Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Candid talk about life expectancy and death

I am especially directing this particular blog posting to you young people, who I always have in mind. Be assured I am not trying to bum you out, because if you think about what I am writing here, you will see its purpose is the opposite, to make you more realistic and thus have more positivity about both life and what to expect after life.

Young people, the first thing you need to understand is that you were raised by a generation, perhaps even two generations, who have taken an "average" or a long lifespan for granted. They have thus passed on to you some legitimate, but also some very bogus, expectations. Those of us who are older, and, more importantly, had very sound scientific and anthropological subject material in school, have a different, more realistic view of not only the biological life and its priorities but also the spiritual life. Your parents, grandparents and your school systems have done you no favors in this regard. It is urgent that you rethink the unconscious assumptions that you have.

First, look at this article, but most especially the chart.

Here is the punch line. Do you realize that until the last century for ALL of human history that the average lifespan of humans was through the twenties, lower thirties, and sometimes the forties? That is what that chart shows you, that as recently as a few hundred years ago most people could not expect to life much past forty.

Let that sink in for a moment. For the hundreds of thousands of years that what is considered to be modern humans existed, until the last one hundred years or so, virtually all humans could only expect to live a MAX of forty years. Most were considered old and "elders" in their thirties.

This should make you realize a few things now about the scriptures. First, it is very significant and indeed a proof of God's existence that at the time when most humans lived only until their thirties, God told them that their maximum years would be one hundred and twenty. Even the wisest prehistoric scholars could not have figured that out and anticipated such an age limit which has been demonstrated to be precisely true.

Second, it means you have to take seriously the immense ages of some of the patriarchs mentioned in the Bible. People simply would not have made up that a FEW specific named people blessed by God in the times between Adam and Eve and Abraham lived for hundreds and hundreds of years. It is exactly the astonishment of such longevity that resulted in those life spans being recorded in the Bible. Think about it..... of all the things that we today think are "important events," during the times recorded in the Book of Genesis, what is the only "facts" that people recorded? Those several key blessed patriarchs and the ages to which they lived. Other than genealogies those are really the only "facts" of those times: not dates of founding of cities, not amount of wealth, not years of battle victories or other "historical" "facts" like we would record today, but the extraordinary statement by God that due to human disobedience and limitations they can only expect natural life to reach one hundred and twenty years AND the recording of very few people in history who, filled with the Spirit of God, lived remarkably extended lives.

Now, my point is not to focus on those few individuals, the likes of which humans will never see again, for they truly lived when God was present among his people in their early rising and faith history. My point is to get you to not take an "average" or a "long" lifespan for granted, and also to explain some cold and hard facts to belie sentimentality that has crept into the modern psyche.

I am very concerned, as I have for decades, about an assumption that has crept into modern thought, which is that somehow if one suffers a "tragic" or "early" loss of life, that somehow God "makes it alright." To be blunt, many young people have been raised to think that if someone dies young, or if someone of any age dies tragically, that somehow, even if they are the most godless person in their life, that a young or "sad" death gives them some sort of bonus brownie points to achieve heaven. Seriously, so many people think that someone who ignored God while they were alive and even worked against his will, living godless and totally selfish lives filled with pointless activities, that if he or she dies sadly, tragically, at a young age, or was "so nice" and "much loved" or "much admired," that he or she gets a free pass card to the heaven that they didn't even believe in or witness to, and that they are "now at peace."

Think about how illogical that is. For most of human existence virtually every human barely made it out of their twenties alive. Duh. God would certainly not have set up a "bonus point" system for sad and early deaths when obviously ALL FREAKING PEOPLE DIED YOUNG FOR MOST OF HUMAN EXISTENCE.

In Biblical times, boys and girls who reached puberty were eagerly looking forward to being adult enough to marry, have responsibility for some sort of household, and start to raise a family. This is why the age of thirteen is such a "coming of age" in many cultures, and of course very much in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions. Get real, people. At the age of thirteen people were already approaching their life expectancy halfway point.

Thus the Bible, and the Qur'an, were written when people who turned thirty were viewed as "old" or "elders." This is why Jesus Christ started his public ministry around that age, by the way. And at his age, around thirty-three, when he died, it was the greatest tragedy and injustice in human history, but to that reality one cannot say that "he died young." The life expectancy of everyone, in general, around the world was their thirties, perhaps to forty.

So you must drop the notion that because human prosperity, health, hygiene and technology have helped many humans reach the average age of seventy (more in developed countries, of course), doubling what humans had expected until then, that God has some particular special treatment for those who "die young" or "die tragically." Um, that actually has been the entire story and lot of all of human history to date, that life was a struggle to survive day to day, to raise a family, to thrive, and to make it to one's "elder" status years, which was one's thirties.

With that in mind, you must realize that God does not "allow" or "bake into the plan" decades of youthful denial and occult or other "experimentation." Again, modern people, being raised by parents who are spoiled by their recent longevity and prosperity, somehow assume that God "understands" if children are raised godless, if teenagers and young adults "experiment with exotic beliefs" and if people are "too busy" or "too artistic" in their twenties and thirties to care about believing in God. That is a total error and one that is dangerous to the extreme. It not only puts decent living and good choices in peril (the old "I've got lots of time to straighten out" myth) but it also is, frankly, delusional to think that God is going to allow into heaven generations that are more unbelieving and disrespectful of him than ever in human history.

God is one hundred percent truth and one hundred percent consistency. He is constant in his availability to love and forgive even the most egregious sinner. But he is also constant in allowing the consequences of the same behaviors throughout all of human history to determine if an individual is saved (achieves heaven) or not (is assigned to hell for all eternity).

I know that when someone dies young and/or tragically, no one wants (or should) look at the grieving family and say, "Wow, it's too late for him or her to be saved," even if that is most likely factually true. That's cold hearted and cruel, and it is also not recommended that one speaks for God. However, it is equally a disservice for these past two generations to think that someone young who has lived very un-Christian lives, disbelieving and flaunting God, but who was "bubbly" or "artistic" or "sad" and "tragic" gets some sort of bonus points to cancel out their having done NOTHING to merit salvation!

To put it in systems terms: heaven is NOT the default location.

There is advice that I would give to anyone who asks who has suffered a loss in their family of such a person, and maybe I would give it if asked, it's not something that can be easily blogged about, as my advice must tap and utilize the specific level and type of the faith of the persons who are asking. But I CAN tell all of you reading this to understand the facts and be more sane and realistic than your parents' generation (and even some grandparents'). God gave the Bible and the Qur'an to humans for specific reasons: so humans understand the truth, and what God expects from them. As I've blogged before, you must understand the cultural context of the times when the scriptures were articulated, in order to fully comprehend all the fullness and richness of meaning. Here, then, is another example where you cannot read the Bible with modern filters. You cannot be reading the Bible and thinking that an elder is someone in their sixties, seventies and eighties. You cannot read the Bible and think that God is cutting slack for youth. He is not. When God refers to children he means children, as in very young children... God is not even meaning teenagers when he refers to children. As I said, at thirteen most were getting ready to establish their own households. At thirty they were elders. There is no "slack" built in for "young people" to "experiment" and to "choose" "their spirituality" and "whether to 'believe or not.'"

I hope that you have found this helpful.