Updated: Jun 12, 2021
I believe myself to be a philosopher at heart, one that thinks about the meaning of life, being and existing. The sheer depth in creation is just so fascinating, that my mind always seems to go into deep waves of thought. In this blog post, I want to talk about our world meaning of death and life, the medical, the legal and cultural definitions and how God provides a different meaning to death and life.
I believe that our spirits are eternal, and even if you don't believe in God, most people when they experience a death, say that the person has 'gone to a better place' or that 'they're looking down on us' or the belief that, by keeping them in our memory, we keep them alive although, they're not physically there. It seems that most people seem to have a sense of eternity or the continuity of life even after physical death in their mind.
If our spirits are truly eternal, then when God talks about death in the Bible, it must have a completely different meaning in the spiritual sense because, by design, our spirits cannot die. Death must no longer just be the cessation of our existence. Life can no longer just mean, the sense of 'being' or 'existing' because we will always 'be' and we will always 'exist,' and death being the opposite of that. Therefore, what is the deeper meaning of life and death?
What is the Medical definition of death?
In our worldview, being and existing are synonymous with life and when we stop being or existing we can render that to death. Our biological understanding of death is the irreversible ceasing of biological functions that leads to the decomposition of an organism. That is namely, death of the physical flesh. At least that's what you'll find when you type "what is death?" on Google. What you won't find are the countless legal cases, debates and laws that have changed the medical meaning of death over time.
Once upon a time, if your heart stopped beating, if there is no circulation of blood in your body you would die, but with technology such as cardiopulmonary bypass, we are able to stop the heart for surgery, but continue to oxygenate the body through extracorporeal circulation. With the technique of CPR, and defibrillation we can revive someone whose heart has stopped, death in the sense of cardio-respiratory failure has been conquered and yet death still remains (Wicks, 2017). The consequence of these medical advances is that a person that once by law would have been declared dead is not, this now requiring a change in law and societal acceptance of what death is. In the UK, brain stem death (BSD) has been accepted by law as the legal definition of death. This was first apparent in the case of Re A (1992) 3 Med LR 303.
Many cultures, reject the BSD definition because, they find it counter-intuitive to declare someone as dead if their heart is beating, and the individual still breathing artificially assisted or not. As, there is a belief that the individual can somewhat still live a life.
The issue with the now accepted legal definition of death is that, medical research is trying to overcome the issues that cause brain death in the first place. The question lays, when science catches up and discovers an effective way to revive someone from brain death or are able to do a brain transplant. What will be the medical and legal definition of death then? BSD is only a definition of death, so long as there are no treatments; BSD is irreversible, so long as we do not have advancements in technology that can render BSD reversible.
So what's the point of what I'm saying? Well, I only dipped into the medical side because although, I know that I can clearly distinguish between something that is alive and something that is dead, there can still be ambiguity to what death is in certain situations.
What is life?
Every definition of death is only as meaningful and tenable as the definition of life it implicitly negates (Erk, 2014). In plain English, if death is the absence of life, then life is the absence of death. It does seem 'simple' enough to understand. Thus, if death according to law, is the cessation of all brain functions, then life is having those brain functions. However, people in vegetative states and comas they are still alive, but are they living? If life is to live, then what can we say to people who are not actively 'living' life, or have a low quality of life? People that are physically well, but mentally not and struggle to actively 'live' life, how do we describe the meaning of life to them in those situations?. Now can you see that life therefore has to mean something more than just having functioning brain systems?
Now let's go to the Google definition "The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity and continual change preceding death."
From this definition, life is a name; a noun, that we use as an antonym of death, it helps us distinguish the inorganic and it's properties and the organic and it's properties. Life is reduced to the basic elements yet, this reductionist view doesn't encompass all that life brings and is. Thus describing what life actually is in our world, proves more complex than initially thought.
Redefining Life and Death:
God makes it very clear in Genesis that life comes from Him (Genesis 2:7). He did this by breathing 'life' into a human form made of dust, dust we now understand means in modern terms, the particles found in the earth such as hydrogen, carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, which make up our human bodies, hence, when our bodies decompose, these atoms return to the earth. In the referenced passage, 'breath of life' in Hebrew is 'ruach' and means 'spirit,' God breathed a spirit into the form of dust and that form became a living soul.
In this first instance, we see that, life is separate from the body; life is something that comes from God; the third thing we notice is that, the body cannot function without it. Life can exist outside of the body, but the body cannot exist outside of having life within it. Therefore, life is more than the result of functioning bodily faculties; from Genesis we see that life originates from God, hence we can make the claim that, it is part of or embodies God's attributes. So, life is God. More importantly, what we call death is truly a separation of the body and spirit, the body returns to it's natural elements (Genesis 3:19) but the immaterial spirit within us which is breathed into us in Genesis 2:7, returns to the One that gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
If life originates from God, then life can only be truly found in God; the ability to enjoy friends, family, money, houses, clothes, books, holidays etc. is the product of life but these things are not life itself.
Moreover, God is eternal, therefore life is eternal and this leads us to redefine what death is, it is no longer just the cessation of bodily functions, or the cessation of existence, for in the scope of eternity we will always exist, but it is existing being separated from the life-giving source which is God. According to (Erk, 2014), if we describe death as the opposite of what life is, then death is the separation from the life giver. It doesn't mean you've stopped existing or you are incapable of movement and coordination, but you're not connected to God. Someone who has life spiritually and someone who is dead spiritually, can both do the same thing, but are distinguished by their connection to God. All of our bodies, are made of dust, therefore, there is no distinguishing by just looking at someone's body whether they're in life or in death spiritually, but we have to look deep into the spirit of that person.
Disclaimer: this is not to say that people who have died or have been murdered or killed, didn't experience death, but through the word of God we come to understand death in two definitions, one for the physical body and one for your spirit; one has an eternal scope which makes it more important because there is no end to eternity.
Why have I highlighted this?
You may be asking, "why is she talking so much about life and death?". I talk about this because in a world so relative, fluid and confused, there is a need to go back to what God says is true about life and about death. Ultimately, what we have believed is what will shape our eternity.
The cry of a Christian is for you to choose to exist connected to the entity that is life because that is the purpose of the original creation. When you're outside of that purpose you will eventually cause yourself unnecessary pain and suffering. Just like a heart's function is to pump blood, and a cardiac arrest is when the heart stops doing it's purpose and fibrillation occurs. When the heart no longer performs to the standard it was created to do, it causes damage. So, not being connected to the purpose of life itself, is literally death in an eternal scope.
The heart to our living, is to be connected to the 'Life'.
The true meaning of death, is separation from God, because you can only have true life, the eternal form with God for He is it and He gives it. Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life," John 14:6. Jesus is that life itself, so separation from him is likened to death. If Jesus is life, imagine how much life He flows into you, when you are connected to Him.
True Life is a Being not a way of living.
If God makes it clear to tell us, His creation, that life is deeper than what we have deemed as 'living' shouldn't we listen? If God makes it clear to show us that life is within His Son, and demonstrates this through Jesus' death on the cross- a true oxymoron- shouldn't we listen? If Jesus claims to be "Life" shouldn't we at least look into it.
I think the year 2020; Covid-19; the pandemic, should have opened our eyes to see the fragility of this world, not to scare us, but to allow us to look into the deeper meaning of life apart from this world. Money, clothes, houses, family and friends are but a product of life, but not life itself. Life can only be truly found in something that can never be influenced by the world and it's fragility and that is Jesus Christ.
Life and death defined by God's standard and not the world's are not arbitrary but are chosen by us.
We don't choose our birth or our physical death, but we can and do choose our eternity, the central message is; believe and connect to Jesus Christ for he saved and will sustain you from everlasting to everlasting.
A message from Jesus Christ: