Crazy cryonics and hope-so hope
The New York Times recently published an article by Mark Leibovich titled “Larry King is Preparing for the Final Cancellation.” The article focuses on the fact that the aging talk show host, at 81, is fixated on the subject of death and dying. He religiously reads the obituaries every morning, knowing that the day of his death is drawing ever closer. He talks so much about death that he has actually started to upset his teenaged sons. He knows that he will not live forever—in his words, “I won’t exist”—but he has no plans to face common destiny in the way that most do.
“How can a story end well if he winds up in the ground?” the article asks. King replies that he has no intention of winding up in the ground. Instead, he has made arrangements to have his body cryogenically frozen so that he can be thawed out when a cure is discovered for whatever eventually kills him.
Leibovich notes King’s opinion that “the people behind cryonics are ‘all nuts,’” but he’s taking his chances nonetheless. At least, he says, cryonics offers him a shred of hope as he approaches death. “Other people have no hope,” he says.
Earlier this year, King stated on a New York City radio show that he is “probably” an atheist. Answering questions posed by the hosts regarding his decision to be frozen, King continued, “I don’t believe that I’m going anywhere. I’m not religious, so I believe when you die you die and that’s it. So I’m so curious, and I like living and so I want one little chance.” He described cryonics as “the one way grab at eternity to live” and added, “I don’t want to not exist.”
King theorises that fear of death is the reason religion exists. Of those who claim they know that they’re going somewhere when they die, he said, “You don’t.”
If we approach King’s beliefs and attempts at eternal life with a biblical worldview, we cannot help but be deeply saddened. If King is right that we’re not going anywhere—that “when you die you die and that’s it”—then “we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). If Jesus Christ is not the Son of God, who died and rose again for the eternal life of those who believe in him, then we can rightly be characterised as “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). For King, cryonics is the only hope for eternal life (even though he doesn’t really believe that it offers hope), but those who hold a biblical worldview know differently.
Paul admitted, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Why might someone have hope in Christ only in this life? That would be the case, argues Paul, if Jesus never rose from the dead. “But,” he asserts, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.” And since he has been raised from the dead, we don’t have hope in him in this life only: We have hope in this life and in the next. Because Jesus Christ, having died, is alive, we have the certain hope of eternal life.
King, who doesn’t want to not exist, reckons that cryonics is his only (admittedly long) shot at eternal life. The sad reality is that, if we define eternal life as perpetual existence, he will in fact live forever. Everyone will exist for eternity. The question is, where will you exist? Those who bow the knee to Jesus Christ in this life will exist for eternity in heaven; those who will not bow to Christ in this life will exist for eternity in the lake of fire. But those who exist in the latter state will quickly find that it is a state in which they would rather not exist. For those in hell, not existing would be a far better option than existing forever in conscious punishment for their sin.
The gospel is a message of hope—but only if there is the promise of a better life. The gospel message highlights our continuing sin, weakness and vulnerability, but offers hope that these things will be erased in the life to come. If this life is all we have, then any hope that the gospel offers is transient. Whatever we gain in our present experience is nullified by the fact that the gain exists only in this world. This is particularly so in light of the fact that the gospel, as a rule, invites suffering into the life of its beneficiaries.
Christians, who have experienced the power of the gospel, are willing to suffer for the sake of Christ. We are eager for the gospel to identify our sin and weakness precisely because we know that that sin and weakness is only temporary. We have a sure, eternal hope, and the present benefits of the gospel are merely the down payment for the greater glory that awaits us at death. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the promised resurrection of our bodies, the Christian’s “labour is not in vain” in this world (1 Corinthians 15:58). If Jesus Christ did not rise, and if we therefore have no hope of a future resurrection, then everything we do, say and believe is vain. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”
And so, to Larry King, who says that “other people”—that is, those who have not invested in “crazy” cryonics—“have no hope,” we reply with Paul:
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
And in light of this glorious hope: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:51–58).