The Odds of Dying

Psalms 89:48 (NASB)
“What man can live and not see death?
Can he deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?

The psalmist, in the first question, rhetorically ponders the sobering notion of what we will all face one day… our passing. The second question is a reminder of how impotent we are when faced with “the power of Sheol.” In scripture, “Sheol” is a Hebrew term which can be understood as a general reference for where all the dead go, whether righteous or not. It can also be used as a specific reference for where only the unrighteous go when they die, a place of stillness and darkness cut off from life and from the Hebrew God. Either way, the point of the second rhetorical question is clear… man cannot escape the reality of death… Selah

(“Selah” is a Hebrew term found in scripture. It is most widely considered to point the reader to stop briefly and reflect on what was said, or for a singer of the Psalms to pause, just like a “crotchet rest” in a piece of music.)

Death… we all know it’s coming. It just lingers there, periodically rearing its head when we least expect it, waking us up to our mortality… our impermanence. For some of us, such thoughts unfortunately never really escape the conscience. In other words, there are some of us who think about it constantly. The thing is though, to one degree or another, the thought of death never really goes away for any of us. However frequently or infrequently a person may think about death, like it or not, it’s coming. As Benjamin Franklin is most widely attributed with saying…

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

In reading Psalm 89:48, it struck me that the odds of dying are not actually 100%. I say this because the Bible references two people who never experienced death. One is Enoch (Genesis 5:24, Hebrews 11:5) and the other is Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-12). This made me curious as to what the odds of dying might be, considering that two people never actually died, the odds aren’t really 100%.

In order to figure this out, one must know how many people have ever lived. If we knew such, we could then just divide that number into the number 2 (which represents Enoch and Elijah), and then multiply it by 100, giving us the percentage or odds of dying.

But, how does one find out how many people have ever lived?

Obviously, this is not actually possible. All we can do is guesstimate based upon some reasonably considered factors. I came across someone who has attempted to figure this out. (You can check it out here.) The conclusion was this…

“6.5% of all the people who are alive today have ever lived.”

Assuming that this is correct, and also assuming that it’s correct that there are 7.4 billion people currently alive (according to here), we can then put the two together and divide the result into 2, getting the odds of dying…

2 (Enoch and Elijah)/(113,846,153,846 (people whoever lived) – 2) = 0.0000000000176 X 100 = 0.00000000176% chance of NOT dying

In order to put how rare this is in perspective, here are some other extremely rare scenarios (according here)…

Odds of becoming president: .00001%
Odds of getting a royal flush in poker on first five cards dealt: .00015%
Odds of striking it rich on Antiques Roadshow: .0017%

Now, the skeptic of Christianity (intending to use this guesstimate as an excuse) might say…

“At least there is a chance of not dying!”

How would you respond?

My pastor made the following point in one of his sermons…

“There is a 10 out of 10 chance that everyone is a sinner.”

The more important question is not what the odds of dying might be, but…

“What is the chance of being a sinner?”

It’s 100%, even if one does not die…

Romans 3:23 (NASB)
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

We (Christians) must always be mindful of how Christ has provided us with victory over both sin and death…

1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (NASB)
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

Godspeed, to the brethren!



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