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Immortality: Programmed or Promised

TIME magazine had an extraordinary statement on the cover of its February 21, 2011, issue – ¨2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal.¨ This prediction was based on the merger of the human brain and a computer.  Computer technology was described as developing at such a phenomenal rate that computers could accomplish in just one hour what had previously taken their entire 90 year history to do.  This suggested to many scientists around the world that computers were developing an “intelligence” (artificial intelligence) similar to humans and by 2045 would even surpass human intelligence.  It was theorized that humans might then be able to download their consciousnesses into computerized robots and have a virtual existence inside them forever. This would permanently end civilization as we know it.  Death would become an option.  Humans would be transformed and in control of their evolution.  Perhaps they would be able to solve problems, which had previously eluded resolution.

Of course there are many scientists who find such predictions utter nonsense.  They counter with arguments that computers do a very narrow range of what is described as intelligence and that technology will never be able to replicate the vast complexities of even a single human cell.  Furthermore there are philosophical challenges to address.  How do we identify ourselves if we exist in two forms?  Would robots, downloaded with our consciousnesses, get along any better with other robots than humans do with each other now?  What if our new selves didn’t like our old selves and turned against us? 

Christians approach the subject of immortality from a dramatically different paradigm than science offers. Relying on the Scriptures, Christians know that sin is the reason we deserve to die but death does not have to be the final statement on our existence.  There is only one exception for the fate that we deserve.  That exception is the death of Jesus Christ.  Because he was perfect, Jesus did not deserve to die.  From a heart that loves as no other, God offers Jesus’ death to be the record that God will see when we come to judgement.   The most stunning reversal of destiny in all eternity is found in John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Immortality begins immediately within the context of God’s promise and becomes a reality at the Second Coming.

But there is more!  Immortality would be the worst of fates if we were to retain the same character as previously.  We are barely awake each morning when we recognize the vulnerabilities of our sinful natures.  We need a Savior all day, every day.  God knows this, therefore, his promise of transformation is much broader than the gift of eternal life.  He promises at the Second Coming to not only grant immortality for mortality but incorruption for corruption (1 Cor. 15:53).  We need both of these transformations to occur simultaneously to make either of them meaningful.  Together these promises give us every reason to praise God for his mercy and forgiveness and to trust God with our future.

Believing as we do, how should Christians respond to predictions that computer programming may one day give us the option of immortality?  Ignore these claims because we have “the truth?”  Laugh at such ridiculous predictions?  Argue the improbabilities?

We should not be surprised that scientists are compelled to seek ways to extend life.  All humans want to live longer than our lifetimes allow.  That desire was embedded by God, it is our birthright.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that God “has put eternity into their hearts.”  We press against the limits of our life spans trying to reduce the effects of aging and to lengthen our days.  We die wishing for more time. In his sermon, The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis said, “Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object…Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.”  

We must thank God for what he has allowed scientists to discover which has greatly improved the quality of life here and now.  We must be grateful for all those involved in research whether their questions have connected them with a personal God or not.  We can pray that their queries will one day help them discover salvation truths that answer those inner longings satisfied only by Jesus Christ.

The daily news is a stark reminder that we live in a world encumbered with sorrow and suffering, hatred and fear.  Human history gives us no reason to think that we will ever end all wars, cure all diseases, feed all the hungry; the list of our failures is endless. There are some who propose that the advances of technology may be our savior but the Scriptures make clear that salvation is only through a Person, our Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  

We have been promised a physical literal return of Christ.  The Scriptures describe a day when we will look up to see distant clouds becoming grander and brighter as they approach the earth.  And as this glorious scene begins to fill the entire sky, we will rejoice that that our redemption is at hand.  We will see our God, triumphant and majestic, amidst the countless hosts of jubilant angels.  At the sound of God’s trumpet and in the blink of an eye all those who have longed for this moment will become perfect and immortal beings.  We shall rise up to meet our God in the air “and thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1Thess. 4:17).   

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