In 2013, Google launched “Calico,” a company headed by Arthur Levinson, whose goal is “to solve death.” The biotech company hopes to use technology to combat aging and, in Time Magazine’s words, “defeat death itself.”
Google is not the only tech company trying to defeat death. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has invested in Alto Labs, which believes technology can unravel the mystery of cellular rejuvenation and thus make death irrelevant.
Elon Musk is working on robotic body parts that run on artificial intelligence. He expects that humans may one day be capable of reproducing themselves indefinitely.
In 2016, Stanford Med student Jesse Karmazin founded Ambrosia, a company that sold blood plasma from young donors for $8,000 per liter to wealthy people with the idea it would restore health. “I’m not … saying this will provide immortality,” Karmazin admitted, “but I think it comes pretty close.”
Barbara Ehrenreich sees this attempt on the part of Silicon Valley to deny death as wrongheaded. She writes: “If you are one of the richest and smartest people in the world, death is an insult. Why would you let that happen to you? You’re too special to die.” Such people, Ehrenreich believes, are living in denial.
One would think that Christians, with their belief in resurrection, would have no need to deny death, but the philosopher Simon Critchley says it is not so. Noting that 85 percent of Americans say they believe in heaven, Critchley has written: “…the deeper truth is that such religious belief, complete with a heavenly afterlife, brings believers little solace in the face of death.”
According to Critchley, “the only priesthood in which people really believe is the medical profession and the purpose of their sacramental drugs and technology is to support longevity, the sole unquestioned good of contemporary Western life.” Critchley believes that many Christians are “leading desperate atheist lives bounded by a desire for longevity and a terror of annihilation.”
One Sunday, a few years into my first pastorate, I spoke from the pulpit on preparing for death. After the meeting, an elderly member asked me why someone my age – I was 30 at the time – was thinking about getting ready for death. I told her that I believed it took a lifetime to die well. I still do.
The 19th century literary figure W. R. Matthews wrote, “One day we shall break camp for the last time in this world and face the final adventure of death. May we then have so passed the days of our pilgrimage, with the Lord of adventurers by our side, that we may reach, in the end, our eternal home.”
I’m not quite sure what Matthews meant, though I love his line, “the Lord of adventurers.” I do, however, agree that the way we pass our days now can prepare us for the day we pass the threshold of death. Now is the time we learn to face death and think honestly about it.
No one is a better model for us on how to think about death than Jesus. He clearly thought about it – the New Testament records him using words related to death and dying 86 times – but he was never morbid about it. He viewed death differently than most people.
For one thing, he did not see death as terminal. He said of his good friend’s illness: “This illness will not end in death.” Jesus did not see any illness ending in death because he did not see death as an end.
He thought and spoke of death as an opportunity to glorify God. Death, from Jesus’s perspective, glorifies God because God raises the dead. Further, he knew that people can glorify God by the way they live as they face death. Confidence in God and love for people always honors God, but especially in the face of death.
Nevertheless, Jesus, like a Silicon Valley CEO, viewed death as an enemy. Death made him angry, as the Gospel of John points out. Jesus’s goal, unlike that of the Silicon Valley CEOs, was not to endlessly evade death but to abolish it. He willingly laid down his life so that he could defeat death from the inside. The resurrection is proof that he succeeded.
(First published by Gannett.)
For more information on how Jesus thought of death, click here.