Numbering Our Days

Steve JolleyCommunity News

Just about everyone I know is aging.  Kaya, our eighteen-month-old grand daughter is not just walking, she is running.  Single, barely intelligible words have given way to what could almost be considered rudimentary sentences.  Soon, I assume, she will be preparing for her SAT and considering colleges.  One of my good friends, Todd Ridenour, who I met when he was twenty and have always considered very young, just had his fiftieth birthday.  And—much to my dismay—fellow surfers in the lineup now address me as sir instead ofbro.

Since life only moves in one direction, each of us, regardless of our station in life, are all getting older.  But we are not just getting older, we are also living much longer.  On August 4, 1977 Frenchwoman Madame Jeanne Calment died at the age of 122, giving credit for her longevity to the consistent consumption of port wine and olive oil.  You have to love the French!  Advances in medicine, sanitation, diet, and eradication of various diseases have caused the life expectancies for many to have doubled since the middle of the 19th century.  And most of us want more.

In our quest for longevity, roughly 100 million Americans are using and pursuing anti-aging products and activities. The quest includes books, vitamins, dietary supplements, melatonin, testosterone, estrogen, plastic surgery, anti-aging skin products, Rogaine, Viagra, special diets, a gym membership and Bikram (hot) yoga.  If your hips or knees are bothersome, you can get replacements.  While maybe not equal to the originals, you are good to go for another 50,000 miles or so.  And what is the ultimate compliment all of us over forty long for on our birthday?  You sure don’t look your age.

Researchers are working diligently to figure out how to slow the aging process.  Their efforts include dietary restriction (very promising but no fun), genetic manipulation, and enzyme development.  Recently, Harvard scientists announced that they had been successful in stopping and actually reversing the aging process in elderly mice.  It is safe to presume that these mice are now the envy of all the other mice that did not get the therapy.  Molecular biologist Cynthia Kenyon has done gene research with worms that doubled their life span.  While it has done little to make the life of the worm more interesting, the research offers hope.  With so many people hoping to have the body of a 45 year old at 90, Kenyon’s pharmaceutical company is looking for a marketable product.  Pointing out the obvious, Kenyon says, If our company could make a pill, everyone would want it.  If science ever does produce even a modest cure for aging, the therapies will certainly be employed, and with unforeseen consequences.

Is there anything wrong with wanting to live to be 140 or more?  And, what about Christians whose hope is for eternal life in heaven?  Can an unbridled desire for longevity become an idol?  The Bible has a lot to say to Christians about life, death, and aging.  The desire for a long life is not necessarily bad and living to an old age is at times described as a reward for obedience (Exodus 20:12).  Proverbs indicates that wise living can actually lengthen how long we live (Proverbs 9:11).  No matter how long we might live, it won’t be long enough.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes points out, God has, put eternity into man’s heart(Ecclesiastes 3:11).  We long for life.  Yet, regardless of how long we live, we all know that everyone must die.  The Scriptures never make light of this decaying process, calling death the last enemy(1 Corinthians 15:26).

Before he became a Christian, Poet T.S. Eliot described April as, the cruelest month, because the hope that accompanies spring might just turn out to be an illusion.  But the Christian’s hope is based not on an illusion but on the historical resurrection of Jesus. As we age, and age we will, believers would do well to remember that we look forward to a bodily resurrection.  When we grasp that our destiny is heaven, that our bodies will be new, and that we can look forward to a time when, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4), it gives an entirely new perspective on the aging process.  George McDonald wisely pointed out, If you believe that the Son of God died and rose again, your whole future is full of the dawn of eternal morning, coming up beyond the hills of life, and full of such hope as the highest imagination for the poet has not a glimmer yet.

Of course the aging process can be frustrating.  None of us looks forward to diminished physical and mental abilities, the onset of bodily aches and pains, and the eventual loss of freedom and even some of our dignity, that inevitably comes with age. Death in our era of medical wonders is rarely quick and easy.  While Christians may pursue a long and healthy life, longevity should never be seen as an absolute good.  If we pursue Methuselah-like longevity we run the risk of making an idol out of this life and failing to look forward to the life that is to come.  As believers, we should not cling too tenaciously to this life because we know we will live on after death.  Our hope is in Jesus who said right after the death of his friend Lazarus, I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?(John 11:25).  So when you go to the gym, take your vitamins, or dread your next birthday, pray with the Psalmist, So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).