The question of eternal life has intrigued humans from the beginning. In fact, concern about life beyond death seems to be one of the distinguishing marks of being human. Although we live within a linear time framework with a beginning and an end, our souls long for more, for eternal significance, meaning and life. God has made us in his image and given us his ‘nephesh’ (breath of life) which pulls us toward Him as the source of all that is eternal. Perhaps at one time mankind had the potential to live forever. After sin entered the Garden of Eden through Eve and then Adam, God said, “Man (Adam) must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Genesis 3:12) What was this 'Tree of Life’? How would it have enabled Adam to live forever? Could it be something genetic and could the science of genetics eventually unlock this key?
There is a member of the animal kingdom that can potentially live forever? It is a tiny hydrozoan (about 0.18 inch maximum diameter) that lives at the bottom of the ocean and is called the ‘immortal jellyfish’ (Turritopsis Nutricula). When adverse conditions threaten the Turritopsis, it is able to reverse its sexual mature medussa stage and return to the immature polyp stage through a process called cellular transdifferentiation, where one type of cell changes into another type. In this way it is able to begin the growth process again, like the fictional character Benjamin Button, who began to grow younger after reaching maturity. The process is poorly understood by scientists and it is not known whether stem cells are involved.
The author of Ecclesiastes looks long and hard at the meaning of life, often with a skeptical eye. He writes, “For everything there is a time, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot....” Following a poetic description of the significance of the passage of time, he adds, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Eccl 3:1-3, 11)
Although the idea of living forever in my physical body on earth is not particularly appealing, nor is the idea of endless cycles of reincarnation, the vision expressed by Apostle Paul offers a hope that gives meaning and direction to my life. “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:54)
To learn more about the Turritopsis nutricula (or dohrnii) see the New York Times article: Can a jellyfish unlock the secret of immortality?