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Human Ageing in View of the Divine

Summary: Science-based medicine is inching closer to extending the human lifespan. If, in the distant future, people can live forever, does that change our faith and religion, given its promise of eternal life? Warning: This post speculates about a future that may never happen. Even so, it’s worth exploring.


I've been reading a fascinating book by Dr. Michael Fossel, professor of clinical medicine, Michigan State University. Fossel is an optimistic proponent of the telomere theory of ageing. This theory states:

  1. Humans age because our cells age.
  2. Cells age because they stop dividing after a certain number of divisions (called the Hayflick limit).
  3. Cells stop dividing because the caps of the chromosomes, called telomeres, shorten with each division.
  4. When telomere caps are too short, the cell ceases dividing and eventually breaks down, slows the production of energy, and releases excess garbage in the form of free radicals.
  5. When your cells are unable to repair themselves and remove cellular garbage, your skin, tissue and organs begin to break down.
  6. As your body stops repairing itself and your tissue breaks down, you eventually succumb to a disease of old age, such as cancer, heart disease, or Alzheimer’s.

This is the telomere theory of ageing in a nutshell. (I’m a layperson, not a medical professional, so take my simplified summary with a grain of salt.)

It should be noted there are other theories of ageing currently in scientific circles, such as the theory of damage accumulation, the theory of life force, the theory of free radicals, among others.

“Big if true…”

Suppose for a moment Fossel’s theory is correct. Fossel theorizes that extending your cells’ telomeres will actually reverse cellular ageing processes and help prevent the diseases of old age. He theorizes:

  1. Your cells will resume dividing like they did when you were young.
  2. Young dividing cells will better repair you skin, tissue, organs and immune system.
  3. With your body now repairing itself and recycling cellular damage, you’ll be less prone to diseases of old age, like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's.
  4. A human body that is always fighting off diseases of old age will live longer if not indefinitely: you’re not limited to 70 or 80 years. Your lifespan would be limited only by external factors (e.g. getting hit by a bus).

Dr. Fossel cites experiments which he believes proves the telomere theory of ageing. He says if we take skin cells from an elderly person and grow them in the lab, it will predictably produce old skin: weak, thin, easily tearable. Likewise, taking skin cells from a young person and growing them produces young skin: thick, strong, rugged skin. The moment of truth came when Dr. Fossel took the elderly skin cells and extended their telomeres. The result? The elderly cells acted as though they were young, and produced young skin.

This has significant implications beyond removing skin wrinkles from the elderly. Diseases of ageing, like heart disease and cancer (currently the number top 2 leading causes of death in the West) can be combatted by this same technique.

Fossel recently founded a new medical company, Telocyte, to apply these techniques in modern medicine. Their first target? Alzheimer’s disease. This disease of old age is the result of a breakdown in cellular function that clears plaques from the brain. As this recycling breaks down in old age, plagues build up on the brain, killing brain tissue and reducing cognitive function, eventually resulting in death.

Fossel believes by lengthening the telomeres of cells responsible for the cleanup of plaques on the brain, we can not only prevent Alzheimer’s, but even reverse it in existing patients.

A healthy skepticismbrain-salt-l

Before I go any further, a word about critical thinking.

Disciples of Yeshua in the 21st century desperately need a healthy skepticism. The internet, for all its blessings, is also a curse: an overload of information. Many people believe what they want to believe, and the internet quickly supplies it.

In the Hebrew Roots movement in particular, I’ve seen many people believe all kinds of nonsense. Conspiracy theories, flat earth, all-natural elixir cure-alls and other quackery.

This skepticism should apply to medical science as well. I am skeptical of the claims of Dr. Fossel, and you should be too. While he may not be a quack selling brain salt elixir, his theory could be wrong, or too simple, or any number of variables could invalidate it. It’s too early to tell, and the proof will be in the pudding. If we see Fossel’s company curing Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, then we can start to get excited. But until then, it’s just another claim in a sea of (mis)information.

Humans are going to live longer regardless

Whether the telomere theory of ageing holds or not, one thing is certain: humans are living healthier, longer lives. In the last 250 years science-based medicine has more than doubled human life expectancy:

The advent of surgery, vaccines, and antibiotics has greatly increased human lifespan worldwide.

200 years ago, it would be rare to see a person live to 70. Today, it’s the norm and we think nothing of it.

If this trend continues – and it likely will barring an apocalyptic event such as World War III – future generations will likely enjoy a longer lifespan. Fewer instances of cancer, heart disease, and other diseases of old age.

Consider the present: humanity has already eradicated small pox, nearly eradicated polio, and we have a cure for Hepatitis C.

New medical innovations like CRISPR enable us to cure genetic diseases; last month (November 2018), the FDA approved an investigational new drug application that aims to cure Leber Congenital Amaurosis, the leading cause of childhood blindness.

Eventually, humanity may reach a point where human disease is all but eradicated. At that time, humans may live indefinitely.

Eternal life in Christianity and Judaism

If medical and scientific progress continue, it’s likely humans will eventually live very long, if not indefinitely.

This got me thinking:  What does it mean for people of faith if science-based medicine allows us to live forever?

Judaism and Christianity are united in hope of eternal life via resurrection. It’s so central to our faith that the Apostle Paul said our faith is in vain if there’s no eternal life:

“How can some of you say there’s no resurrection of the dead? If it’s true there’s no resurrection, then Messiah wasn’t raised. And if Messiah wasn’t raised, our faith is in vain.”

-Apostle Paul, Letter to Corinth

It’s central to mainstream Judaism as well. The fundamental 13 principles of Jewish faith include a confirmation of the resurrection:

“I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when G-d wills it to happen.”

-Maimonides, 13th principle of Jewish faith

This is the eternal life that Judaism and Christianity speak about: that one day, at the time God sees fit, God will raise the dead back to life and we will live with Him on earth. This is the “Kingdom of God” spoken of in the gospels; the Olam Haba (Age to Come) that Judaism is waiting for.

For us, this message of the resurrection is based on an actual historical event: Messiah was raised from the dead by God some 2000 years ago. It’s not merely a matter of faith, but also one of evidence. The early disciples of Jesus knew whether he was dead or not – if anyone hid the body or made a false claim about his resurrection, it would have been them – and yet, all of them went to their brutal deaths proclaiming it to be true, refusing to recant: this man Jesus literally rose from the dead and appeared to them in the flesh after his death.

The idea of eternal life has impacted to billions of believers through the ages.

For example, at Hanukkah we remember the Maccabees who firmly believed that “after our death Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will receive us and all our forefathers will praise us” (4 Maccabees 13). It was this conviction of eternal life that empowered them to stand up to a wicked and brutal empire. “You may kill us today, but one day we will be living again.”

For Christians, it was this same message of eternal life – now tangible and nearer with Jesus’ resurrection – prodding on the early believers to preach the risen Jesus, even with the threat of torture and death through Rome’s sadistic brutalities.

And on the darker side of things, it’s the same hope of eternal life that animates Islamic extremists to commit suicidal terrorism, believing they will enter Paradise with Allah for murdering unbelievers.

The hope of eternal life is still powerful today.

The recently deceased President George H.W. Bush hoped for eternal life, anticipating seeing his wife and his 3 year old son “on the other side.”

Messianic Jewish pioneer and Rabbi Stuart Dauermann spoke of his conversation with a dying woman, a skeptic of eternal life:

The medical technician said, “Lady: that’s the biggest tumor I ever saw.” And it was on her liver.

Lillian didn’t have long to live, and we had a conversation.

She said to me, “Ah, what the hell. When you’re dead you’re dead.”

I responded, “Lillian, you don’t know that. You’ve never died before!”

That brought her up short.

I then went on to say, ”Look, Lillian. Yeshua said this,  ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’ Now, if some guy standing on a streetcorner says this, or some other clown, you could dismiss it as the rantings of a fool. But when a person who lived the most remarkable life ever lived, and whose life and teachings have had compelling force for thousands of years says this, then it’s something else entirely.”

She was listening now. I went on.

“Lillian, it’s like playing a game of poker. You can take all your chips and put them on your proposition, ‘When you’re dead you’re dead.’  Or you can take those chips and place them on Yeshua who said that by believing in him and in what he said, you will continue living even on the other side of death. Which choice will you make?”

She gave a smart answer. No surprise. “Well, I don’t have much choice do I?”

I agreed.

Eternal life is a powerful hope indeed!

But what if Lillian had a choice? What if her choice was, “Keep being a skeptic of faith if you please; medicine will cure your cancer.”

If humans can one day attain eternal life without faith and religion, what does that do to faith?

Addressing religious objections to medical life extension

Some may think this is a non-issue. Some of you fine readers will say,

“The Lord will return before then.”

Maybe so, but maybe not. It’s been 2000 years. What’s another few hundred? No one knows.

“It’s not our place. Extending human lifespan is playing God.”

Maybe. But many religious people used to think that surgery was also playing God, but I bet none of you will turn down life-saving surgery today.

Additionally, God commanded humans to subdue the earth. Doesn’t that include subduing disease?

“This is crazy talk. We’ll never solve death.”

That’s entirely possible, even likely. But the trajectory of history shows an increasing lifespan thanks to medicine and science. If the trajectory continues, we’re looking at very long lifespans, possibly indefinite lifespans. You may think I’m crazy, and you might be right. But it’s my blog, and I get to think out loud even the wild-eyed thoughts! Smile

“It’ll never happen, because God decreed death as a curse in Genesis.”

God did curse humanity with death in Genesis. But that curse included men working by the sweat of our brows and women having great pain in childbirth, and both of those have been alleviated.

Let me tell you, friends, I work hard, but I don’t sweat and I don’t work the fields. I consider that a blessing. My God-given technological skills have allowed me to provide for my family without back-breaking field tilling. And even if I was a farmer, I’d utilize technology – GPS-guided tractors, engines, crop rotation, irrigation, and more – so that farming isn’t so terrible an existence.

As for the curse on women, my wife gave birth just last year. She didn’t have much pain in childbirth thanks to the wonders of modern medicine. Ditto for our other 2 children, both of whom are happy and healthy.

In short, the “curse on humanity” is still here – people are still dying, men are still working, and women still have pain in childbirth – but all those things have been alleviated by technology and medicine. Perhaps the curse of death can be alleviated as well.

Religious outcomes of medical eternal life

Maybe some of my readers will reject one or both, but suppose both are true:

  • Eternal life provided by God is real
  • Science-based medicine will provide eternal life, or something close to it.

Supposing both are true for a moment, what would religion look like?

The powerful message of eternal life that has animated so many Jews, Christians, and Muslims would probably be less impactful.

“Will you live forever?” will be answered with, “If I want to.”

That removes a reliance on God in some way.

Impactful statements from God will be less impactful. John 3:16’s famous, “All who believe in Me will not perish, but have everlasting life” would be rendered passé.

There will still be the desire to live with God – enter the Kingdom of Heaven, the Olam Haba – but that won’t be as powerful if death isn’t looming over every head.

So, I suspect religion and faith would be in decline because of one its central fruits would be duplicated by science and medicine.

On the other hand, it could make death even scarier for some. Like the man in a horror film running away from his tormentor, closing door after door on his pursuer, so too the person running from death through all kinds of medical interventions, trying everything to keep death at bay.

Maybe humans are designed to die, whether biologically or spiritually speaking. I spoke with my grandmother a few months before she died, talking to her about medical innovations that could extend human life. She told me, “I’d pass. I’m ready to die when the time comes, and I don’t want to live here forever.”

It took me by surprise. What I wish I would have asked her is, “Are you saying that because of all the pain and health trouble of old age? Would you still say that if you were healthy?”

As a healthy 35 year old, I want to live forever. I don’t want to die. But maybe time will change me.

Another interesting potential outcome of very long or indefinite lifespans is a good one: the accumulation of wisdom.

Young people are idiots who think they know everything. (I submit this blog post as evidence! Winking smile) Older generations have learned lessons that youth have yet to learn. The elderly have lived, experienced, and learned lessons difficult to pass on merely through words. And even if they could be transmitted by words, the young aren’t listening; they already know everything.

Having long-living people would likely increase humanity’s wisdom. Our leaders would likely be the more elderly people with more wisdom. Wisdom would dictate avoidance of war, because people who have experienced the hell of war would go to great lengths to avoid it. Culture would begin to see the elderly as wise, rather than as the nearly-irrelevant dementia-riddled burdens today’s culture views them as.

Long or indefinite lifespans would have repercussions worldwide; overpopulation would likely pressure us to move to other planets. Resource scarcity might produce war and famines. I won’t discuss these here, as I want to focus only on its impact on faith.

If science-based medicine can cure diseases, reduce suffering, and even give us eternal life, where does that leave faith? It will be a disruptive time.


The lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, all because of modern medicine. Some see this in an atheistic light – “Look what we did…without God!”

But maybe God is the platform here, and we are built atop it. God told us to take dominion over the earth and subdue it. Subduing disease surely falls in line, then, with God’s own commandment to humanity, one that predates even the curse of death.

The appearance of Messiah 2000 years ago changed the world forever; even our reckoning of time (BC/AD). It also ushered in an era where the Christian ethic reigns: compassion, healing, feeding the poor, caring for the needy, hospitals, medicine, food and more are in abundance. Perhaps modern medicine is an outgrowth of Christianity. Indeed, many western hospitals were founded by pious Christians; many hospitals still bear names like “Saint Joseph’s” or “Methodist Central.”

Viewed in that light, modern medicine and its ultimate goal of wiping out disease is of godly origins. I welcome it. But how will your faith be affected, fine Kineti reader, if you can achieve eternal life in the here and now through medicine alone?

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