One characteristic common to all living things is that they eventually die. People, animals, birds, microbes, plants, even the giant redwoods that can live a thousand years, die at some point. The cycle of birth, life and death may vary, but the sequence remains the same for all. Three score and ten has been consigned to human life for much of history, although the Psalmist says, “You have made my days a mere handbreadth.” (Psalm 39:5)
But then Jesus says, “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25, 26) This, of course, runs counter to what we experience in being born into this physical world, living the life we see, hear and touch.
Many years ago a secretary with whom I worked was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. Her name was Rita. She went through multiple surgeries and treatments. I watched her as she went from this vibrant woman in her prime, full of life, grace and happiness, literally shrink physically before my eyes as the cancer and treatments sapped the life from her. In visiting her a few days before she died, I was shocked at her physically deteriorated state.
That evening, while reflecting on her condition, the thought came to me that while the cancer was destroying her physical body, it could not destroy her because who she was, included so much more than her physical body. Yes, her physical nature had a part in defining who she was, but the most important part of her was her personality, her gracious and loving manner, her kindness, her willingness to listen to a co-worker with a problem, her diligence in her work, her quiet peace and joy when our office was experiencing a chaotic moment, her inclination to love no matter who was standing in front of her.
These non-physical characteristics of Rita were what really made her who she was. They would not die with her body. They would live on. As physical beings we struggle with defining the non-physical. We use words like soul and spirit that have the potential to transcend the physical realm. The writer of Ecclesiastes observes, “He has set eternity into the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from the beginning to the end.” (Eccl. 33:11)
Job asks, “If a man dies will he live again?” (Job 14:14) Jesus answers the question. We die to this physical world in the current age, but if we believe in him, the best part of us lives on, soul and spirit. Furthermore, just as God raised Jesus to new life with a different kind of body after he was nailed to the cross, he promises to do the same for those who believe. “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:53-55)