Leading Causes of Death
Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” Genesis 6:3
I found recovery and began practicing addiction medicine during the fentanyl wave of the opioid epidemic, which claims around 70,000 lives each year. The tragedy of these overdose deaths is that they are what we would consider preventable, meaning that they aren’t random. It is very specific set of self-destructive behaviors that are directly responsible for an overdose. While 70,000 is a dreadful number, it’s just a fraction of the overall leading cause of death in the United States – heart disease – which kills more than ten times (between 700,000 and a million) the number of people every year as opioids.
The tragedy of this number is that heart disease is also largely preventable, and also due to a specific set of self-destructive behaviors. The leading causes of heart disease are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity, unhealthy diet, and inactivity – risk factors that are largely related to an unhealthy lifestyle. Just as the opioid overdose victim has engaged in behavior that directly led to his death, the heart disease victim has also likely engaged in behavior that directly caused his death. The hedonistic life – that of pursuing our appetite above all – turns out to be terribly unhealthy. All the things we naturally enjoy – laziness, fat, sugar, alcohol, and tobacco – are terrible for us.
In medicine, we don’t generally talk about sin, but gluttony, sloth, and inebriation are all behaviors that, as Christians, we’d say are contrary to God’s will. It’s no accident then, that the world exists in such a way that sin is, by definition, self-destructive. Living a life that is antithetical to God’s plan always causes spiritual harm, but often causes physical harm as well.
In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve apparently had the potential for immortality. In their sin, they began their journey towards the grave. Even after the garden though, man’s lifespan was nearly a thousand years. In today’s passage however, we see that as a direct result of sin, God further limited man’s life expectancy, establishing this principle that man’s rebellion has dramatically shortened his years.
This doesn’t mean that every illness or death is a direct result of sin. The man with prostate cancer is not ill because he cheated on his taxes. One can live a good life and still die young in a car accident. It’s simply a general principle that following our appetite is not the path to spiritual, emotional, or physical health. If we desire to experience a life of joy, peace, and purpose, we find that life only in daily following God’s will, not our own.