue. Some people die by being burned to death involuntarily (1 Corinthians 13:3; Hebrews 11:34).

In 1 Corinthians 15:42-57 there is a lengthy discussion of the body in death. Verse 44 tells us that there is a separation between the natural body and the spiritual. It says that the spiritual will be raised incorruptible and that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (verse 50). We will be changed, and all that is wrong with this body will be gone.

God’s Spirit dwells within us as long as we are alive (1 Corinthians 3:16), but that Spirit will not stay in a dead body. Cremation may not be aesthetically appealing to everyone, but Jesus is concerned with what we do with our bodies when we are alive, not how we dispose of the dust from which we came when we die.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

Excruciating Pain!

Crucifixion Of Jesus
Crucifixion Of Jesus

The ancient Assyrian army would drive a stake into the chest of their enemies impaling them. Then they would plant that stake in the ground to display their victim. They did this both to frighten and to intimidate those who would oppose them.

The ancient Romans further refined this gruesome tactic. Instead of impaling their victims on a stake, they nailed them to the stake. Impaling resulted in quick death, but crucifixion extended the horror. Crucifixion was slow and agonizing torture that sometimes lasted more than a day. It’s from this execution method that we get our word “excruciating”–which literally means “from the cross.” Crucifixions took place in public where people could see the victim and become terrified to go against the Roman government. This torture was used for the worst of criminals.

But one time it was used for the only perfect man who ever lived. He had done nothing wrong. He died for those of us who have sinned. He suffered excruciating pain and public humiliation in a way that demonstrated love and grace. He went willingly to the cross. Even more amazing is the fact that while suffered on the cross he forgave his tormentors. From the cross, he even pardoned a real criminal who hung next to him. He forever made the worst form of torture and execution a symbol that millions proudly hold up, wear, and display. What other execution device is so loved? Why do we call the day of his torture and death “Good” Friday? It’s because of God’s amazing love and grace demonstrated in Jesus Christ. That’s the “crux” of the matter.
–Roland Earnst © 2017

Talking with the Dead

Man Meets Robot
Man Meets Robot
Researchers at the University of Minnesota say that they will soon be making voice simulations of someone so close to the actual person that they will “be able to accurately imitate those who have died.” The claim is that “we will be able to continue to interact with them as if they continued to live.” There is a test called the Turing Test which allows researchers to tell whether a response is from a human or a machine. Some of the simulations have passed the Turing test. In other words, you could be talking to a simulation of your father who died ten years ago, and you would not be able to tell that you were talking to a computer. Family history, mannerisms, voice inflections, patterns of choices can all be built into the computer simulation.

In an article by Muhammad Ahmad from the Minnesota department of computer science in Saturday Evening Post (March/April 2017 page 10), a shocking question was asked. The question was, “Would such a system have a soul?” Ahmad responded that his work would allow experiences OF a deceased person, not experiences WITH the deceased. Ahmad says that “in the future, you would still be able to spend time laughing and reminiscing with a simulation so similar to your loved one that it would be difficult to tell the two apart.

The things that make us truly human will never be possible in a simulation. A simulation can revisit a memory from the past. Past events, mannerisms, and patterns of choice can be built into the simulation. However, there will not be creative expression in art and music, spontaneous acts of worship, feelings of guilt and sympathy, and an agape type of love. I have spent hours watching videos of my wife of 49 years and my children as babies and toddlers and teenagers. It has been a rich experience. I have recordings of my deceased mother and of my kids’ school events. Those are good memories, but even better is having the comfort of knowing that God is now caring for my loved ones and that in the future there is the hope of something far better than the best memories I have of the past.
–John N. Clayton © 2017