Almost a year ago, Kansas Bob and I had an interesting conversation on his post, Are all humans immortal? This topic has come up again recently in several conversations, so I thought that I would share our earlier discussion and ask you to share your thoughts and perspective.
Kansas Bob: Most people believe that all humans are immortal (i.e. live past death) when they are born. Some wonder if people become immortal when they are spiritually born after they are physically born. What are your thoughts? Are humans born immortal or do some become immortal after they are born?
Linda: Bob, my thoughts are that man as a created being was not by nature immortal, but was given immortality by God at creation. However, I believe that this original immortality was lost in the fall. Mankind could only be restored to immortality through the recreation of man’s nature (rebirth) made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection. It is my understanding that all of mankind was restored to immortality.
Rather than solely an expression of time, I believe that references to eternal life speak more to the quality of life with God. Our ability to commune with God was also restored through Jesus, but obviously how we experience life with God is determined by our participation in relationship with Him.
Kansas Bob: I would be interested in your take on what it means to be born of the Spirit.
Linda: My belief is that the phrase “born of the Spirit” refers to the restoration of the nature of man to the image of God, giving mankind, once again, the capacity to commune and have relationship with God. In my opinion, this is not something that we do, but something that Jesus accomplished and that we experience through our understanding of who we are and what is ours as a result of what He has done.
A few verses concerning this:
John 3:3 (Amp) unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God.
John 3:7 Marvel not [do not be surprised, astonished] at My telling you, You must all be born anew (from above).
John 3:17 For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.
I Peter 1:23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
Romans 6:4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Romans 6:8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Kansas Bob: My thinking is that your perspective is that those verses is generic rather than personal in that you believe that we are all born again and experience the kingdom of God.
Linda: I believe that it was necessary for Jesus to restore the capacity of mankind to share in the life of God, kingdom life. Yes, I think this rebirth was generic, made effective for all of humanity, in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Jesus is the only Way (no man comes to the Father but by Me) in which we could be recreated with a nature capable of participating in the life of God (ye must be born again).
An individual’s personal experience of life in the kingdom of God is determined by their choice to connect and share in life with God. We each experience kingdom life to the degree that we turn to the source of life.
Kansas Bob: A bit confused by “restore the capacity of mankind to share in the life of God, kingdom life.” It seems that having the capacity to share does not mean that all will share. That view would indicate that all may not share in the life of God. Seems to conflict with the CU view that all will be in heaven.
Linda: Let me try again, perhaps capacity isn’t the best word. The aspect of man’s union with God that was broken by the fall was restored to all mankind through Jesus. Our adoption was fulfilled in Jesus.
I think there are many who will be in God’s presence in the afterlife who did not experience sharing life with God while they lived on earth (this may include some folks who define themselves as Christians).
In my opinion, sharing life with God will not ultimately determine the afterlife, but it will definitely impact the quality of kingdom life that one experiences today. It is tragic to trudge through this life apart from Him, when sharing His life is so freely available to us. We are continually in a state of being saved from living apart from God.
Kansas Bob: I resonate with you that real eternal life can begin this side of life. My thinking is that kind of life begins with being spiritually reborn. How do you see that life beginning and how is it different?
Linda: Bob, I place spiritual rebirth in our inclusion in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and in His resurrection. For the individual, I believe that salvation is an ongoing process of growing in knowledge and understanding of God. In that process we experience the drawing and teaching of the Holy Spirit, and at times, life-altering encounters with the truth. I do not see this as a one-time event, not to diminish the fact that we can have dramatic encounters with the Spirit of God. I believe our hearts are transformed by sharing in life with God, immediately and over the course of time.
Kansas Bob: I do understand Christian Universalism to a degree. That said, I still do not have a clear understanding of why you believe that some people experience spiritual life and some do not if you believe that all have been spiritually born.
Linda: I don’t call myself a universalist because, although I believe in universal reconciliation (restoration, re-creation, rebirth), I also believe that individuals choose their degree of participation in life with God. In that regard, I am a hopeful universalist. I have great faith in the work of the Holy Spirit and in God’s relentless pursuit of each person, and ultimately, in the irresistible nature of His love and goodness.
Back to Bob’s original question, “Are all humans immortal?” Only God is by nature immortal. As created beings, our existence is sustained as a gift in and through Christ. Immortality was gifted to man in creation, lost in the fall of Adam. The power of death – mortality – had to be defeated and the nature of man had to be restored. I believe there was a cosmic, metaphysical change for humanity at the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Only Divine Life could restore immortality to humanity through His death and resurrection, and only the Creator could recreate man once again in the image and likeness of God.
If this topic interests you, I highly recommend On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. It can be found online in several formats at the link provided.
Since the Word of God was above all,
when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument
as a substitute for the life of all,
He fulfilled in death all that was required.
Naturally also, through this union
of the immortal Son of God with our human nature,
all men were clothed with incorruption
in the promise of the resurrection.
For the solidarity of mankind is such that,
by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body,
the corruption which goes with death
has lost its power over all.
- St. Athanasius