I have often been asked whether we can do anything to lengthen—or shorten—our lives. The question typically is stated like this, “We know that God is in control and that He knows everything. He knows the day that each person ever conceived will die. Isn’t it true, then, that nothing we do is going to change the day of our death?”
Five-point Calvinists might not have a problem with the idea that we have no free will and that the length of our lives is predestined by God. But I do not see that position as Biblical.
The fact that God knows what will happen does not mean that we have no influence over what will happen.
There is plenty of proof in the Bible that what people do does make a difference in how long they will live (even though God knows what they do and as a result when and how they would die).
Take Israel in the first century. Jesus the Messiah came and offered the kingdom to Israel. The nation rejected Him, though some individuals in the nations did believe in Him and follow Him (John 1:11-12). The result was that the temple was destroyed, and the nation was exiled in AD 70. But the Lord Jesus has told us that it did not have to be that way. It was not predestined: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matt 23:37, emphasis added). If Israel had been willing, the kingdom would have come in the first century, presumably in AD 40 (after the seven-year time of Jacob’s trouble).
Earlier the Lord had warned that unless the nation repented, “you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3, 5). Israel did not repent, and the result was that one million Jews were killed in the Jewish War between AD 66-70. That did not have to happen.
When the new nation came to Kadesh Barnea, Moses sent in twelve spies. If all twelve had given a good report and their tribes had followed their recommendations, then the entire nation, around two million people, would have entered the Promised Land then. Instead, because ten of the twelve gave a bad report and the nation rebelled, everyone twenty or over except Joshua and Caleb died over the next thirty-eight years. The lives of over a million people were shortened due to their sin. See Numbers 10-14.
The two oldest sons of Aaron offered up strange fire, probably because they were intoxicated (Lev 10:9), and were struck dead prematurely by the Lord (Lev 10:1-11). They did not have to die then.
Ananias and Saphira conspired to lie about the price they received for some land, and the result was that both died on the spot (Acts 5:1-11). Though the Lord knew what they would do and when and how they would die, He did not cause that to happen. They could have acted differently, and if they had, their lives would have been extended.
A prophet from Judea was told to go to the northern kingdom, give God’s message of judgment to King Jeroboam, and then leave immediately, not staying even to eat. He was not even to return on the same path on which he came. He was then deceived by another prophet, and he died after eating and then trying to head home. He need not have died then. See 1 Kings 13.
I remember when I was in seminary, we had a prayer and praise chapel. One of the students took great pains to stand up. He had a cast on his leg from his ankle to his hip. He reported that he had been in a motorcycle accident on the way to school. He then said that he knew that even if he had been in a Mack truck, he would have had the exact same injury. God had determined that he would have this broken leg. So, he concluded, “As soon as the cast comes off, I’m getting on another motorcycle.” Dr. Walvoord was leading the chapel. He told the young man that his reasoning was not sound, and he wanted to talk with him after the chapel. When it was over, I heard Dr. Walvoord tell him that God holds us accountable for decisions we make. Riding a motorcycle on the freeway to and from school for an hour a day for four years was exceedingly risky, as he had already discovered. Dr. Walvoord urged him to get a large car or truck.
What would have happened if the Ninevites had not repented at the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 3:1-10)? They would have been destroyed.
If ten righteous people had been found in Sodom, the people of Sodom would have been spared (Gen 18:16-33).
God indeed knows everything you will ever do. He knows whether you will smoke or not. He knows whether smoking will shorten your life, and how much. He knows if you will drive a motorcycle, and if so, what will happen. From eternity past, He knew every decision you would make and every result of every decision. He indeed knows the second we will die or be raptured. But His knowledge is based on His foreknowledge.
While there are exceptions, God intends for us to live full lives (Ps 90:10). But if we walk in rebellion against God, we shorten our lives (1 John 5:16-20).
The Bible does not specifically address risky practices like hang gliding, parachute jumping, motorcycle racing, and bungee jumping. But there is the principle in Scripture that what we sow, we reap (Gal 6:7). Proverbs calls us to live wisely, not foolishly. That would seem to apply to dangerous practices. We do know from actuaries that statistically speaking, risky hobbies shorten lives. That is why life insurance premiums are higher if you engage in risky activities.
My suggestion is to take the best care you can of your body and then leave the results up to God. Eat right. Keep your weight in the healthy range. Exercise regularly. Get plenty of sleep. Take medications if needed for health issues.
Two final points. First, God can and often does save us from foolish decisions we make. He may keep us from an accident if we drive while intoxicated. He may spare us from major injury when we have a motorcycle accident that easily could have killed us. If a college student who has diabetes and is overweight goes to a coronavirus party (yes, there are such things!) with the intention of getting the virus, and he gets the virus, God may spare him major symptoms and from death. I’m confident that God has spared my life many times when I dozed at the wheel, when I was accidentally driving the wrong way on a one-way street, when I was in car and bicycle accidents, and so forth. But we must not presume that God will always spare us from the consequences of foolish choices we make.
Second, God sometimes chooses to take a faithful believer home well before age 70 or 80, not because of sin or foolish decisions, but simply as part of His divine plan (whether by martyrdom, an accident, or an illness). None of us know when we will die. But God does.
I am sixty-eight and in good health. If the Lord tarries, I think I might live into my nineties, like my Mom did. I might even live to be one hundred. But I know that I could die or be taken in the Rapture before this blog goes online. I live each day as though the choices I make will lead to many more years of ministry. But I live in the knowledge that God is in control, and He knows best. The fact is, none of us know the time of our death. We are to live each day in the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God, for as many days as He gives us.