What is Death?
Death, then, can be defined as the spirit leaving the body permanently. I soon learnt to stop thinking of death as an irreversible instant in time, but rather as a process completed only if the spirit does not return.
While this ‘process’ definition of death is accurate, it is not easy to apply and it opened up more difficulties than I imagined when I first perceived it as a young Christian. For example, I ran it past a couple of Christian doctors who are friends, who explained that clinical death could not use such a definition because there was no way of knowing the moment that the spirit left the body. So from the medical point of view it was a useless definition – they would continue to need to rely on physical measurements such as brain waves and heart function. Consequently, while of necessity practical, this approach means that the medical profession cannot determine the moment true (irreversible) death begins, a fact that vexes it to this day.
Dr Mary Neal 2 changed her mind regarding the moment of death subsequent to her own NDE. Note that she writes of the ‘soul’ departing, which is usually in combination with the ‘spirit’ departing, as discussed later:
I have come to believe that the departure of the soul defines and determines the moment of death, rather than the body’s physical death determining the moment of the soul’s departure.
With the use of modern medicine and technology, the organism that is our human body may continue to physically function and appear to be ‘alive’, but unless God sees a purpose to return the soul to its body, the person is essentially dead. Not only had I witnessed this during my surgical training, but also there are far too many accounts of near-death experiences in which there is a description of the soul departing the shell of its not-yet physically dead body to ignore this reality.
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