Step Towards Transformation
A. Death – I’m referring to physical death – is one of the natural phenomena that permeate every human society; however, not all societies have the same perception about death. Consequently, different societies – and, sometimes, different individuals of the same society – have different perceptions about, and do portray different reactions to, death.
Socrates, for example, when condemned to death by the five-hundred-man jury in Athens, remarked: “I am not angry with you, my judges; you have done me no harm, although you did not mean to do me any good. The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways – I to die, and you to live. Which one of these is better, only God knows.”
Let it be borne in mind, though, that this article is not about whether everyone will die or not die. It’s not even about whether death is good or bad, necessary or unnecessary, God-caused or Satan-caused. Still, it’s not about the reasons we experience physical death.
This piece, however, is about whether it’s possible for a person to die before their time, or whether no one dies before their time. In other words, a question arises: Could a person die before their time? The question is posed in view of the varying ages at which people die, the manner in which they die and the seemingly popular belief that there’s a universal, specified amount of time that human beings are to live for.
The Bible – Psalms 90:10, specifically – reads: “The length of our days is seventy years, or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Some read this passage and conclude that humankind’s lifespan on Earth is seventy to eighty years. Others dissent and contend that this verse is not an assuring statement about the number of years each person has to live, but a philosophical discussion of the transience and problems of life.
Interesting, also, the same Bible – Genesis 6:3, precisely – says this: “And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” Most people have interpreted this passage to mean that humankind’s lifespan is set at 120 years in that it is an assuring statement from God. Nonetheless, others disagree, arguing that there’s nothing called a universal lifespan.
Does humankind really have a given, or universal, lifespan? If yes, what is it? And, still, is the given lifespan the limit? In other words, can no one live beyond it, but only to it or below it? If there’s a universal lifespan, is it there for everyone, or just for some people? If it’s there for everyone, then it’s obvious that those who die without reaching it die before their time; those who die beyond it die after their time, and those who die exactly at the given time – like Moses who died when he was 120 years old – die when it’s their time. It’s getting complicated, isn’t it?
We know that during the pre-Flood era, people lived up to 900 years. So, could it be that the 120-year lifespan is meant only for post-Flood people? We can’t say a definite YES! to this because Abraham (a post-Flood citizen) lived for 175 years. His wife, Sarah, as well as many other individuals, also lived for more than 120 years. Even right now – as this article is being read – there are people who are more than 120 years old living somewhere on the globe. In fact, there are reports that a French lady, named Jeanne Louise Calment, who died in 1997 died at age 122.
It’s an open secret that while some experience longevity; others don’t. Many babies die even before they can reach one month. Hmm! Could there be some problems associated with the120-year lifespan?
So, again, the question: Could a person die before their time? The overriding view is that no one dies before their time. However, those involved hold an unstable view, which suggests that they don’t really believe in their own theory. I say this because those – or, at least most of them – who believe that no one dies before their time also believe that people should be careful in life so that they cannot lose their lives prematurely or stupidly. They want to eat their cake and have it too.
What ought to be noted, in my opinion, is that if the argument is that no one dies before their time, then it doesn’t matter what a person does, or does not do, because that person wouldn’t lose their life once it’s not their time. In other words, such people wouldn’t die even if they threw themselves in a river infested with hungry crocodiles, or jump from a five-thousand-foot elevation.
At this juncture, it might be necessary for me to point out exactly where I stand on the topic, that is, the question. Although the Bible talks about a 120-year lifespan in Genesis 6:3, I refuse to believe that there is anything called a universal “set” time for human beings, a set time which is inscribed on stone and is unalterable, no matter what. Differently expressed, if there’s a set time, then I want to believe that it varies from one human being to another, and that God is flexible with it – He may go by it, shorten it or extend it. He many also leave it with the individual to determine how long they live, depending on their own decisions, activities, etc. Isn’t He a sovereign God, using His sovereignty to do anything he wishes?
Anyway, in all this, if at all it’s true that humankind has a definite time to live for on earth, then I strongly hold the following three views:
1) A person may die before their time.
2) A person may die after their time.
3) A person may die when it’s their time.
What are my weapons for these three views? Well, I depend on common sense and the Bible, aided by logic.
Dying before One’s Time
Common sense tells us that people do lose their lives if they engage in dangerous situations, if they put dangerous substances into their body, if man-made disasters occur, etc. Conversely, people may extend their days on Earth if they avoid engaging in precarious situations, using dangerous substances, taking dangerously unwise decisions, etc.
If, for example, a person decides to drink a gallon of sulfuric acid a day, instead of a gallon of water, their existence will be effected. Similarly, if they choose to throw themselves into a river infested with hungry crocodiles, instead of throwing themselves onto their beds, their existence will be affected. Still, if they decide to walk through a five-kilometer-long blazing fire unprotected, instead of walking through a park or around their house, the result will definitely be different. Briefly stated, dangerous situations and substances, as well as stupidity or wrong decisions, could cause one to lose their life. In fact, this is why people don’t allow their kids to play with, or go around, dangerous or unhealthy substances. This is common sense.
Let’s turn to the Bible a bit. I believe God Himself is aware that making the wrong decision could cause a person’s life. In Matthew Chapter Two, for example, when King Herod sought to kill the baby Jesus, the Bible tells us in Matthew 2:13-14 that God told Joseph in a dream to escape with the child and its mother to Egypt because Herod was planning to destroy his life. In other words, Herod wanted to kill Jesus before the set time. God knows that it was possible for this to happen, so he suggested escaping with Jesus , and Joseph had to take the right decision. Indeed, it’s possible for a person to die before their time. Why would God tell Joseph to escape with Jesus to Egypt, if the nobody-dies-before-their-time argument were a foregone conclusion?
Similarly, the Apostle Paul’s experience in Damascus indicates that one could die before their time. The story is recorded in Acts 9:20-25 and II Corinthians 11:32-33. The Jews had planned to killed Paul for preaching in the name of Jesus. When Paul became aware of the plot, he decided to escape. The Christians in the city helped him by placing him in a basket and lowering him. In II Corinthians 11:32-33, Paul, reflecting on the situation, explained that he escaped “certain death.”
There are two essential points to consider in this. First, Paul believed that a person can die before their time. That’s why he didn’t take any chances, but decided to escape because he knew that if he had stayed there he could have been killed before his time. Indeed, wrong decisions or stupidity could cause one’s life to be cut short. Second, Paul says that he escaped “certain death.” In other words, his decision to escape helped him prolong his life. Why would Paul want to talk about escaping “certain death,” if the nobody-dies-before-their-time theory were always true?
Also, in both Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:1-3, the Bible says that people should honor their parents so that they may live long. In other to talk about something being prolonged, there must first be a known or set time limit. Conversely, this means that if people dishonor their parents, their days on Earth may be short – meaning, they may die before their time.
Let it be remembered, though, that the Bible does not say that obeying one’s parents is the way, or the only way, to live long. Neither does the Bible say that once a person obeys their parents their days will be long, no matter what. If a person obeys their parents, but decides to drink a gallon of sulfuric acid, or asks someone to shoot them with a machine gun until all the shots are finished, there’s no guarantee that the person will live long all because they honor their parents. By the way, aren’t there disobedient children who live longer than obedient ones? Ah, more complications!
Still, if the 120-year-lifespan view is anything to go by, then it follows that those who die before age 120 die before their time. It’s simple, isn’t it?
Dying after One’s Time
Similar to the 120-year-lifespan view in the last paragraph above, it can also be argued that if the theory is true, then those who died after the age of 120 die after their time. This is clear, isn’t it?
Also, in relation to Exodus 20:12 and Ephesians 6:1-3, if by honoring one’s parents one could prolong their days on Earth, it means that one could die after the set time. Logically speaking, for something to be considered prolonged, there must, of necessity, be the understanding that its limit has been passed. Hence, in this case, a person could die after their time.
Another place in the Scripture where the possibility of dying after one’s time is clearly seen is in II Kings 20:1-6. It is the story about King Hezekiah. The Bible says that he was seriously ill and was going to die, according to God’s own words. But, then, the Bible explains that Hezekiah prayed to God to have mercy and prolong his life – extend his appointed time of death. God, the Bible tells us in Verse 6, heard Hezekiah’s prayer and agreed to extend his days on Earth by fifteen years. Yes, that’s FIFTEEN YEARS!
Logically, for God to have talked about extending Hezekiah’s age by fifteen years, there must have first been an originally set time. That original time – the original time of his death – was cancelled and extended by fifteen years. Simply put, Hezekiah died after his time. Indeed, a person may die after their time.
Dying at One’s Right Time
Having pointed out the possibility of a person dying before or after their time, I would now like to turn to the issue of a person dying when it’s their time.
A few passages in the Bible depict instances of people dying at their right time. Let’s take Jesus, for example. In John 7, we read that after Jesus had authoritatively preached to the people, the Jews sought to kill him; however, verse 30 tells us that no one was able to lay hands on him because his hour had not yet come. Why were the people unable to kill Jesus at the time they had wanted? The answer is right in the same verse, and it’s quite simple: because his hour (the time of his death) had not yet come. We read the same in John 8:20 where, again, the people were unable to kill Jesus because the time had not come. In other words, when Jesus was finally apprehended and killed, it all happened because the appointed time, in His case, had come.
Besides when one considers the events preceding the death of Jacob, as recorded in Genesis 49:29-33, and Joseph’s death, as recorded in Genesis 50:24, it can be argued that these two individuals died at their right time. These passages are worth looking at.
What have my arguments been all along? Well, I’ve argued that if there’s anything called a set time of death for mankind, then that set time is not necessarily unalterable – could be changed by God, the Giver of life. God may choose to do anything he wishes, and this may include prolonging a person’s life, shortening a person’s life or taking a person’s life at the set time. Hence, I believe that a person could die before their time, after their time or when it’s their time. However, we don’t know whether if a person dies it’s their time, before their time or after their time. In it all, only God knows.
Also, we can’t be sure as to whether a person loses his life because God, according to His providence, has decided to take it, or because of the person’s own decisions and activities. While it’s true that everything is in God’s hands, the Bible urges us in Matthew 10:16 to be as wise as serpents – take care of our lives. In essence, stupid or dangerous decisions could cause one their life. A person cannot just decide to jump into a pool of acid and expect his health and life to be the same. If Jesus and his parents could escape to Egypt in order to save Jesus’ life from being cut short by King Herod, there is an essential lesson there for us to learn.
Remember what God says in Isaiah 55:8-9? It reads: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Hmm! Let’s face it, folks. There’s something in this to learn about.