December 22, 2015

Life is Uncertain, But Doesn't Have to Be

by Donald G. Mashburn

We have all heard, “Life is so uncertain,” and news reports daily prove the truth of that statement. We take too much for granted in this life, even life itself. We go to bed at night and whether we say our prayers or mentally run through the list of things we must do tomorrow, we assume we’ll awake in the morning and the next day will be about like today. But the obituaries and news reports tell us that every day brings to an end the earthly run of many.

Life is uncertain. The activities of life, the doing of things, increase the chances that things will happen to us that will change our lives. Some of those things will be good, many will be inconsequential, and some, unfortunately, will be, or can be, downright bad.

For many, the bad things can bring unpleasant change, grief, or even death.

A Christian physician and dear friend once shared with me the old joke: “Have you heard that a study has shown that the fatality rate for eating birthday cake is 100 -percent? If people eat it long enough, 100-percent of them will die!”

The point of the joke is true enough, but birthday cake isn’t high on the list of things that make life an uncertain adventure with we can’t foresee, or often won’t heed if we do understand that an element of risk is involved. There is some risk in much of what we do in life, of course, and the more active we are, the higher the odds we will get involved in activities that carry risk to ourselves or others.

The simple act of getting into our car and driving to work, or to the grocery store, or long distances on vacation involve risk. Both you and your car may be insured, but there are no guarantees either of you will reach your destination in one piece. Over the past three years, the number of people who lost their lives in vehicle accidents in the United States averaged more than 33,000 per year, according to government statistics.

Driving or riding in an automobile is not the only risky activity that can maim or kill. In its huge 2003 report, one of the government agencies that collect data on various activities was the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The Commission’s report furnished us with a lot of statistics on the risks we face trying to stay alive. Some of those risks involve things most of us do and can relate to.

Consider that in the U.S. some 6,420,000 automobile accidents were reported in a recent year, and that in 2012 traffic fatalities increased to 34,080, we can see how dangerous riding in an automobile can be. And we all do it – indeed, for most of us it’s a necessity.

The United States has nearly 200,000,000 licensed drivers, and the statisticians say that the chances of dying in an auto accident are about 1 in 6,700. You might like the odds, but like the story about the chances of being eaten by a lion on main street being more than one in a million, if you’re the one that gets eaten, the odds do you no good.

The government’s figures also indicate your odds of being struck by lightning are about 1 in 555,000. Of course, as you might expect, the government data makes no effort to separate the data on the basis of ignorance or stupidity, such as riding a horse on an open ridge in the mountains, or carrying an umbrella on a golf course, in an electrical storm.

Further, the data don’t list the times lightning struck people doing other dumb things in a thunderstorm, like taking shelter under the biggest tree in the area, or being caught out in the open on a ridge, slope or other area where your body is the tallest “lightning rod” around.

If the lightning strike data could be adjusted for dumb decisions made by the “strikees,” the chances of being hit by lightning would be quite low for people taking normal precautions, and correspondingly higher for hikers in open country, and golfers that just have to finish the round before the “main storm” hits.

Other “odds” are “accidental drowning and submersion” 1in 1,112, and dying as a pedestrian at 1 in 749. The odds of dying from riding a motorcycle are 1 in 907, while the odds of dying from “firearms discharge” are 1 in 7,059. So, statistically, riding a motorcycle is almost eight times more dangerous than being around firearms that might “discharge”. Thus, instead of fretting about more gun control, perhaps we should be taking steps to keep people off motorcycles.

Published odds on drowning in a given year are 1 in 68,000. But that doesn’t take into account people who never go boating, swim in lakes and streams, or who stay in the shallow end of the pool. These would all have a lower probability of needlessly proving all over again that man is an air-breathing being.

Compare these odds with winning the Florida lottery, 1 in 22,957,480, published on the lottery’s Web site. Many statisticians believe the odds are worse, but using the lottery’s own numbers, you are 41 times more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to win the lottery.

Sorting through the Consumer Product Safety Commission data makes one wonder why lottery players would ever be so careless as to wander onto a golf course, hike a mountain trail, or venture out in their cars.

Looking at accident injury and death statistics, it’s easy to see there are no guarantees that we can buy, beg, or borrow in life. We can do nothing to assure we’ll be a “winner.” Ultimately, we come to realize that we can’t control life or the world around us. Only God, who made and controls it all, can provide any assurance of what happens while we’re here, or after we leave here.

Statistical methods and the laws of probability are useful for many purposes, but they can’t help us pinpoint personal probabilities of life, or time our exit from it. But statistical data and observation do let us consider our chances of getting out of this world physically alive. They’re zero – as we’ve been told already by the One who controls all outcomes, statistical or otherwise.

That is, unless we’re still alive when the Lord returns, as He promised to do, and takes us home to be with Him forever.

But the Good News is that we have our Lord’s personal promise of guaranteed safe passage out of here for those who have believed that Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God; that He suffered and died on the cross to pay our sin debt; that he was buried and miraculously rose from the grave to prove He was who He said He was; and that believing, they have accepted Him as Savior and Lord.

His promise is clear and concise: “Most assuredly, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47 NKJV).

That’s a promise we can rely on, since it comes from the One who has already paid for our redemption, purchased our pardon with His own life, and paid for our ticket home.

But for those who have not believed, the chances of getting out of here physically alive and spending an eternity in His presence are zero. As in zilch, zip, nada.

But for those who have believed in Him, and in the Father who sent Him (read the Gospel According to John 5:24), and have accepted Him as Savior and Lord, there’s a 100-percent probability you’ve got a reserved first class seat on the most glorious flight you’ll ever take.