Does God Really Determine the Moment Our Death?

Posted on August 9, 2019


By David Ettinger

Looking Into It
Based on certain Bible verses, I agreed with the majority of Christians who believe God determines the precise amount of years we will live – down to the very second – and there is no way to alter them.

However, my thinking changed when in 1998 I saw the Steven Spielberg epic Saving Private Ryan. The movie moved me, and I decided to do some research about the D-Day invasion. What stood out was the ages of those first-wave soldiers who got mowed down by German gunfire just seconds after exiting their sea craft. Most of them ranged from ages 18 to 22.

As I mulled over this during the next few days, I thought about the notion of God determining the precise length of our lives and said to myself: So, if what Christians ASSERT these verses say, then God ordained that all of these young men would die at such a tragic young age – whether there was a war on or not.

I didn’t buy that 21 years ago, and I’m not buying it today!

The Passages
Here are some Bible passages which speak to this issue:

  • Psalm 139:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
  • Job 14:5: “A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.”
  • Psalm 90:10: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

To those who say these verses speak of predetermined, precise lifespan, I ask, “No matter what?” In other words, what if the Lord determined 83 years for an individual, but he decides to take his own life? Or what if that same person has a terribly unhealthy lifestyle of smoking, drinking, eating a steady diet of fatty foods, and never exercising? Do you mean to tell me that the Lord is going to preserve such a person’s life for 83 years?

And what of those 18 to 22 year olds killed on D-Day? Am I really to believe they would have died at that age even if there was no war occurring – that God had determined 21 years for them, and 21 years it was? Period?

What about those who lived many years? The lone surviving actor from Gone With the Wind, Olivia de Haviland, is still going strong at age 103. And a long-ago great actress, Luis Rainer, who won consecutive Best Actress Oscars way back in 1937 and 1938, died in 2014, just one month short of age 105.

Did God ordain these two women have long lifespans while those young men who died at D-Day were ordained by God to barely reach two decades? That’s a hard sell!

The “General” Point
The key to issue lies is the general thought Scripture is communicating. In the first two instances, we read the words “ordained” and “determined.” I believe this speaks of God’s proclamation that no life is an accident. All people enter this world only by God’s permissive will. In other words, it is their lives that are “ordained” and “determined,” not their lifespans.

Psalm 90:10 comes closest to this “general” notion when it says: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures.” The point is that God has set a general timeframe for human beings, that being the 70-to-80 year mark on average, though many will come nowhere close to that and others will exceed it by a good deal.

Scripture teaches that mortal life has its limits, and be they 20 years or 105 years, it will end. I can’t believe that for every human being who has ever lived God said: “He’s going to live 55 years. Her 79 years. Him 22 years. Her 98 years.”

Ecclesiastes 7:17 says: “Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool – why die before your time?” Besides indicating people CAN to a degree control their lifespan (at least to shorten it), this verse, in essence, tells us: Our years in this life are limited, let’s not do anything foolish to shorten them, and by all means let’s live them to the fullest!

I don’t believe God has preordained the precise number of days we will live, though all mortal life has a limit. Of course God knows when and how we will die, but I do not believe He hands out our exact expiration dates in advance. The Bible just doesn’t back it up!