1. Kept alive by the will of God. Essentially because we have something yet to do - repent, accept forgiveness, love, praise, serve...
2. Because we cling to life.
Possible because we have been equipped with free will, so we may defy God and refuse to die when we are called. For a while.
(This is, of course, a profound sin.)
So, part of the increase of human 'lifespan' we observe today in the West is due to reducing the contigent causes of premature death; but part is also due to the refusal to die when called, clinging to a-bit-more-life at any cost and at any price.
And we can, I think, observe that this artificially-extended lifespan is a Faustian bargain - a false hope, a trick, a depraved state.
Death is a terrible thing, due to original sin and the process of synergystic accumulation of sin which was set into play by the original sin.
Thus death was not part of the original plan (or hope) but is a terrible punishment.
Death is un-natural, in an ultimate sense, but must be accepted as just and inevitable in this world, because death is a consequence of what we are.
Yet death is now the way to eternal life - and the only way to eternal life.
We therefore must suffer the terrible and unnatural punishment; but on the other side of death we are promised an infinite gift.
Justice and mercy.
Death may be premature; but there is a proper time for death; which we know when it comes - except we blind ourselves.
Death cannot be defeated, nor can it be eluded; but death can be deferred.
However the price of refusing the call, when it comes, is immediately to fall into an appalling and increasing state of corruption, from which deteriorating state the likelihood of repentance dwindles and dwindles.
"All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Saviour, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish But now that the Saviour has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection. But that devil who of old wickedly exulted in death, now that the pains of death are loosed, he alone it is who remains truly dead. There is proof of this too ; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Saviour's resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by jeer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Saviour on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, 'O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?'"
St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Chapter 5
I'd be interested in your thoughts on the scene in John 21 where Jesus tells Peter and John how they are going to die - in John's case, in old age
How will one know that God now wishes for him to die? Will he be commanded in a dream like Joseph's dream?
@FHL - what an extraordinary passage - what wonderful faith.
@stephen c - I love that scene, perhaps above all others in the Bible; and I can't really analyze it.
@AS - usually, it is a conviction that comes upon a person. For a Christian it can be much more explicit: a vision of Heaven.
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