Immortality

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

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26 thoughts on “Immortality

  1. The dialog seems a bit out of chronological order Linda but it does seem to capture the essence of our many conversations. Wonder what kind of comment feedback you will get. My thinking is that most will agree with you as both camps seem to embrace the idea that all humans are born immortal – some thinking all get to heaven and some thinking there are two destinations.

    1. kansasbob,
      I hope it makes sense. I kept the order of the conversation from your comment section, basically just editing the conversation down to my comments and your responses and adding the explanatory opening paragraph and summary closing paragraph and the quotation.

      So, if I were to state your position, would you say that you believe that each person is born mortal and if/when they make a decision for Christ they are then reborn of the Spirit and become immortal?

      1. I would not put is that narrowly Linda. My take would be that each person is born mortal and when they are then born of the Spirit they become immortal? In my view, how a person is born of the Spirit is a different topic.

  2. Hi folks.

    May I throw in my 50 cents worth.

    I believe that we all have a spirit or timeless spark of God within, and a psyche/soul, the equipment or interface required to live in this earthly body consciousness.

    The new birth or whatever phrase we wish to use is the explosive infusion of Spirit that overwhemls us when it draws near to the pilot light of spirit.

    Perhaps this sounds a wee bit on the gnostic side for most Yeshua followers but the model helps to explain many of my and others experiences.

    Great discussion by the way.

    Dylan

    1. Thanks for that input Dylan. I think that many feel the same way and take a sensual anecdotal approach to the idea that all people are born immortal. Interesting how much after life theology is built on a foundation that is anecdotal and sensual in nature.

      1. Very true Bob, I agree that often afterlife theology and end times theology are a mishmash of ideas from scripture, myths, and culture. The popularity of books, such as the left behind series and near-death autobiographies, and the fact that many people develop their theology from sources like these books is interesting.

  3. Kansasbob on a recent post made reference as to the new birth it is either a personal individual issue or an impersonal universal issue.

    I would try to clarify that an universal new birth is by no means impersonal. It is the most personal and individual thing God could do for all of his creation. Everyone is of importance and we are all in this together. As such when I recognized this in place of my calvinism then there is an awareness that I can’t treat my fellow man as if he is just reprobate . I can’t treat them as if they are “out” and I am “in”. That is now my personal angst against calvinism. Most were “out”, thank God I was “in”. And because of that I worked on trying to reform myself to show the “out” that is why I am a better person than they. There was no need to mix with them they were dirty. My hope was puritanical and I could have pity for them and my message was to get them to buy into my method of reform. “In” people are all about reforming the “out” people.

    Is this mentality any different as concerning mortal and immortal? By implication immortals are “in” and mortals are “out”.

    Because we are all in this together my mind now runs to why we spend so much money on going into space. Or for that matter, let’s get more church personal. Why are we spending all our money on creating large church edifices and monuments for some spiritual guru’s legacy and we can’t find a way to feed our world or even provide clean water for all mankind? I have been told that 80% of the people in the world’s hospitals today are there because of unclean water. I have been told that these problems could be solved if properly financed. Is this not more important than Mars or some man’s earthly legacy.

    However if we are finite then it doesn’t matter really anyway, they just caught a bad break.
    It becomes oh well not my problem.

    But if we are all in this together we must care. These are our brothers and sisters. We have a responsibility to rescue them from their pain and darkness. Is not that what Jesus did? He reached out to those who needed help out of their pain and darkness the most.

    1. Thanks for the feedback drg. At what point in time do you see the universal new birth occurring – past, present, future? And how does it impact the idea of human immortality.

    2. drg,
      I think that assumptions of inclusion and exclusion are a significant issue in the Christian message. As you suggest, it is difficult for us to relate properly to those we consider outsiders. I have been working on a post on this topic.

      1. I think that the issue of inclusion and exclusion speaks more to religion that to faith which is all about love. Religious people often see others as outsiders but (IMO) lovers of God don’t.

        Wondring? How do you see inclusion and exclusion thinking apropos to the immortality topic Linda?

  4. Bob,
    My quick answer is that I believe immortality has been restored to all.

    I Cor. 15:21-22 :”For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

    1. So your interpretation of this is that everyone (except Adam) before Jesus’ resurrection was born mortal and had nothing that survived death? Even Moses and Elijah who appeared to Jesus on the mountain? Not sure that I understand where you are coming from.

      1. I think that everyone dead or alive, before and after Jesus’ resurrection will live forever with Him and share His life. In the resurrection of the dead, all bodies will be clothed with immortality. I don’t really understand what this will be like, so the best that I can do is stick with what scripture says. (I Thess. 5:10, I Cor. 15)

        1. Here is what I think I am hearing you say Linda in your interpretations of I Thess. 5:10 and I Cor. 15:

          1) After Adam all were not born immortal (“in Adam all die”)
          2) After Jesus’ resurrection all are born immortal (“in Christ shall all be made alive”)
          3) Those before Jesus who were not born immortal died but still possess something non-immortal that will be made immortal at some future resurrection.
          4) Moses and Adam are exceptions (to your view) because they appeared alive to Jesus on the mountain.
          5) You believe that the bible teaches some sort of soul sleep which gives license to the idea that a person’s spirit can be immortal but not sentient or awake after they die. This seems to reinvent the definition of what is means to be immortal.

          This seems confusing to me so I am thinking that I am not understanding what you are trying communicate to me.

  5. Bob,
    Yes, that does seem confusing, and the 5 points are not what I am attempting to say. I do not know exactly how the spirit/body, death/resurrection events will occur.

    In a sense, I think that mortality and the restoration of immortality are more cosmic than what you describe, occurring both within and beyond time. Therefore I think the reality of mortality was universal, but I believe that Jesus as the life-giving Spirit has defeated ultimate mortality and graced all of mankind with immortality. However, we know that biologically we all still die.

    Based on Paul’s statement that to die is to be with God, it seems that before and until the final resurrection, we are still with God in some manner.

    1. Thanks for the reply Linda. I do not mean to be difficult but it seems that you previously gave me a few verses of scripture that you believe supports your view of mortality/immortality. When I pushed back on your view you came back and gave me one of those fuzzy mystical anecdotal perceptions about immortality based on something “more cosmic than what you describe”. Guess I am still confused.

      To turn the tables on myself here is the view that I ruminate about:

      1) After Adam humans have never been born immortal. I think that the verbiage in I Cor. 15:21-22 is metaphorical and not meant to be literal.
      2) By saying yes to the Holy Spirit humans have always had the ability to be become immortal. Moses and Elijah were actually alive when they spoke to Jesus on the mountain. Jesus acted like this was something that Nicodemus should have understood.
      3) When all people die their flesh returns to the earth.
      4) When spiritually born people die they have something that transcends death and lives.

      Mostly these ideas about immortality run against traditionalists and universalists alike. So I think that they could be off base. Yet somehow this view seems logical, consistent with scripture and makes sense to me – unless someone can convince me otherwise. :)

      Enjoying the conversation and will return here tomorrow.

      1. Bob,
        In response to your original question – “How do you see inclusion and exclusion thinking apropos to the immortality topic?” my essential answers were –
        “I believe immortality has been restored to all.”
        “In the resurrection of the dead, all bodies will be clothed with immortality.”
        “Jesus as the life-giving Spirit has defeated ultimate mortality and graced all of mankind with immortality.”

        The remainder of what I said was an attempt to respond to other ideas in your responses. I’m sorry my explanations were unclear and frustrating. It is difficult for me to explain without sounding fuzzy how what occurred in Adam and Jesus impacts individuals from ancient times, to today, and into the future.

        I really appreciate you sharing your views.
        1) We view I Cor. 15:21-22 differently. I take it very literally.
        2) We’ve already discussed our different perspectives on being born again.
        I agree with 3 and 4.

        I would be really curious to hear (or read) your thoughts on Athanasius if you get a chance to read his book linked above.

        Thanks again for the conversation

        1. Thanks again for the reply Linda. A few thoughts about the core of your assertion:

          “I believe immortality has been restored to all.”

          It doesn’t makes sense (to me anyways) to say that immortality has been restored to something that no longer exists. If you believe that all people before the resurrection were not immortal then they simply ceased to exist when they died and there was nothing mortal to make immortal. There must first be something physically alive (i.e. mortal) in order to make it immortal. If not I think that one has to invent new meanings for the words mortal and immortal to embrace your view.

        2. If you believe that all people before the resurrection were not immortal then they simply ceased to exist when they died and there was nothing mortal to make immortal.

          I don’t believe this. I believe that Jesus’ resurrection was effective and all encompassing for mankind, past, present, and future. They have been redeemed from ultimate death. Thus, they “have something that transcends death and lives.”

          There must first be something physically alive (i.e. mortal) in order to make it immortal.

          I do not see this limitation applying to the Creator and Savior of the world.

          The scriptures use the terms death or corruption which have many connotations beyond physical mortality; the terms incorruption, imperishable, and immortality seem to be used somewhat interchangeably.

        3. “I believe that Jesus’ resurrection was effective and all encompassing for mankind, past, present, and future.”

          If that is true then humans have always been born immortal. Which begs the original question of why one should believe that all humans are born immortal.

          “I do not see this limitation applying to the Creator and Savior of the world.”

          In saying that you have redefined the definition of what it means to be mortal. Hard to have a dialog about immortality when we cannot agree on what it means to be mortal.

          “The scriptures use the terms death or corruption which have many connotations beyond physical mortality; the terms incorruption, imperishable, and immortality seem to be used somewhat interchangeably.”

          I think that my view of those verses would be different than yours. But I would be happy to discuss them one by one with respect to immortality.

  6. Bob,
    I guess I really do not know what to do with your phrase “born immortal.”

    1 Thess 4:14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will also bring with Him through Jesus those who have fallen asleep in death.

    Prior to the resurrection, all of mankind was subject to eternal death. Jesus has saved us from eternal death. He redefined what it means to be mortal.

    2 Tim 1:9-10 9 For it is He Who delivered and saved us and called us with a calling in itself holy and leading to holiness; not because of anything of merit that we have done, but because of and to further His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.

    10 It is that purpose and grace which He now has made known and has fully disclosed and made real through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, Who annulled death and made it of no effect and brought life and immortality (immunity from eternal death) to light through the Gospel.

    Bob, I’ve enjoyed the conversation. I think I’ve maxed out what I have to say on this topic.

  7. Bob, the week got away from me. I appreciate how much thought you have given to this topic and your comments. Thanks again for the discussion.

    1. I appreciate your perspective as well Linda but I am not sure many are interested in discussing the topic. Perplexing as it is foundational to the theology of the afterlife.

      Another view that no one wants to talk about is the question of whether time exists after we die. I discussed it three years ago on my blog. http://www.kansasbob.com/2009/08/its-about-time.html

      In my discussions on the internet I have found very black and views coming from some who seem to think of themselves as free thinkers. My thinking is that their views are no less rigid than the ones that they seem to be against.

      Hope you have a great week!

      Blessings, Bob

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