Is Everlasting Life Really Possible?
“Teacher, what good must I do in order to get everlasting life?”—Matthew 19:16.
1. What can be said of our human life span?
THE Persian King Xerxes I, known in the Bible as Ahasuerus, was reviewing his troops prior to a battle in the year 480 B.C.E. (Esther 1:1, 2) According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the king shed tears as he viewed his men. Why? “It grieves me,” Xerxes said, “when I reflect on the brief span of man’s life. For of all these men, not one will be alive a hundred years from now.” You too have probably noted that life is pathetically brief and that nobody wants to grow old, get sick, and die. Oh, if only we could enjoy life in youthful health and happiness!—Job 14:1, 2.
2. What hope do many entertain, and why?
2 Significantly, The New York Times Magazine of September 28, 1997, featured the article “They Want to Live.” It quoted a researcher who exclaimed: “I really believe we could be the first generation that lives forever”! Perhaps you too believe that everlasting life is possible. You may think so because the Bible promises that we can live forever here on the earth. (Psalm 37:29; Revelation 21:3, 4) Yet, some people hold that everlasting life is possible for reasons other than those found in the Bible. Considering a couple of these reasons will help us to appreciate that everlasting life is really possible.
Designed to Live Forever
3, 4. (a) Why do some believe that we should be able to live forever? (b) What did David say about his formation?
3 One reason many believe that humans should be able to live forever has to do with the marvelous way in which we are made. For example, it is truly miraculous how we were formed within our mother’s womb. A leading authority on aging wrote: “After performing the miracles that take us from conception to birth and then to sexual maturation and adulthood, nature chose not to devise what would seem to be a more elementary mechanism to simply maintain those miracles forever.” Yes, considering our miraculous makeup, the question lingers, Why do we have to die?
4 Millenniums ago the Bible writer David contemplated those very miracles, although he could not actually see inside the womb as scientists can today. David mused about his own formation when, as he wrote, he had been ‘screened off in the belly of his mother.’ At that time, he said, ‘his kidneys were produced.’ He also told of the formation of his “bones” when, as he observed, “I was made in secret.” David then spoke of “the embryo of me” and noted in connection with that embryo within his mother’s womb: “All its parts were down in writing.”—Psalm 139:13-16.
5. What miracles are involved in our formation in the womb?
5 Obviously, there was not a literal handwritten blueprint for the formation of David within his mother’s womb. But in David’s meditation on the making of his “kidneys,” his “bones,” and his other body parts, it seemed to him as though the development of these was according to a plan—that everything was, as it were, “down in writing.” It was as if the fertilized cell within his mother had a large room full of books with detailed instructions on how to form a human baby and these complicated instructions were passed along to each emerging cell. Thus, Science World magazine uses the metaphor of ‘each cell in a developing embryo having a complete cabinet of blueprints.’
6. What evidence is there that we are, as David wrote, “wonderfully made”?
6 Have you ever thought about the miraculous functioning of our bodies? Biologist Jared Diamond noted: “We replace the cells lining our intestine once every few days, those lining the urinary bladder once every two months, and our red blood cells once every four months.” He concluded: “Nature is taking us apart and putting us back together every day.” What does that actually mean? It means that regardless of how many years we might live—whether 8, 80, or even 800—our physical body remains very young. A scientist once estimated: “In a year approximately 98 percent of the atoms in us now will be replaced by other atoms that we take in in our air, food, and drink.” Indeed, as David lauded, we are “wonderfully made.”—Psalm 139:14.
7. Based on the design of our physical bodies, what have some concluded?
7 Based on the design of our physical bodies, an authority on aging said: “It is not obvious why aging should occur.” It really seems that we should live forever. And this is why men are trying to achieve this goal through their technology. Not too long ago, Dr. Alvin Silverstein wrote confidently in his book Conquest of Death: “We will unravel the essence of life. We will understand . . . how a person ages.” With what consequence? He predicted: “There will be no more ‘old’ people, for the knowledge that will permit the conquest of death will also bring eternal youth.” Considering modern scientific inquiry into the human makeup, does the thought of everlasting life sound so farfetched? There is another even stronger reason for believing that everlasting life is possible.
The Desire to Live Forever
8, 9. What natural desire have people throughout history entertained?
8 Have you ever noted that living forever is a natural human desire? A doctor wrote in a German journal: “The dream of everlasting life is probably as old as mankind.” Describing the beliefs of certain ancient Europeans, The New Encyclopædia Britannica states: “Worthy people will live forever in a shining hall thatched with gold.” And, oh, the lengths people have gone to in an effort to satisfy that basic desire for everlasting life!
9 The Encyclopedia Americana observes that in China over 2,000 years ago, “emperors and [common] folk alike, under the leadership of Taoist priests, neglected labor to search for the elixir of life”—a so-called fountain of youth. Indeed, throughout history, people have believed that by consuming various concoctions, or even by drinking certain water, they could stay young.
10. What modern attempt has there been to make extended life attainable?
10 Modern efforts to try to satisfy man’s inherent desire for everlasting life are no less remarkable. A prominent example is the practice of freezing a human who succumbs to disease. This has been done in hopes of restoring life at some future time when a cure for the disease has been developed. A proponent of this practice, which is called cryonics, wrote: “If our optimism proves justified and it is learned how to cure or repair all damage—including the debilities of old age—then those who ‘die’ now will have an indefinitely extended life in the future.”
11. Why do people desire to live forever?
11 Why, you may ask, is this desire for everlasting life so embedded in our thinking? Is it because “[God] has put eternity into man’s mind”? (Ecclesiastes 3:11, Revised Standard Version) This is a matter for serious reflection! Just think: Why would we have the inherent desire to live eternally—forever—if it was not our Creator’s purpose that this desire be satisfied? And would it be loving for him to create us with the desire for everlasting life and then frustrate us by never allowing us to realize that desire?—Psalm 145:16.
Whom Should We Trust?
12. What confidence do some have, but do you believe it is well-founded?
12 Where, or in what, should we put our trust for gaining everlasting life? In 20th- or 21st-century human technology? The New York Times Magazine article “They Want to Live” spoke of the “deity: technology” and of the “enthusiasms about technology’s potential.” One researcher was even said to be “blithely confident . . . that genetic augmentation techniques will become available in time to save [us] by halting aging, maybe reversing it.” Really, though, human efforts have proved totally ineffective in stopping aging or in conquering death.
13. How does the structure of our brain indicate that we were intended to live forever?
13 Does this mean that there is no way to gain everlasting life? Not at all! There is a way! The structure of our marvelous brain, with its virtually unlimited capacity for learning, should convince us of this. Molecular biologist James Watson called our brain “the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe.” And neurologist Richard Restak said: “Nowhere in the known universe is there anything even remotely resembling it.” Why would we have a brain with the capacity for storing and assimilating virtually unlimited information and a body that is designed to function forever if we were not intended to enjoy everlasting life?
14. (a) To what conclusion about human life do Bible writers point? (b) Why should we put our trust in God and not in man?
14 What, then, is the only reasonable, factual conclusion to which we must come? Is it not that we were designed and created by an all-powerful, intelligent Maker so that we could live forever? (Job 10:8; Psalm 36:9; 100:3; Malachi 2:10; Acts 17:24, 25) Therefore, should we not wisely heed the inspired command of the Bible psalmist: “Do not put your trust in nobles, nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs”? Why not trust in man? Because, as the psalmist wrote, “his spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish.” Indeed, despite the potential for living forever, men are helpless in the face of death. The psalmist concludes: “Happy is the one . . . whose hope is in Jehovah his God.”—Psalm 146:3-5.
Is It Really God’s Purpose?
15. What shows that it is God’s purpose that we live forever?
15 But you may ask, Is it really Jehovah’s purpose that we enjoy everlasting life? Yes, it is! Dozens of times his Word promises it. “The gift God gives is everlasting life,” the Bible assures us. God’s servant John wrote: “This is the promised thing that [God] himself promised us, the life everlasting.” No wonder a young man asked Jesus: “Teacher, what good must I do in order to get everlasting life?” (Romans 6:23; 1 John 2:25; Matthew 19:16) In fact, the apostle Paul wrote about “a hope of the everlasting life which God, who cannot lie, promised before times long lasting.”—Titus 1:2.
16. In what sense may God have promised everlasting life “before times long lasting”?
16 What does it mean that God promised everlasting life “before times long lasting”? Some think that the apostle Paul meant that before the first couple, Adam and Eve, were created, God purposed that humans should live forever. However, if Paul was referring to a point after humans were created and when Jehovah stated his purpose, it is still clear that God’s will includes everlasting life for humans.
17. Why were Adam and Eve put out of the garden of Eden, and why were cherubs posted at the entrance?
17 The Bible says that in the garden of Eden, “Jehovah God made to grow out of the ground . . . the tree of life.” The reason given for putting Adam out of the garden was so that he could “not put his hand out and actually take fruit also from the tree of life and eat and live”—yes, forever! After expelling Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, Jehovah posted “the cherubs and the flaming blade of a sword that was turning itself continually to guard the way to the tree of life.”—Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24.
18. (a) What would eating of the tree of life have meant for Adam and Eve? (b) What did eating of that tree represent?
18 If Adam and Eve had been permitted to eat of that tree of life, what would that have meant for them? Why, the privilege of living forever in Paradise! One Bible scholar speculated: “The tree of life must have had some virtue by which the human frame was to be kept free from the decrepitude of age, or the decay that terminates in death.” He even claimed that “there was an herbal virtue in paradise capable of counteracting the effects” of aging. However, the Bible does not say that the tree of life in itself had life-giving qualities. Rather, that tree simply represented God’s guarantee of everlasting life to the one who would be allowed to eat its fruit.—Revelation 2:7.
God’s Purpose Unchanged
19. Why did Adam die, and why do we, his offspring, also die?
19 When Adam sinned, he lost the right to everlasting life for himself and for all of his yet unborn offspring. (Genesis 2:17) When he became a sinner because of his disobedience, he became defective, imperfect. From that time on, Adam’s body became, in effect, programmed for death. As the Bible says, “the wages sin pays is death.” (Romans 6:23) Moreover, the imperfect offspring of Adam also became programmed for death, not for everlasting life. The Bible explains: “Through one man [Adam] sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Romans 5:12.
20. What indicates that humans were meant to live forever on earth?
20 But what if Adam had not sinned? What if he had not disobeyed God and he had been granted to eat of the tree of life? Where would he have enjoyed God’s gift of everlasting life? In heaven? No! God said nothing about Adam’s being taken to heaven. His work assignment was here on earth. The Bible explains that “Jehovah God made to grow out of the ground every tree desirable to one’s sight and good for food,” and it says: “Jehovah God proceeded to take the man and settle him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to take care of it.” (Genesis 2:9, 15) After Eve was created as a mate for Adam, the two were given additional work assignments here on earth. God told them: “Be fruitful and become many and fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving upon the earth.”—Genesis 1:28.
21. What marvelous prospects did the first humans enjoy?
21 Think of the marvelous earthly prospects those instructions from God opened for Adam and Eve! They were to rear perfectly healthy sons and daughters in the earthly Paradise. As their beloved children grew older, these would share with them in being fruitful and in doing pleasant garden work to maintain that Paradise. With all the animals in subjection to them, humankind would be very contented. Think of the joy of extending the boundaries of the garden of Eden so that eventually the entire earth would be a paradise! Would you enjoy life with perfect children in such a beautiful earthly home, without any concerns about growing old and dying? Let the natural impulses of your heart answer that question.
22. Why can we be sure that God did not change his purpose for the earth?
22 Well, then, when Adam and Eve disobeyed and were put out of the garden of Eden, did God change his purpose for humans to live forever in Paradise on earth? Not at all! For God to have done that would have been to admit defeat as to his ability to carry out his original purpose. We can be sure that God does what he promises, as he himself proclaims: “So my word that goes forth from my mouth will prove to be. It will not return to me without results, but it will certainly do that in which I have delighted, and it will have certain success in that for which I have sent it.”—Isaiah 55:11.
23. (a) What reconfirms that it is God’s purpose that the righteously inclined live forever on earth? (b) What will we discuss next?
23 That the purpose of God for the earth has not changed is made clear in the Bible, where God promises: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.” Even Jesus Christ said in his Sermon on the Mount that the mild-tempered ones would inherit the earth. (Psalm 37:29; Matthew 5:5) Yet, how can we obtain everlasting life, and what must we do to enjoy such life? This will be discussed in the following article.
How Would You Answer?
□ Why do many believe that everlasting life is possible?
□ What should convince us that we were meant to live forever?
□ What was God’s original purpose for mankind and the earth?
□ Why can we be certain that God will fulfill his original purpose?