Would you like to live for three hundred years? The bible tells us that Enoch lived three hundred and sixty five years before God took him. Enlightenment scholarship had a field day with age spans like Enoch’s. No one could possibly live that long. It must be the hyperbolic language of a pre- scientific age. I wonder how those same scholars would respond to a recent article by Nicholas D. Kristof, posted on CNN.com (August 12th 2003). Kristof is an Op-Ed Columnist of the New York Times.
Entitled “Where is Thy Sting?” Kristof reports that it won’t be long now before folks could live up to six hundred years or more. Kristof writes:
“Scientists generally think there is a natural constraint, the Hayflick limit, on how many times …cells can divide in tissue culture before they decay and die. But some work indicates that human cells given a copy of the telomerase gene can divide indefinitely, a step toward immortality on a cellular scale.”
And we could have an endless stream of vital organs because by then we could grow whatever organs we want in pigs. (I guess our Jewish and Muslim friends would have to look for other animals to grow their vital organs.) Kristof writes:
“Sure, our organs may give out. But scientists are now breeding special kinds of pigs that may be able to grow replacement hearts and lungs – and one day pigs will grow human hearts and lungs, with human DNA, not their piggy equivalents.”
The idea of immortality has its attractions. A couple of years before mid-century, I feel that, in many ways, my life is just beginning. This is one of the paradoxes of life. The longer you live the more you learn about how to live. But the more you know about life, the less of life you have left to live.
What if you could live for 200 years or more in reasonably good health? Imagine the things you could do. Imagine that you have that much more time to implement the dreams that God has laid on your heart. I suspect I am fooling myself.
If my life up till now is any indication, the more time I have the more time I waste. The more time I have the less focused I become. And if I have more time it also means that I have more time to sin.
What is perhaps more scary is the fact that if life lengthening technology becomes more available, the proportion of rich people in the world will increase. I take it that only the rich would be able to afford the technology.
And while the Lord loves all people, rich and poor, there is enough biblical, material that talks about the blessedness of the poor to make one pause to think if perhaps the poor have a better take on God than the rich. (See for example, Luke 6:20.)
Kristof himself understands that life-lengthening technology by itself is no panacea for human ills. He cites the impact of ultrasound scans in China.
“Partly I’m worried because I lived in China in the early 1990’s when a much more modest technology, ultrasound scans, became widely available. Used properly by doctors, ultrasound machines can save lives, but in China they were used to find out fetuses’ sex so females could be aborted. Now one- sixth more boys are born in China than girls.”
Whether he realizes it or not, Kristof’s highlighting of the potential abuse of technology highlights a more pressing need for humankind.
At the end of the day, what we really need is not just healthier human beings or longer living ones. What we really need are better human beings. And frankly that sort of transformation is outside the powers of science.
Only God can change the heart of man. Only He is capable of that inner transformation that produces a better human being. Ezekiel describes this divine heart transplant:
“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
I am no Luddite. There is much that modern medical science and do to enhance human life. In any case, technology has a momentum of it’s own. What can be done usually gets done.
So it is possible that in the future humankind can live much longer lives, with all the good and bad that that brings. But no matter how long we get to live, we still have to address the fundamental questions that have always being with us. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Why is humankind so inhuman to its own?
The answers to all these questions lie with a Palestinian carpenter who lived for only thirty-three years. And who died and rose again. To show us the way—not to a longer life—but to a better one. And an eternal one.
Your mid-life brother, Soo-Inn Tan