Our “time of grace” refers to the time we are alive to come to know Jesus. Is that fixed date really unchangeable? Or do our actions impact it?
The answer to your questions is yes. Yes, God controls when my life ends. Yes, my choices can impact when my life ends. This is a paradox (i.e., a seeming contradiction) of Scripture. We need to let both statements stand because the Bible teaches both.
Avoiding the ditches
Throughout history, many have fallen into the ditch by holding to one of those statements and denying the other.
On one side, Stoics believed that everything is predetermined and that we are merely actors on the stage playing our part according to the script. Many today believe that everything is inevitable because it’s been predetermined. This side denies human accountability in their choices.
On the other side, the Epicureans embraced the idea that everything happens by chance. Deists believe that God set the world in motion with the laws of nature and then withdrew after creation to let the world run its course. These ideas deny God’s loving care for his creation.
The perspective of God’s providence
Job 14:5 says, “A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” From God’s perspective, everything must happen as it does.
God’s care for creation extends to the smallest detail. Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29,30). If God were to remove his care and blessing, we would cease to exist “for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
What a comfort to know, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). What a comfort to confess, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). What a comfort to know that the One who holds our time in his hands also held the nails that showed his infinite love for us!
The perspective of human accountability
The previous point may leave us asking, “If everything has to happen as it does, then why try to eat healthy, seek medical treatment, or be concerned about how much sleep we get?”
Scripture’s answer shows that from our perspective, we can impact the length of our lives. Consider King Saul, Ahithophel, and Judas, all of whom committed suicide. Their actions shortened their lives, though God knew the actions they would take. From our perspective, all of us have seen those who abuse their bodies and health in various ways and shorten their lives. Yet their choices were not outside of God’s foreknowledge.
On the side of lengthening life, the Bible records that God revealed to Hezekiah that he would die. However, Hezekiah prayed and God extended his life by 15 years! God tells us that prayer changes things: “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Certainly, God takes into consideration the prayers and choices of people and weaves them into his providence and care. He can say, “It all happens just as I knew it would.”
So, where does that leave us? We will care for our bodies as gifts from God to glorify him, while understanding that our times are in the hands of our loving God.
Have a question, ask it here!
Author: David Scharf
Volume 108, Number 12
Issue: December 2021