I was reading through the Book of Genesis, as one does, when a repeated phrase in chapter 5 made me pause. The phrase was “all the days of” as in “Thus all the days of Seth were nine hundred twelve years.” As I noted, the phrase gets repeated: “all the days of Enosh;” “all the days of Kenan,” and so on. Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech—each of them was given lots and lots of days, according to Genesis 5, but after telling us how many years of days they lived, each account ends with a stark “and he died.” Well, except for Enoch, but he was a special case.
Apparently God thought this kind of longevity was excessive. Right out of the chute in chapter 6 we read, “Then the Lord said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” It looks like that was meant to be an upper limit and not a prescription for everybody because almost nobody actually gets that old. The longest verified human lifespan in recent times is that of Jeanne Louise Calment of France (1875–1997). Genesis would say the days of Jeanne Louise were one hundred twenty-two years and 164 days; and she died. So she got a couple of bonus years on top of the 120. Good for her.
In Psalm 90 that upper limit gets a few more years lopped off. “The days of our life are seventy years, perhaps 80 if we are strong,” we read in verse 10. Tradition says that Psalm 90 was written by Moses. If so, then Moses was in a pretty dark mood that day. It’s not a happy Psalm, Psalm 90, and the curtailed life span is the least of its gloominess. Oy.
The point of all this is that our days on this earth are numbered. Frankly, I’m okay with that, even though I’m indisputably closer to the end than to the beginning. C’est la vie, as Jeanne Louise would say if she were still here. I’m okay with going on to what comes next, especially since I’m pretty sure that time will be experienced in a very different way—if we experience it at all. It’s all in God’s hands, so it’s all good.
Here’s what’s not good and what I’m not okay with: if we don’t clean up our act, then life on earth, at least life as we know it, is in real trouble. If we don’t make some major changes starting yesterday, then our days as a species are numbered…and we’ll take a lot of other species with us. Scientists are already calling our age the Anthropocene. They give names like that to bygone eras of mass extinction. Anthropocene. From anthropos, the Greek word for human. When they call this current era the Anthropocene, they are saying that this is the era in which humanity has caused the extinction of massive numbers of other species. Not our proudest moment.
I don’t care so much about my own personal extinction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any hurry to shuffle off this mortal coil, but I’m also not worried about it. It will come when it comes. On the other hand, I care quite a lot about the threat of extinction to the various biomes of this beautiful planet, and all the other creatures that share the earth with us. I quite like dogs, for instance. And cats and horses and frogs and dolphins and owls and even crows. And octopuses, who, it turns out, are quite smart! They didn’t have a say in the damage we’ve created with our massive carbon footprints. They weren’t given a vote when our plastics were swept into the waters of the world. I rather suspect they would have objected. Strenuously. I also care quite a lot about my children and grandsons and their potential progeny. I would like for them to live in a world at least as nice as the one I’ve lived in.
Helen Caldicott once wrote, “We didn’t inherit the earth from our parents, we have borrowed it from our children.” She has a really good point. We did inherit some things from our parents, especially attitudes and habits that can have a profound effect on what the world will be like when we hand it over to those who come after us. It would do us all a world of good if we treated the world as if we were renting it from the future and wanted to return it in better shape than when we entered it so we can get our security deposit back.
We are Easter people. We believe that God can and will give all of creation a new birth, a resurrection life. But let’s leave the timing of that up to God, shall we? Killing the planet simply because we believe that God can un-kill it would not reflect well on us. It’s not a good look and it will upset our grandkids.
There is a lot of amazing work being done to develop new energy and transportation sources as quickly as possible (see https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/matter_energy/batteries/.) The world of science and technology has finally realized that we’re on a pretty serious deadline here and that there’s more at stake than impressing their colleagues. There is really is hope for the future. It’s slim, but it’s there. We can help is if we all figure out how we can conserve and contribute less to the problem. You’re all using LED lightbulbs, right?
Your days and my days are numbered, but let’s do what we can to make sure that the world God loves (John 3:16) has a much longer and healthier run.