Genesis reports that the first several generations of humans lived for many centuries. I’ve heard people before notice that each generation lives a few years shorter than the generation before. The idea is that Adam was nearly genetically perfect and each generation after got further and further and further from his genetic near-perfection.
The thing that strikes me as a little odd about this idea is that it seems to suggest that the fall gets progressively worse over time. I have no particular reason to think that we ought to be able to recover from the fall on our own: there’s no good reason to think things ought to get better. But it’s a little strange to ponder the idea that things are slowly getting worse.
It would seem like Adam and Eve– who after all made that fateful decision– ought to experience the effects at least as much as the rest of us.
I suppose somebody could argue that in the Garden they had some sort of advantages that lead to them later in life living longer than everybody else. The problem with this idea is that every single generation lives shorter than the life before. It’s not like there’s a sudden drop off. It’s this gradual shortening of life spans, across dozens of generations.
It’s almost like the fall set loose some sort of symbolic toxin or radiation or cancer. It’s progressing, getting worse with each generation. On a literal and practical level, perhaps the shortening life spans are a result of increasing human foolishness, greed, and selfishness. Each generation honored its elders less and took increasingly poor care of them. Or each generation was marred by increasing violence making it increasingly likely that people would die at increasingly young ages. Or each generation simply made less healthy decisions.
These don’t seem all that likely either, though, because the bible does not report these specific things (not taking care of the elderly or increasing violence) and because the drop off is so steady.
An interesting thing is that all these guys are (by our standards) incredibly old when they have our first children. Like nearly a century old in most cases. Presumably they aged slower as adults or simply stopped aging at some point (Otherwise, can you imagine what it would be like to be 200?) I wonder if they aged slower into adult hood. If they lived five times as long as us, did it take five times as long to reach adolesence? Would they emerge from puberty at age 90?
I feel so not up to the task of parenting sometimes. How awesome would it be if I was able to have five times as much life experience under my belt before I became a dad?!? This is again, assuming that I don’t get the other less-fun symptoms of being that age. And sometimes I mourn for all those ages that are behind me. It’d be awesome to get to spend more time in some of those ages. (Allthough, junior high was the deepest pit of hell. I wouldn’t want to extend that by a factor of 5)
I make no secret of the fact that I’m ambivalent on the question of whether or not these stories literally happened. But I do notice that there is something interesting on a more symbolic level. (This does not contradict a literal reading, it might complement it.)
One of the ways I make sense of the bible’s talk about sons inheriting the sins of the father is by adressing the fact that we see this all the time anyway. It seems unfair, but it’s undeniable that if I make a lousy decision in many cases my kids will pay the price for it, too. I break a law and go to jail, they end up growing up with out a dad. I become addicted to drugs they have to deal with all the stupid things I did under the influence. I get a divorce and they grow up with all the challenges a divorce brings.
The question I never considered before this morning was this: who pays more, the father or the son?
Perhaps the idea that is illustrated in these shrinking life spans is that sometimes the sons will pay a much higher price than the father. Maybe it’s more difficult to grow up without a dad than it is to go to jail. Maybe some sin has a snow ball effect, and we start just a little ball of the stuff rolling down hill. It’s a knee-high ball for our kids. Our grand kids cope with a snow ball the size of a house. Our great grand kids face a full blown avalanche.