Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Great ages of the patriarchs

In the Pearl of Great Price, one of the things that has always puzzled me is why so much time is taken pointing out what age the ancient fathers lived to.  (Methusela, 969 years.  Lamech, 777 years.  Enock, 430 years.  Seth, 912 years.  Jared, 962 years. Adam, 930 years.)  The only reason I can see for it is that they all lived that long.  But if they lived that long, why would they find that data good enough to record?  Obviously it is interesting to us today because we see that humanity used to live longer, but why would they find it interesting to record?  Was it a point of pleasure, like a badge of courage to last so long in the “lone and dreay world”?

To us, these ages are of interest because we see that the lifespan of humanity has been shortened by about a factor of ten.  In Genesis we get this:
And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man,
for that he also is flesh:
yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3)
 In Moses 8, the same verse is rendered differently, giving more insight:
And the Lord said unto Noah: My Spirit shall not always strive with man,
for he shall know that all flesh shall die;
yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years;
and if men do not repent, I will send in the floods upon them. (Moses 8:17)
 In the context of Noah’s life, it seems that the Lord was fed up with man’s shinnanigans and therefore decided to shorten man’s life span.  Perhaps men in Noah’s day thought they had all the time in the world and were delaying their repentance. 

In the context of the Lord’s goals to try to bring men to salvation, perhaps a shortening of the life span would remind men of death and give men a reason to consider what was most important in life (like maybe the gospel) and give them a motivation to fill their lives with the best things instead of wasting the time they had.  Perhaps it was an invitation to hasten the Lord’s work.   From another perspective, if they were filling their lives with wickedness and refusing to repent, these people would have to suffer for their own sins if they didn’t have faith in Christ.  Shortening their life would be merciful act as it would lessen the amount of sins for which they would have to suffer all the consequences in spirit prison.

The long lives also make me think about what I would do with my time if I knew I would probably live in mortality for close to a thousand years.  Would I choose the best things?  Could I endure all the way to the end?  (I suppose that the ancient patriarchs are definitely worthy of praise for enduring in the gospel to the end of their lives.)  

It reminds me of Hugh Nibley’s stories about the essay test he gave his students asking them what they would do with their time if they lived 1000 years, and how they didn’t seem to be interested in living that long, and he wondered how they would make it through eternity if they could only imagine living 100 years or so.  I suppose that a life not spent living the gospel would become a burden of absolute boredom, a desperate bid to find something to pass the time.  Also, we look forward to spending eternity in a celestialized existence to which even the joys of mortality are unworthy to be compared.  

I think ultimately we learn from these scriptures that the Lord has control over life span.  I’m thankful to know this; it reminds me that the Lord has a plan for us with time for it to be carried out, and that He has the mercy to give us time to repent of our sins.


Bonnie said...

I'm fascinated by the era of the patriarchs as well. I think, based on his deft handling of the text and his prophetic calling to write the history of the first two millennia, that there were a great many things he accomplished.

There needed to be a recording of time increments for posterity, because the Revelation that was John's calling to write works in time increments, and we're dependent on Moses' numbers (or have been for much of history).
And in a society that nested the high priesthood in genealogical lines, that record was crucial. But the thing that I find interesting is that each 1000 years had its own work and purposes, and from this time period many of those who were translated were taken. There is a work for those whose calling and election has been made sure that we don't know that much about. I'm dead curious, though. :) While I'm sympathetic to those who lived long lives filled with wickedness, we have the eternal principle that God takes people from the earth when they've lived out the possibilities of their creation. I doubt anyone was left to accrue unnecessary sins, but certainly there were a host of those who were left to accrue great righteousness.

While I hunger for the record of the vision of the Brother of Jared, I have to say that the first 2000 years is the period whose scriptures I most yearn to read. Ah well. Patience.

Michaela Stephens said...

Yes, I know! Sometimes it seems like we have too little of Adam and Enoch and Noah's accounts, even though our dispensation has been given more the previous hundreds of years.

Michaela Stephens said...

Just a little update on this issue. I just skimmed through a book about midlife crises and as I was reading, it started to seem like the midlife crisis is one of the ways that the Holy Ghost strives with man.

Some of the questions that come in midlife crisis are:
-Who am I?
-What am I doing with my life and is it really meaningful?
-What have I done so far?
-Am I reaching my goals?
-Am I happy?

Further, much angst comes from considering that one's body is getting older and losing physical prowess. Underlying it is the sense that we eventually are going to die.

I read that pulling out of the crises involves working toward a sense of the best way to use the time that is left, and finding (or ensuring) that work is producing something creative.