Aman named Gilgamesh unexpectedly lost his best friend. The friend’s death forced him to think about his own inevitable demise. What could a life mean that he knew would end in death? The man went on a long and desperate quest for immortality. He never succeeded.
About 4,000 years after the tale of Gilgamesh, the UK Daily Mail ran an article headlined “Peter Thiel Believes Blood Transfusions From the Young Could Be ‘Biological Fountain of Youth’ and Help People Live Forever.” The piece was about how PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel and others are interested in the theory that blood transfusions from young people might extend life, perhaps forever. In what sounds like Dracula meets Blade Runner, the hope is that “the blood of the young and healthy could one day serve as th ‘biological fountain of youth’ for those hoping to challenge the inevitability of death.”1
From Gilgamesh to today, the story is the same. We, as human beings, die. Like oysters and rats, we die; the difference being that, unlike oysters and rats, we know it—and this pestilential thought infects our consciousness like an incurable head cold.
In The End of Everything (Astronomically Speaking), author and physicist Katie Mack goes through scenarios that could (astronomically speaking) lead to the demise of the universe. It might collapse back on itself, be ripped apart, or keep on expanding until every star burns out. However it ultimately happens, all life, including human life, will end with it. She quoted one scientist who struggled with the painful temporality of life. “That word, eternal,” he said, “very important. It’s very, very, very important.”2
Why so important? Because, though Go “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, ESV3), man’s flesh lasts only 60, 70, 80 years, if that, and then, puff, sputter, snort, whatever—we’re gone, which means that eternity will go on without us.
Not necessarily, however. The God who put eternity in our hearts still wants us, flesh and all, to have it. In fact, eternity was to have been ours from the beginning. We just lost it, that’s all—and knowing how it happened is crucial for knowing how we can get it back.
the tree of life
Humankind, when created in Eden by God, was meant to live forever. The Genesis Creation account talks about a special tree: “The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden” (Genesis 2:9, NKJV). Later, after Adam had sinned, “the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden” (Genesis 3:23). And to make sure that Adam didn’t go back in, the Lord placed an angel and a flaming sword to keep him away “lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (verse 22).
Eating from that tree, Adam and Eve would “live forever.” However, because of sin (verses 1–7), they were barred from it and thus faced death, as we all do. “Just as through one man,” the Bible says, “sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12).
Hard as it is to imagine (because all we have ever known is death and the inevitability of death), we, as human beings, were never meant to die. Our panicky aversion to dying (which makes no sense if evolution were true because, according to evolution, death is the means of how we got here to begin with) is like two eyes and two ears: it is something that we carried directly out of Eden, where death was unknown. Death is not part of life but its opposite.
the quest for immortality
Death is the most unnatural of occurrences, which explains why, from antiquity, humans have been on a futile quest, like Gilgamesh’s, for immortality. But today, we have what Gilgamesh didn’t—science. In the past 160 years, for instance, thanks to science, the average life expectancy in the United States has gone from 39.4 years (1860) to 78.8 (2020).4 Why not, then, keep it going forever?
“Can Google Solve Death?” asked a Time magazine cover article in 2013. The subhead read, “The search giant is launching a venture to extend the human life span. That would be crazy—if it weren’t Google.”5
Yet, extending the human life span (giving up Bud Light for soy milk, or porterhouse steaks for broccoli, for instance) is as far from solving the problem of death as adding two feet to a mile is from reaching infinity. Another few years, or decades, might be nice (if you could avoid osteoporosis, arthritis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and other aging ills), but longevity isn’t eternal life, not even close. People want immortality, not a few extra years, and they hope that science can give it.
Expressing this hope decades ago in the former Soviet Union, Leonid Krasin wrote: “I am certain that the time will come when science will become all-powerful, that it will be able to recreate a deceased organism. . . . And I am certain that when that time will come, when the liberation of mankind, using all the might of science and technology, the strength and capacity of which we cannot now imagine, will be able to resurrect great historical figures—I am certain that when that time will come, among the great figures will be our comrade.”6 “Our comrade” was Vladimir Lenin, but far from resurrecting him, the Russians today can hardly keep their comrade’s corpse from disintegrating.
Everyone knows that if you freeze flesh, it keeps, perhaps indefinitely. So, freeze your corpse as soon as possible after death in hopes that future science will bring you back to life. It sounds, at least in principle, feasible, which is behind the science of cryonics.
“Imagine a world free of disease, death and aging. At the Cryonics Institute, we believe that day is coming and cryonics is presently our best chance of getting there. Our mission is to extend human lifespans by preserving the body using existing cryogenic technologies—with the goal of revival by future science.”7
In some cryonic facilities, they freeze the whole body or (a bit cheaper) just the head. After all, isn’t who you are more in your head than in your body?
Though many bodies with heads and many heads without bodies are in deep freeze, science still seems a long way away from thawing either a body or a head and bringing back to life the person to whom it belongs (or who belongs to it).
Another quest for immortality dispenses with the body entirely. We are not just our bodies nor even our heads. We are our minds, right? And our minds, many believe, work like computers. So, with the right technology, they upload our neural connections—the connections that create thoughts, emotions, and identity—into a supercomputer, and we can live again, perhaps forever ( just as long as they can keep switching out the hardware).
One start-up, Nectome, is seeking, in its own way, to create digital immortality “Nectome is a preserve-your-brain-and-upload-it company. Its chemical solution can keep a body intact for hundreds of years, maybe thousands, as a statue of frozen glass. The idea is that someday in the future scientists will scan your bricked brain and turn it into a computer simulation. That way, someone a lot like you, though not exactly you, will smell the flowers again in a data server somewhere.”8
Of course, living inside a “data server somewhere” might not exactly be the most fulfilling life, if it really could even be called life. Also, if they make backups, which one is the real you?
the life of the flesh is in the blood
A little less ambitious (at least so far) is Thiel’s idea of blood transfusions, mostly plasma—that is, the plasma of young people given to older people, with the hope of offering older people longer life. The concept is, if nothing else, logical. People’s health can be greatly determined by their blood, and so, if you give them healthier, younger blood, would that not extend their lives? The Bible itself, the Old Testament, teaches: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). It works a bit with mice, even if nothing so far indicates that it does much for humans.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in fact, warned against the practice in 2019 “Today, we’re alerting consumers and health care providers that treatments using plasma from young donors have not gone through the rigorous testing that the FDA normally requires in order to confirm the therapeutic benefit of a product and to ensure its safety. As a result, the reported uses of these products should not be assumed to be safe or effective.”9
the blood of Jesus
Though it is not advisable to pin one’s hope of immortality on blood transfusions, blood is, however, directly related to eternal life. The partial text above, from Leviticus 17, reads in full: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (verse 11). And that atonement ultimately comes from Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and His blood shed on our behalf, which offers anyone who truly accepts it the promise of eternal life.
Jesus said, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” ( John 10:28, NKJV). He prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” ( John 17:3, NKJV). The Bible also says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:16, NKJV).
Jesus went to the cross, where He suffered for our sins, in order that we, whatever our past, can have the “eternity” that He put in human hearts in the beginning but was lost through sin. Jesus died so that humanity could get that eternity back.
Eternity is coming, with or without us. Blood transfusions, cryonics, and mind uploads are desperate attempts to achieve what Jesus has already done for us. To modify a line from Shakespeare: “To be [for eternity], or not to be—that is the question.”10 We alone can answer that question for ourselves.
Clifford Goldstein is the editor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s daily bible-study guide and a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.
1. Cheyenne MacDonald, “Peter Thiel Believes Blood Transfusions From the Young Could Be ‘Biological Fountain of Youth’ and Help People Live Forever,” Daily Mail, August 1, 2016, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3718758/Peter-Thiel-believes-blood-transfusions-young-key-living-forever.html.
2. Nima Arkani-Hamed, quoted in Katie Mack, The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking) (New York: Scribner, 2020), 207.
3. Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
4. “Life Expectancy (From Birth) in the United States, From 1860 to 2020,” Statista, accessed February 13, 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1040079/life-expectancy-united-states-all-time/.
5. Harry McCracken and Lev Grossman, “Can Google Solve Death?,” Time, September 30, 2013, https://content.time.com/time/magazine/0,9263,7601130930,00.html.
6. John Gray, The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011), 161.
7. “Life Is Priceless,” Cryonics Institute, accessed January 25, 2023, https://www.cryonics.org/.
8. Antonio Regalado, “A Startup Is Pitching a Mind-Uploading Service That Is ‘100 Percent Fatal,’ ” MIT Technology Review, March 13, 2018, https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/03/13/144721/a-startup-is-pitching-a-mind-uploading-service-that-is-100-percent-fatal/.
9. Scott Gottlieb, “Statement From FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Director of FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., Cautioning Consumers Against Receiving Young Donor Plasma Infusions That Are Promoted as Unproven Treatment for Varying Conditions,” US Food and Drug Administration, February 19, 2019, https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/statement-fda-commissioner-scott-gottlieb-md-and-director-fdas-center-biologics-evaluation-and-0#main-content.
10. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 3, scene 1.