Our Quest for a Longer Life
“Man, born of woman, is short-lived and glutted with agitation. Like a blossom he has come forth and is cut off, and he runs away like the shadow and does not keep existing.”—Job 14:1, 2.
EVEN today few would contradict this reflection on the brevity of life, though it was written some 3,500 years ago. People have always found it unsatisfactory to taste the prime of life briefly and then to grow old and die. Therefore, methods to prolong life have proliferated throughout history.
In Job’s time Egyptians ate the testicles of animals in a vain attempt to regain their youth. One of the prime objectives of medieval alchemy was to produce an elixir that could lead to longer life. Many alchemists believed that artificially produced gold would give immortal life and that eating from golden plates would prolong life. Ancient Chinese Taoists reckoned that they could alter the body’s chemistry by using such techniques as meditation, breathing exercises, and diet and thus obtain immortality.
The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León is known for his insatiable search for the fountain of youth. An 18th-century doctor recommended in his book Hermippus Redivivus that young virgins be kept in a small room in springtime and their exhalations collected in bottles and used as a life-extending potion. Needless to say, none of these methods had any success.
Today, some 3,500 years after Moses recorded Job’s statement, man has walked on the moon, invented cars and computers, and investigated the atom and the cell. Yet, despite all such technological advances, we are still “short-lived and glutted with agitation.” It is true that in developed countries the life expectancy has increased dramatically over the last century. But this is mainly the result of improved health care, more efficient hygienic measures, and better nutrition. For example, from the mid-19th century to the beginning of the 1990’s, the average life span in Sweden rose from 40 to 75 years for men and from 44 to 80 years for women. But does this mean that man’s urge to live longer has been satisfied?
No, because even though in some countries more people live to see old age, the words Moses wrote years ago still apply: “In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years . . . , for it must quickly pass by, and away we fly.” (Psalm 90:10) In the near future, will we see a change? Will man be able to live significantly longer? The next article will discuss such questions.