By Rev. John W. Dally
Ordained Elder and Hospice Chaplain, Church of the Nazarene
“What is God waiting for?”
“What have I done to deserve this?”
“He/she will die when it is her time.”
“It must have been his/her time.”
“It was not his/her time.”
“God had his hand on him/her.”
“I guess God was not ready to receive him/her yet.”
These statements reveal the belief that someone’s time of death is somehow dependent upon God’s action or will. Is time of death preordained and unchangeable?
To begin with let us look at death caused by others. We have all heard of people dying of tainted food which was not processed properly. People have died of listeria, E. Coli, Salmonella, Staph Bacteria, and Hepatitis A. Each of these are from either problems in the processing or in the criminal neglect by producers cutting corners. If God is using these situations to meet his predetermined time of death, then the people involved are not culpable. Why would God risk the exposure of an entire population to reach the specific individuals whose time had come to die?
Another cause of death is automobile accidents. Such accidents are responsible for over 30,000 deaths in the US every year. The causes of these accidents can be the result of negligence, poor road conditions, refusal of the driver or passengers to use seatbelts, or driving under the influence. In each case some die and some do not. It is unreasonable to assign the blame for these deaths to God. Why would God use something like a “chain reaction accident” to get at the few whose lives he intended to end?
Lately we have read of too many instances of a person going into a public place and shooting up a crowd, be it at a theater or a school. From Columbine to Sandy Hook some died and some did not. It does not make sense that God would use scattering bullets to kill only those God has preordained to die while missing those whose time is not up. To assign the blame to God one would have to accept that God instilled in the mind of these mass murderers the need to kill innocent men, women, and children. This makes such murderers instruments of God so God’s timing can be fulfilled; it makes God the murderer.
Add to this abortion, genocide, war, pestilence, and starvation and we have a God who is using means that we consider inhumane and evil to fulfill a time table. This is not the God we find in Scripture.
The Bible tells us that “God is Love.” The very idea of Love would negate the extreme and inhuman ways that those above met their time of death. To assign the responsibility for such deaths to God’s intervention is totally unacceptable. A loving God would not put a person through such suffering just to fulfill a predetermined time of death.
Before we come to any conclusion we need to look at the other side of the coin: surviving.
Joan was under hospice care because she had three fistulas. A fistula is a passage from an internal organ to the outside surface of the skin. She had to have ostomy bags attached over the fistulas to catch to fluid leaking from her intestine. The leaking was so bad that without the aid of saline infusion she would dehydrate and suffer excruciating pain in her joints and limbs. She asked me what God was waiting for. I asked her what would have happened if she had not had that first surgery. “I would have died.” It was the same for the second and third blockage. Her choices have kept her alive; it was not an act of God that was keeping her alive. The next visit she told me she had set a date, after Christmas, when she would discontinue the infusions and “let things run their course.”
The conclusion that I have arrived at is that our time of death is not preordained. Our time of death can be shortened at the hands of people or extended by the use of modern medicine. In either case our time of death is subject to the free will of others or by our own free will actions. Even the Bible attests to this give and take.
Abraham bartered with the Angel of the Lord over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moses changed God’s mind about destroying the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. Hezekiah was given fifteen more years to live. Jonah was disappointed that God changed his mind about destroying Nineveh because the people repented.
This is an example of kenosis. God cannot intervene and still allow free will. This means our interaction with God is based on a loving relationship without coercion. While this has its downside as with the deaths cited above, and the suffering of living longer with medical intervention, it has a big upside. We are in a loving relationship with God and God will not forcefully intervene to meet his predetermined design, even if it means we will suffer.
This also leads to another important observation. If humans can affect their actual time of death, the results can be an unlimited possibility of futures. While God knows all possibilities of the future, they are uncertain and open to the choices of humans.
From this overview of time of death we can conclude:
1. Time of death is not preordained but is determined by an interaction, based in God’s love, between the person and God.
2. God is a loving God and does not preordain but through kenosis allows humanity to determine its fate.
3. The future is open because humanity can make decisions that can shorten or extend life which can have far reaching implications.
Is time of death preordained? I conclude that it is not.