We close the week looking at an intimate question, a dark mystery we all face in this life: the moment of our passing. A podcast listener named Jim writes in to ask simply: “Does God determine when we die? And was this determination made from even before we were born?”
Yes and yes. He does. God does determine when everybody dies and he did decide that in eternity. So, those are my answers.
The first thing to say is that God governs with infinite wisdom and power everything that takes place. Ephesians 1:11 says God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” There is no reason contextually or biblically or theologically to limit that “all things.” So, God governs all things. That applies to the giving of life and the sustaining of life and the taking of life. He works everything, including when we are born and when we die, according to the counsel of his will. For example, in Acts 17:25, it says he is not “served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” Or, again, 1 Timothy 6:13, “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus.” And so on.
“Only if God wills, do I live another minute. Therefore, the Lord decides when I die.”
Here is more specificity. James applies this sovereignty precisely to whether and when we die. He says that instead of saying we are going up to such and such a town to do some business there and get a profit, “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live’” — now, that just settles it for me — “‘and do this or that’” (James 4:13, 15). And then James adds, “As it is, you boast in your arrogance” — meaning, he thinks it is arrogant to presume we live one second longer than God wills for us to live. “All such boasting is evil” (James 4:16). The point is, only if God wills, do I live another minute. Therefore, the Lord decides when I die.
Jesus put it this way: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground” — meaning, die — “apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of much more value than the sparrows” (Matthew 10:29–31). Now, what is the point? The point is, if the time for the death of a tiny bird in a remote forest is of a concern to God and determined by God, how much more will our days be numbered and determined by God with great care and wisdom. In fact, the psalmist says to God, “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). Which means, the days that God has allotted for me and you are already written in a book. They are decided. There aren’t any extra ones outside the book that slip up on God.
Job confessed this about his own children when they had all died in a storm. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Hannah says the same thing in 1 Samuel 2:6, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” In other words, life and death are in the hand of God. Moses says the same thing when he quotes God in Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”
So, my answer is: Yes, God is God. He governs the world, and that includes the time for our conception in the womb and the time for our death. His children don’t want to have it any other way, do we? God is always better than blind fate. God is always better than random chance. God is always better than demonic triumphs. What else would we want than for God to determine when we are born and when we die?
And in answer to the other part of Jim’s question: There are reasons for saying that God decides this in eternity, whether we live or die and how long we will live. One of the reasons is that he speaks of our being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the earth. It is hard to imagine that God would choose us for salvation before creation and leave something as relatively insignificant as when we are born and when we die to chance while taking care of the big thing before the foundation of the world.
“You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete.”
In fact, Ephesians 1:11 says God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” There is no such thing as chance with God. Therefore, all things are moving according to plan and, since God knows all the future, he can take all things into account when he plans in the beginning. He does not have to wait to see how history unfolds before he completes his plan. History and our lives were planned, and they were planned before the foundation of the world.
So Jim, you and all God’s children are in very good hands. You are as Henry Martyn said — now, let this sink in — “You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete.” What could be more thrilling? What could be more empowering? What could release more courage and risk in the cause of Christ than this?