Can Who Solve Death?

I laughed out loud in the airport last week when I spotted the cover of Time Magazine with its melodramatic question: "Can Google Solve Death?" Going to my gate, I read the online article about Google's initiatives in starting a company called Calico to study the genetic causes of aging, and I wish them well. Thank God for those who facilitate medical advancement, synthesize research, reduce disease and extend longevity. But I boarded my plane with two thoughts in mind. First, Google can never solve death. Second, Jesus Christ has already done it. And if you want to know how, just enter the words "Gospel of John" into the Google search box.

Regardless of your thoughts about the nature of Scripture, no honest reader of the Fourth Gospel can doubt the intensity of the author's convictions about eternal life. The key text to the book, John 3:16, says: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." In John 4:36, Jesus offered the Samaritan woman "a spring of water welling up to eternal life." In John 5:24, Jesus said, "Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life." In the next chapter, he told his listeners, "Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day" (John 6:40).

In John 14, Jesus spoke of the place He is preparing for His children, promising, "Because I live, you also will live." John's Gospel concludes with compelling historical accounts of the resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ, whose victory over death provides the hope of life everlasting.

It is not irrational to believe God created us and loves us and is grieved by our failures. His compassion caused Him to descend as a virgin-born man who gave his life to atone for our sins and who rose from the grave to provide eternal life. This is the best historical and philosophical answer to death the world has ever heard.

This is why the Gospel is called the Good News. There is no other credible answer to despair. If there is no God, there is nothing. If there is no resurrection, we're desolate. As the apostle Paul put it, "We are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19). We can divert and distract ourselves; but we can't escape the implications of a philosophy that consciously excludes the resurrection of Christ. If eternal life isn't true, then, as the philosophers say about the existence of God, life is absurd.

Dr. William Lane Craig makes this point in his book, On Guard. "If there is no God," he wrote, "then meaning, value, and purpose are ultimately human illusions." While we may find some subjective meaning and temporary joy in life, there can be no objective meaning or ultimate fulfillment, not if everything -- including each of us -- ends in total and irretrievable nonexistence. "If God does not exist, then both man and the universe are inevitably doomed to death," writes Craig.

We will all die -- every member of every generation. In time, our planet will die, our sun will burn out, the universe will perish, and one day everything will be as though nothing had ever been. This is the inescapable conclusion deep within the soul of every person who turns away from the solution Christ brings to the death-problem. As Jean-Paul Sartre admitted, "Life has no meaning the moment you lose the illusion of being eternal."

The Bible doesn't consider eternity an illusion, of course. It's a rational reality providing the hope everyone needs. And no, the peace we experience in the resurrection of Christ does not patently prove it's true; there are other ways of verifying the veracity of the Gospel. It simply demonstrates that Christianity works, that it passes the pragmatic test. Truth-claims must be subjected to the test of experiential relevance. We should ask about any philosophy: Does it work? Does it satisfy? Does it relate meaningfully to life?

It's at this point secularism fails. The New York Times recently carried an article about how medical professionals are experimenting with psychedelic drugs among the terminally ill to divert them from the terrors of dying. We understand the despair of those facing the end of life without the hope offered in the Gospel of John. But contrast that with the recent death of my friend Norman Richards, who passed away after a bout with cancer. As I arrived at the hospital, his family was ushered out of the room to confer with the doctor, giving me a half-hour alone with him.

"What time?" Norman asked.
"Do you want to know what time it is?" I asked.
"No," he said, "What time do the doctors think I'll go?"
"Well, I don't know, Norman. If I knew I'd tell you. Soon, I think."
"In the next few minutes?"
"No, probably not that soon."
"Well," he said, "I was just wondering. The gate is about to shut; the day is almost done."
"Yes," I said.

He smiled and seemed at total peace. No fear. No panic. No sense of dread. We quoted Scripture, talked of God's goodness to us, and about loved ones already in heaven. "By grace through faith," Norman said at last. Then he quoted Psalm 103: "Praise the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name!" Leaning back on his pillow, he added, "Now to learn how to fall asleep in Jesus." His last words to me were about the prospect of living or dying: "Either way," he said, "I win."

Norman passed away shortly afterward, but I found comfort in remembering another verse in the Fourth Gospel -- John 11:25, spoken by Jesus at the tomb of his friend Lazarus: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, yet shall he live." That's how Jesus solved death; and that's the only solution to death that truly covers all of Time.