Do you ever think – “what if?” What if I had married my first love? What if I had pursued my dream to …? What if my parents hadn’t divorced? What if I hadn’t tried drugs/ fallen pregnant/had that car accident?
We are defined and confined by the choices we make and that others around us make. Each choice changes the future ones that are available to us, and presents us with choices we wouldn’t have had before.
Movies like “Sliding Doors” or “The Butterfly Effect” postulate what would happen if, at a fork in the road, we took the other path. They perpetuate this idea that there is this whole other reality that might have been “IF”.
We say things like “if only I hadn’t …” or “If I had just taken another route” or “if I had been there a few seconds earlier”.
The ultimate “if onlys” have to do with death. “If that silly boy hadn’t been jumping on the rocks, he wouldn’t have fallen into the sea and drowned”, “If that woman hadn’t smoked three packs a day, she wouldn’t have died of a heart attack so young” etc.
Is there some alternate universe where these choices are different and these people would have lived longer? As a Christian, I have to examine this in the light of the Bible and answer “no”.
Psalm 139:16 says “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” and in Isaiah 46:10 God says of Himself “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
Ecclesiastes 5:18 says God gives you all the days of your life and James 4:15 talks about the presumption of those who plan future events, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’.”
Psalm 68: 20 says “to God the Lord belong escapes from death”.
Think of that. If every day is already written in God’s book before one of them came to be, then when someone dies that is no surprise to God. Their lives are not “cut short” or “stolen”, it is not “a waste” or “robbery”. That was the number of days they were allotted and there were never any more.
The Book of Revelation reveals what happens at the end of the world and how God plans to renew the Earth to the original perfection that He created. If the end is predetermined, then every step towards it must be set as well. Imagine the knock-on effects, if just one person lived longer, had other children, affected other lives etc. or didn’t. Think of the difference, for instance, if Adolf Hilter had been killed by that bullet that hit him in World War 1 or if the Titanic hadn’t sunk. Any change in history would irrevocably change the end.
This, of course, can open a whole can of worms about human free will versus the sovereignty of God. I strongly believe the Bible teaches both and somehow holds them in tension. From our point of view, we have free will and will never be able to say we didn’t have a choice; from God’s point of view, which is outside of the space-time continuum, though, He already knows all the choices we will make and already sees the ultimate outcome of all things.
There are many stories of people who have escaped with their lives from situations that really should have killed them, or people who have tried to commit suicide but not succeeded. In the same way, there are many stories of those who have died doing something innocuous or in freak accidents. Some were appointed more days, and some weren’t.
For those who feel responsible for another’s death, that is very freeing. There is no “un-lived” life they would have had if we had done something differently. For those who have lost a loved one, I think it is very comforting to know that they had all the days allotted to them, there never was another outcome that didn’t get fulfilled. God, in His wisdom, gave that much time and no more.
If we feel outraged by that thought, then we need to ask “why?” Is it because we feel we have some sort of “right” to our threescore years and ten? Who promised us that? Every single day is a gift, a privilege, an act of grace bestowed on us out of God’s benevolence. We need to enjoy each moment we are given, use it to honour God by doing good, and realise we deserve nothing.
The hope and wonder of Christianity it that it turns death from a dead end into a doorway. For Christians, their lives do not end at death, but truly begin! Everything after death is infinitely better than anything they have experienced on Earth.
For those who refuse Christ though, everything after death is infinitely worse than anything they have experienced on Earth. This life is a series of choices that lead us to one destiny or the other.
The tragedy is not someone dying, but where someone ends up spending eternity.