How Old Is Really Old

by Ted Kyle

Imagine that your years stretched back to America's Civil War. You'd have heard President Lincoln give his Gettysburg Address; you would personally remember all the good times and hard times our country has gone through ever since. But that's less that 150 years. Suppose you were on that hillside in Galilee, hearing Jesus of Nazareth say: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness"! That would be old! But let's go back further, to the days of Father Abraham, some 3,800 years ago: that would be really old!

Of course that's fantasy, as far as any animal life is concerned. But some plants have lived that long. For instance, there are giant redwoods on the West Coast which were already husky trees when Jesus Christ walked on this Earth. The species Sequoia sempervirens, which grows from southern Oregon to just north of San Francisco, has several trees among its number which are well over 2,000 years old. These magnificent redwoods are the tallest trees on the face of the earth. The tallest on record is the "Libbey Tree," which was 367.8 feet tall a few years ago, and still growing!

But some Giant Sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganticum, a chubbier and longer-lived close cousin of the sempervirens) are known to be as much as 3,500 years old (getting close to Father Abraham!), and one great old forest monarch is very close to 4,000 years old.

Even older are some Bristlecone pines. The oldest known Bristlecone, growing high in the Snake Range of eastern Nevada, is believed to have sprouted in the year 2,932 BC-nearly 5,000 years ago! Another in the White Mountains of eastern California is more than 4,600 years old, and several more are well over 4,000 years.

Don't expect great height and grandeur if you ever see a Bristlecone, for they seem to like it where hardly anything else can survive-high in remote mountain ranges, where they constantly struggle against wind, cold, and drought. The oldest examples are apt to be stunted and even grotesquely twisted from their battle with the elements. Their top branches will probably be just dead spikes-all that's left of growth during the rare good years, which died back later because of the terrible cold and drought. But still these ancient survivors cling to life, waiting for yet another good growing season.

By comparison, we humans do well to reach the biblical standard of "three score and ten." The Bible compares us to grass, not trees: "They are like grass which groweth up: in the morning it flourishes and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down and withereth" (Ps. 90:5-6).

Yet there is in each of us a spirit sent from God which never dies. We are not limited to the few years given to our mortal bodies. We will live forever. It will one day be said of us, as it is said now of God, that "a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night" (Ps. 90:4).

But: living forever does not necessarily mean enjoying it! Those who have been born again, through accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, will spend eternity basking in the warmth of His everlasting love. That is heaven. However, those sentenced to live forever under God's curse-whose "worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched" (Isa. 66:24)-will spend eternity wishing they could die! That is hell.

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Reference: Ingenious Kingdom, Henry and Rebecca Northen, Prentice-Hall, 1970.

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