Thursday, August 1, 2013

Programmed Senescence

Progressive deterioration of physiological function? Children cannot relate to an overwhelming fact of life of the human condition--senescence. The focus of children, instead, is to understand the reality of personal growth expected of them as they become older. Until children approach teenage, they focus on their own developing skills as students and family members, and acquisition of increased responsibility with their growth in personal maturity.

What about the parents of our pre-school, elementary, middle school, and high school students? How do they understand this unfamiliar term and its implications for their outlook on life? Young and middle-aged adults may be vaguely aware that their optimum physical prime has passed, even if the decline from “prime time” is gradual and seemingly unhurried. Few admit to concern about senescence. Its effects barely lurk in the background of their consciousness but coping with its physical effects demands their attention as concern for adequate health coverage intensifies.

The focus of concern for citizens nearing retirement or already experiencing it has acquired importance for our vote-hungry politicians. Health care in old age is a necessity. Many fear provisions of our national health care law will multiply our national debt to a staggering degree. The law exposes awareness of “the elephant in the room:” The human race is in the stranglehold of senescence. Life’s “normal” portrait paints a picture of physical decline during the course of life. Many acquaintances express amazement or denial of the onset of senescence and death, concomitants of life’s existence on earth.

Lest our readers believe this post has become depressing, we hasten to submit a more optimistic view of reality. Senescence and death have been a reality ever since simple life appeared on earth 3.8 billion years ago. We proclaim the words of the transcendent God of creation: the Creator declared his works of creation “very good.”  Multiple quadrillions of diverse species of life forms have appeared on earth since the first creation of bacterial life. Each of these life forms possessed limited life spans. All life forms experienced physiological deterioration after a period of healthy growth and life. The geological record provides us with ample evidence of this indisputable fact. Senescence and death have been a defining characteristic of life on earth for 3.8 billion years.

We do not assign “sin” as the cause of senescence. Only humans are morally responsible agents. Therefore, only humans are capable of sin. The oft-quoted Romans 5 is a commentary on spiritual death and alienation resulting from Adam’s willful disobedience to God’s commands. Senescence and death had been present for the lengthy time frames of creation days 5 and 6 prior to the creation of modern humanity. They were characteristic of life in this present universe and are present as an overlay of existence of all living things to this day.

Early earth life has supplied our current society with plentiful oil, coal, natural gas, topsoil, and ores of multiple minerals necessary for modern life. In one way or another life has sprung from the leftovers of previous life throughout earth’s geologic history. Our God built in the maximum benefit of bio-deposits for the benefit of humanity. In God’s wisdom, He programmed characteristics of earth life for man’s benefit before the arrival of Adam. God programmed the deaths of countless creatures to achieve a “higher good.”

How does our knowledge of senescence and death of multiple creatures throughout earth history relate to our view of the trajectory of life apparent in our time? In both cases we proclaim God as “programmer.” It is not pleasant to contemplate senescence as we observe our own relentless physical deterioration. The reality of mortality is even more traumatic. Despite the teaching of some theologians whose interpretations of redemption include a restoration of a perfect, physical Garden of Eden-type paradise, the future New Creation redemption state of Revelation 21-22 is impossible to contemplate. Its reality will be unimaginably more glorious than the theoretical restoration of the paradisiacal Garden of Eden and the “perfect Earth” proposed to have existed over our entire planet.

Has our planet been a place to thrive? Is Earth still a place to thrive? The “higher good” concept of life on Planet Earth may be difficult to reconcile within the constraints of a restrictive view of senescence and mortality. Nevertheless, during our lifetimes, we have had ample opportunity to conclude that Planet Earth is a place to thrive according to God’s infinite plan. Viewed through (1) the lens of a proper scriptural interpretation of God’s creative purpose, (2) scientific knowledge of the wonders of Planet Earth and its life, (3) our personal work ethic and mental attitude based on a Christian worldview, and (4) confidence that God programs all things for our ultimate “higher good,” readers may conclude our planet is, after all, a place to thrive: