HOW HEALTHY could man be, how tall might he grow, and how long might he live, if he were given the best of conditions? What is the true potential of human life? Ellen White writes, "As Adam came forth from the hand of his Creator he was of noble height and of beautiful symmetry. He was more than twice as tall as men now living upon the earth, and was well proportioned." —The Story of Redemption, p. 21.
A few years ago my teen-aged son and I were browsing through the fantastic museum of antiquities, the Louvre in Paris, when I was stopped short by an imposing pedestaled sculpture. Labeled simply "Antinous," it probably represented the head of a distinguished citizen of Imperial Rome. What caught my attention was the size of this handsome work, done far larger than life. Hasty measurement confirmed that the distances between the pupils of the eyes, between the centers of the nose and the ear, and between the tip of the nose and the chin were essentially twice those of my own. The enormity of the head was amazing, almost awe-inspiring.
Adam must have been one of those individuals described in Genesis 6:4 as "giants in the earth, . . . mighty men which were of old, men of renown." Whether or not being "well-proportioned" meant having a head the size of Antinous' sculpture, Adam would certainly have been an imposing figure among men of today. Had his limbs and other body proportions been double those of modern men as well (with an eight-fold increase in volume and weight), he would have weighed more than 1,200 pounds.
More remarkable than the large size of these antediluvian "men of renown," however, were the long lives recorded of those we now call patriarchs. Nine of those who preceded Noah attained more than seven hundred years of age; some approached a thousand (see Gen. 5:4-31).
What could one do with such a lifespan? Ellen White writes, "Not with standing the wickedness of the antediluvian world, that age was not, as has often been supposed, an era of ignorance and barbarism. The people were granted the opportunity of reaching a high standard of moral and intellectual attainment. . . . Could illustrious scholars of our time be placed in contrast with men of the same age who lived before the Flood, they would appear as greatly inferior in mental as in physical strength. As the years of man have decreased, and his physical strength has diminished, so his mental capacities have lessened. There are men who now apply themselves to study during a period of from twenty to fifty years, and the world is filled with admiration of their attainments. But how limited are these acquirements in comparison with those of men whose mental and physical powers were developing for centuries." —Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 82, 83. What about the level of technology before the Flood? "There perished in the Flood greater inventions of art and human skill than the world knows of to day"—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Gen. 6:4, p. 1089. The servant of God adds, "More was lost in the Flood, in many ways, than men today know."
We think of the present-day proliferation in areas of invention, knowledge, and technology as resulting from centuries of accumulated bits and pieces gained from hundreds of thousands of discoveries and works contributed by countless individuals. Each of these persons had a productive life "of from twenty to fifty years." But think what it must have been like in a time when lives spanned nearly a thousand years, and no one ever forgot what he once heard or saw! "It is true that the people of modern times have the benefit of the attainments of their predecessors. The men of masterly minds, who planned and studied and wrote, have left their work for those who follow. But even in this respect, and so far as merely human knowledge is concerned, how much greater the advantages of the men of that olden time! . . . The antediluvians were without books, they had no written records; but with their great physical and mental vigor, they had strong memories, able to grasp and to retain that which was communicated to them, and in turn to transmit it unimpaired to their posterity. And for hundreds of years there were seven generations living upon the earth contemporaneously, having the opportunity of consulting together and profiting each by the knowledge and experience of all." —Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 83.
The potential for such life boggles the mind—the opportunity to live through ten consecutive lifetimes! How much important history has occurred in the past 900 years! What would it have been to live through it all? How much we could learn, and how much life we could savor, with that much longevity and the health and vigor to accompany it!
But the Scriptures record a more dismal facet of this idyllic period. The prospect of living so far into the misty future turned the minds of many of these hardy antediluvians. In terms we can only partially grasp today, the Bible says that "the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and . . . every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." "The earth . . . was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence" (Gen. 6:5, 11). God commented specifically on this. He said, "The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence," and "it grieved him at his heart" (Gen. 6:13, 6). Such violent behavior inevitably results in sorrow, suffering, and death. Practiced on a large scale, violent life styles must have condemned many people to unhappy lives from childhood on up. As a consequence, the Lord said that man's life-span would be diminished. Since the last of the patriarchs died, few people in all of recorded history have exceeded 120 years of life. Ellen White writes: "Looking upon the world, God saw that the intellect He had given man was perverted. . . . God had given these men knowledge. He had given them valuable ideas, that they might carry out His plan. But the Lord saw that those whom He designed should possess wisdom, tact, and judgment, were using every quality of the mind to glorify self. By the waters of the Flood, He blotted this long-lived race from the earth, and with them perished the knowledge they had used only for evil."—The SDA Bible Commentary, Ellen G. White Comments, on Gen. 6:4, p. 1089.
It is always sad to see people abuse a potential for happiness and life. As the antediluvians lived like spoiled children, so people today neglect their possibilities too. Longevity as we know it comes about through a combination of many factors. The longest-lived people we know of have a strong genetic and constitutional inheritance, practice proper nutrition, and get adequate exercise. They also remain relatively free from pathological organisms, metabolic diseases, and traumatic accidents or violence, and they hold proper mental attitudes. An individual cannot, of course, help his inheritance, but he can control many of these other factors. Though few really die of "old age" to day—there is always failure of one organ or another to precipitate death among the aged at best there seems to be almost a built-in trajectory of life. The growth centers of almost all the bones have fused by age 22, and growth stops. From one's middle twenties on ward, processes of arthritis and other degenerative conditions begin, and the body's regenerative powers slowly decline. This trajectory and the accompanying decline of regenerative processes were evidently much different in antediluvian days. Ellen White writes, "God did not create the race in its present feeble condition. This state of things . . . has been brought about by wrong habits and abuses, by violating the laws that God has made to govern man's existence." —Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 23.
Healthwise, the antediluvians far surpassed anything we know today. "It took more than two thousand years of crime and indulgence of base passions to bring bodily disease upon the race to any great extent." —Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 23. "We find no record that an infant was born blind, deaf, crippled, or imbecile. Not an in stance is recorded of a natural death in infancy, childhood, or early manhood. ... It was so rare for a son to die before his father, that such an occurrence was considered worthy of record: 'Haran died before his father Terah.' " —Coun sels on Diet and Foods, p. 117. It took only a few generations after the Flood for deterioration to become evident. Man's life-span tapered off almost immediately. Within less than 1,500 years David was reckoning the age of man at "threescore years and ten" (Ps. 90:10), a figure which stands in our day.
By the time of Abraham, less than four hundred years after the Flood (according to the usual interpretation of the Masoretic text chronological data), Sumerian tablets were already describing diseases of the eye and ear, rheumatism, tumors, abscesses, diseases of heart and skin, and venereal disease (see Arturo Castiglioni, A History of Medicine, p. 39).
As we realize something of the extent to which man has fallen and degenerated from the time giants walked the earth, we can better grasp our need to utilize, in the best way possible, the life resources we have left to us.
Unfortunately, even with our present limited life-span, people still behave as if they thought their gift of life was for ever, and they squander precious years with reckless behavior and willful dis regard of the laws of their nature.
People who treasure life for what it can give them and for what they can do for others will try to make the most of their opportunities for building health and strength. Aided by the grace of Christ, they will avoid the things which tend to shorten life and will actively pursue those which extend it. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me," Paul wrote (Phil. 4:13). Seventy years, or ninety years, though far short of antediluvian centuries, are enough to give us a taste of life well lived.
A primary object of the plan of redemption has been to restore to man his "original inheritance," long life in an environment like that which Adam en joyed (Prophets and Kings, p. 682). Someday, when Christ comes, we will be given a new body in a world free from pathological bacteria and viruses, and we will live in a community of peace-loving, redeemed neighbors. We will have access to the tree of life with its regenerating qualities. Then we may look forward to a far better state, when we will grow both in body and in mind. As Ellen White observed, "All come forth from their graves the same in stature as when they entered the tomb. Adam, who stands among the risen throng, is of lofty height and majestic form, in stature but little below the Son of God. He presents a marked contrast to the people of later generations; in this one respect is shown the great degeneracy of the race. . . . All blemishes and deformities are left in the grave. Restored to the tree of life in the longlost Eden, the redeemed will 'grow up' (Mal. 4:2) to the full stature of the race in its primeval glory." —The Great Con troversy, pp. 644, 645.
When Jesus said, in John 10:10, "I am come that they might have life, and . . . might have it more abundantly," He portrayed not only a glorious future but a better present. He came to put years into our life and life into our years, and to help us get a foretaste of our real potential.