I believe in the (cryogenic) resurrection of the dead

I just heard on the news this morning that in a landmark ruling a judge in England granted the dying wish of a 14 year old girl with cancer to have her body cryogenically frozen until the day when medical knowledge is sufficiently advanced to revive and cure her. In a letter to the judge she wrote,

‘I am only 14 years old and I don’t want to die but I know I am going to die. I think being cryopreserved gives me a chance to be cured and woken up – even in hundreds of years’ time. I want to live and live longer and I think that in the future they may find a cure for my cancer and wake me up. I want to have this chance.’

Isn’t it tragic that the very thing this girl was longing for was exactly what is being held out in the gospel? Isn’t it tragic that she put her trust in a quasi-scientific fairy tale for her hope of resuscitation life rather than the resurrection life the Lord Jesus Christ achieved when he rose from the dead on the third day? Isn’t it just so unspeakably sad that someone would put their hope in such far-fetched nonsense instead of the living hope we have through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? But then, as G.K. Chesterton famously put it, ‘When a man ceases to believe in God he doesn’t believe in nothing – he believes in anything.’

I couldn’t help wondering if anyone had ever spoken to this girl about this living hope. Did she not have any Christian friend or teacher or nurse who could have pointed her to the solid hope of the gospel? Did she know that in Christ that longing in all of us for eternal life is answered? Did she know that death for the believer is the end of all our struggles and the beginning of a never-ending bliss of perfect fellowship with the God who made us and who loves us?

How different the believer’s attitude to death should be. I couldn’t help thinking of some of the great stories of how Christians have faced death with courage and calmness, knowing that they were about to enter into the presence of God, into a world of perfect peace and joy. This one in particular came to mind, from Don Cormack’s account of the Khmer Rouge persecution of the Cambodian church. A Christian family have been rounded up by the Khmer Rouge and were due to be executed the following day…

The family spent a sleepless night comforting one another and praying for each other as they lay bound together in the dewy grass beneath a stand of friendly trees. Next morning the teenage soldiers returned and led them from their Gethsemane to their place of execution, to the nearby viel somlap, ‘the killing fields’…

The family were ordered to dig a large grave for themselves. Then, consenting to Haim’s [the father] request for a moment to prepare themselves for death, father, mother, and children, hands linked, knelt together around the gaping pit. With loud cries to God, Haim began exhorting both the Khmer Rouge and all those looking on from afar to repent and believe the gospel.

Then in panic, one of Haim’s youngest sons leapt to his feet, bolted into the surrounding bush and disappeared. Haim jumped up and with amazing coolness and authority prevailed upon the Khmer Rouge not to pursue the lad, but allow him to call the boy back. The knots of onlookers, peering around trees, the Khmer Rouge, and the stunned family still kneeling at the graveside, looked on in awe as Haim began calling his son, pleading with him to return and die together with his family.

And here’s the part I found such a contrast to that of the sad case on the news today…

‘What comparison, my son’, he called out, ‘stealing a few more days of life in the wilderness, a fugitive, wretched and alone, to joining your family here momentarily around this grave but soon around the throne of God, free forever in Paradise?’ After a few tense minutes the bushes parted, and the lad, weeping, walked slowly back to his place with the kneeling family. ‘Now we are ready to go,’ Haim told the Khmer Rouge.

Few of those watching doubted that as each of these Christians’ bodies toppled silently into the earthen pit which the victims themselves had prepared, their souls soared heavenward to a place prepared by their Lord.

Why pin your hopes of life on the remote possibility of resuscitation in a world changed out of all recognition hundreds of years from now, when all the people and things you know and love are gone, to stumble on for a few more years before eventually succumbing to death in the end, when the life of the age to come awaits those who trust in the Lord of life? As Haim put it ‘What comparison… stealing a few more days of life in the wilderness…  wretched and alone, to joining your family… around the throne of God, free forever in Paradise?’

What comparison indeed? ‘Our people die well’ said John Wesley. We should, if we truly believe all we say we believe. And surely we should sit much more lightly to this present world than so many of us do if we believe all we say we believe.

7 Comments

  1. Leslie Lockhart November 19, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

    Excellent balanced post on this issue. What hope does atheism offer? They live on to survive for what? Check out UK The Times 19 Nov 2016: Matthew Parris (reporter) says the tragic tale of the cryogenic girl reminds us that science is pushing the boundaries of life faster than morality can keep up. When will we accept that our time on Earth is not ordained but a matter of choice? http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/coming-up-at-5pm-50scm88v6 and his comments:
    However, I worry about the twilight: not for myself, I shall know what to do, but for an era whose lust for longevity, if not immortality, borders on the indecent. We want to live on — sans teeth, eyes, brain, sans everything — but for what?

    • Warren Peel November 21, 2016 at 6:17 am #

      Thanks for this follow-up, Leslie – it’s remarkable how often I find myself agreeing with Matthew Parris!

      • Leslie Lockhart November 21, 2016 at 11:59 am #

        Hi Warren, the cryogenics industry appears to agree with you (well at least 50/50) and appears like the father agrees with us “I believe they are selling false hope to those who are frightened of dying.”. check out this UK Times article Cryonics is a 50-50 game, says boss of US facility
        Mark Bridge
        November 21 2016, 12:01am,
        The Times

        The Cryonics Institute freezes bodies in the hope that they can be revived
        CRYIONICS INSTITUTE/EPA
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        The boss of the cryonics facility where the body of a 14-year-old British girl has been frozen after a High Court battle has said that he is a “50-50 guy” on whether his clients will ever be revived.

        Dennis Kowalski, president of the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, also said that customers’ brains would be damaged in the cryogenic process and might not preserve memories even if they were brought back to life. He told The Sunday Telegraph: “You could be just like you but without your memory, without the same mind. Like a clone.”

        h
        How is someone cryogenically frozen?
        His comments came as the British charity that arranged for the body of the girl, known only as JS, to be transported to the US revealed that it had other children on its books for future preservation. Tim Gibson, a committee member of Cryonics UK, told The Sunday Times that it had “four or five” children on its register. The youngest person it had been asked to freeze was seven years old, but the child died before the necessary arrangements could be made.

        Cryonics UK was criticised by the London hospital where JS died for the disorganised way it handled her body — a charge the group denies. It emerged this weekend that the ambulance used by the team had broken down on the day of her death so they used an ordinary van, doing the initial procedures in the hospital mortuary.

        The schoolgirl, who died of cancer last month, won the right to be cryogenically preserved after a judge awarded sole responsibility for postmortem arrangements to her mother, who supported her wishes.

        Her body will be stored at -196C in the hope that scientific breakthroughs of the future can bring her back to life. After preparatory steps, which include replacement of the blood with preservation solution, dubbed human antifreeze, it is now being kept in liquid nitrogen. She has reportedly been hung upside down in a cheap sleeping bag alongside five other bodies.

        Scientists say there is no evidence that bodies can survive the cryogenic process with cells that are able to function after revival. They are looking to find ways to cryopreserve specific organs for transplant, but most believe that the revival of whole bodies, including brains, is pseudoscience.

        The girl’s father, who is divorced from her mother, did not want her body to be frozen. He has criticised the cryonics industry for practices he considers exploitative. He told The Mail on Sunday: “I believe they are selling false hope to those who are frightened of dying.”

        Mr Kowalski defended the institute. “We are very explicit about what your chances are. We are approaching it like a science experiment — you don’t know what’s possible until you try,” he said.

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