( From Chapter Five: The Path to Immortality from Life, Death and Destiny)
Jesus Christ has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (II Tim. 1:10)! The Gospel of resurrection, that is. For, “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ” (I Cor. 15:22-23). This is humanity’s one and only hope, and it is both fully sufficient for our need and fully trustworthy, as this chapter will explain. Yet it is not the hope upon which the majority of the human race rely today.
The fundamental reason for this extraordinary anomaly, is that the resurrection solution is God’s solution, not ours. Resurrection from the dead, to immortality and glory, is not about the triumphant survival of some innate capacity of ours. Nor is it mere resuscitation. It is scarcely less than creation out of nothing. If this is our only hope, it means that we must be content to be totally in the hands of a sovereign God, “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17); totally beholden to Him. This, however, humanity is not willing to be. We must live and die totally by faith in God. This, however, humanity is not willing to do. Instead:
…though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 1
Instead of faith in God, we focus on ourselves. Instead of God’s solution, we are intent on our own.
I recall news reports, in 1992, of a group self-styled “The Immortalists”, pushing the view that, by changing our thinking, we can convince our bodies never to die. The “power of positive thinking” carried to absurd lengths indeed! Other news reports have suggested that a group of scientists have found a way to inhibit the aging process by up to 40 per cent. Impressive. But surely much less worthy of our attention than news of the resurrection of the dead! For that, however, we must depend on God.
The common alternative, as we saw in Chapter One, is to believe in the “afterlife”, the survival of the human soul or spirit: a quite different answer to death from resurrection. Today, it seems quite common to appeal to near-death experiences, or even “post-mortem” experiences, not to mention spiritualistic séances, “channelling” and so on, in the quest for certainty in this regard. Apparently, in the first century A.D. there were many in the church at Corinth, educated in the Greek Platonist tradition, who believed in the immortality of the soul or spirit and, on this basis, saw no necessity for the Judeo-Christian, biblical doctrine of resurrection. That is precisely why Paul wrote I Corinthians 15, to answer those converts at Corinth who were saying, “There is no resurrection of the dead” (v12). In reply, Paul insists that, if there is no resurrection, there is no hope, actually no Kingdom of God. “Then those also who have died in Christ have perished” (v18). In fact:
If the dead are not raised,
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.” 2
The fact is that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the doctrine of resurrection, far from being complementary truths, are totally unrelated alternative and incompatible answers to the problem of death. Educated Greeks whom Paul addressed in Athens, on Mars Hill, recognised this easily and most, like the Corinthians, scorned Paul’s resurrection Gospel (Acts 17:32). Yet Christian tradition has tried to mix the two. So much so, that it has become widely assumed, that belief in the immortality of the soul is a fundamental of Christian religion. In reality, Christianity loses nothing at all by jettisoning this doctrine! Rather, we not only regain a consistent biblical faith, but also find ourselves in tune with the best of modern research into the nature of the human person. In today’s culture, the Platonic doctrine of the immortality of the soul no longer commands widespread assent. It is past time for the Christian Church to cast it off and stand foursquare upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
- Romans 1:21
- I Corinthians 15:32. See also Chapter Three