A recent article on a rare disease got me thinking about the life spans of the antediluvians.
The Tribune-Review ran a story about a boy with a very rare disease called progeria, which causes accelerated aging. Only 16 children in the U.S. have the disease, which will cause most of them to die by about the age of 13 from heart attacks or strokes. The three year old boy in the article looked like a miniature grandfather. It's a strange, sad condition that caused me to reflect: here is an example of aging without age. It's not a "disease" so much as an acceleration of a natural process. What are the implications?
The deterioration of the body, which is an effect of mankind's fallen condition, does not always happen uniformly over time. In our experience (and that of Moses in Psalm 90) the effects of sin run their course usually by age 70 or 80. Thus we naturally see "aging" as an effect of age, or the deterioration of the body as a process of time. But ultimately it is not a process of time. It is the process of our fallen nature running its course in our physical existence, and the speed of that process is variable. The condition of progeria, rare though it is, reminds us that this process fluctuates and is not always uniform according to our expectations and experience. Even within our common experience, some "age" faster than others, making one live to 100 and another die at 50. If aging depended only on age, and if the natural deterioration of the body depended only on time, what would account for these variables? And what of an instance where this process takes place in the span of only 13 years? While genetics, hygiene, habits, culture and many other factors push general life expectancy up and down, it is still apparent that the aging process is a variable that's not entirely dependent on time, nor is it absolutely uniform according to our common expectations.
Thus, if the natural deterioration of the body can happen in as little as 13 years, defying our notions of uniformity in aging, it could likewise defy our notions of uniformity by taking a much longer time. As long as 969 years (Gen. 5:27). Progeria is a sad and terrible condition, but it does remind us that there is more to aging than age, and there is no ironclad law of uniformity when it comes to this process. Most will experience this process at a rate that is not unanticipated, but there are exceptions at both extremes, and this reminds us that our experience is not the standard of what is possible or believable.
The long ages of the antediluvians seem mythical to some, but a boy dying of old age at 13 is no less unexpected. The effects of the fall have their variables and extremes, but in the end, both the longest and shortest life spans on this earth are like "a tale that is told" (Ps 90:9 KJV). Praise God that we can say with Job, "after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God" (Job 19:26).