We tend to approach death with a kind of horror, even though we know that it is not permanent (1 Thes. 4:13-18). It is natural to value life, to not want to die and to not want to lose the people we love. I think much of our longing to live forever comes from a desire God has given us to become part of his family. But sometimes I hear people say they want to live forever, and they mean an indefinite extension of our human lives here on the earth. Personally, I wouldn’t want to live with myself the way I am now for that long.
When I think about the idea of immortality or living a really long time as a human, it makes me think of Tolkein’s elves in Middle Earth. Unless something interferes (they can be killed and they can fade away with grief) they’ll live forever. One of the things I find most interesting is that in The Silmarillion, the immortality of the elves is described as a sorrow and death is presented as a gift given to men.
the children of Men dwell only a short space in the world alive, and are not bound to it, and depart soon whither the Elves know not. Whereas the Elves remain until the end of days, and their love of the Earth and all the world is more single and more poignant therefore, and as the years lengthen ever more sorrowful. For the Elves die not till tile world dies, unless they are slain or waste in grief (and to both these seeming deaths they are subject); neither does age subdue their strength, unless one grow weary of ten thousand centuries; and dying they are gathered to the halls of Mandos in Valinor, whence they may in time return. But the sons of Men die indeed, and leave the world; wherefore they are called the Guests, or the Strangers. Death is their fate, the gift of Iluvatar, which as Time wears even the Powers shall envy.
Sown in Weakness
Death became something that every human being must face as a consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin. I wonder, however, if after the fall mortality might have been as much a gift as a curse. Yes, death is a penalty associated with disobedience to God and it is an enemy that will be conquered in the future. But the absence of death in our fallen state would not have been a kindness.
Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. (1 Cor. 15:36-37)
We are “bare grain,” as the KJV says, which after it dies to this existence will spring up into the far more glorious body that God gives us. Thank God that immortality is not give not us as we are now — corrupted, dishonored, weak, and natural. Living like this forever would not be a gift. We cannot have eternal life as we are now, nor would we want to. We need to be changed first.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:53-54).