All Are Alive
I have often thought about the way we define ‘death’. When is someone actually dead?
At one point in time, we defined death as the point when someone’s heart stopped beating. Now, we define death as the cessation of brain activity.
But even “cessation of brain activity” just means that the brain activity has dropped below a certain level. We are starting to see that even after “brain death”, there is still possibility for recovery of life.
In reality, the question is how far does someone have to go before we can no longer bring them back? As our technology gets better, we push that boundary further and further. We have to redefine death again and again.
How far can we push that boundary? How far back will the definition of death have to go?
In Luke 20:37-39, Jesus makes an interesting statement:
“But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Jesus makes the incredible claim that, to God, all are alive. But he doesn’t seem to be suggesting that Moses and everyone else are simply living on as disembodied souls, and are alive to God in that way. Rather, he seems to be using “all are alive” as a way of talking about resurrection. And yet, resurrection is something that is future—so how do these two things connect?
There’s another story in Luke, where Jesus is summoned to the house of a man whose daughter is sick. On the way, they receive word that the daughter has died. But Jesus continues on, and when he arrives he tells the mourners, “Stop wailing…She is not dead but asleep.” (Luke 8:52). He then proceeds to bring her back to life.
From the context, it is clear that the girl is dead. She is legally and medically and ethically deceased. And yet, Jesus sees that she has not passed beyond his ability to heal her. Thus, to him, she is “only sleeping”.
For Jesus, it would seem that the definition of death is quite relative. It’s not about any objective thing that has happened in the body—it’s about the ability to heal. If we can heal the person, then they are not really dead, they are just comatose, or “only sleeping”.
How far can the definition of death be pushed?
Jesus pushed it much farther than was standard in the ancient world. We’ve pushed it much farther than was standard two centuries ago. And each time we lean over the edge of death, and bring someone back, more people are no longer dead, but “only sleeping”.
How far can that process go? What limits do we see, looking towards the ultimate future?
It’s possible there is no limit. After all, as Jesus says, when we take a God’s-eye view—
All are alive.