Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. C.S. Lewis
The alarm goes off. The dark night has given way to another day, and although I am reluctant to get out of bed, I slide onto the carpet. The death of winter has long given way to the rebirth of spring and the splendor of an early summer day. Blooms are appearing everywhere as the tomato plants creep above their cages and the cucumbers start to show beneath the vines. New ideas spring forth from a previous day that seemed to rush by, and fresh anxieties are coupled with hopes that the sunrise brings.
Having experienced this same awakening thousands of times, an evolved understanding of what life brings increasingly emerges. Always privy to the typical ebbs and flows, I begin to wonder if life truly is not about the ups and downs, but more about the deaths and resurrections that happen every day. Whether it is the cycle of nature or the relationships that die in small and large ways only to rise up again, I am constantly reminded that without resurrection there is no life everlasting.
Little do I know that while I write this, death and resurrection are occurring inside of me at a constant pace. In the 1950’s, it was discovered that approximately 98% of our body’s atoms die and are replaced each year. Although our DNA essentially remains the same (although areas of chromosomes, such as telomeres, can erode), most cells in the human body replace each other every 7-10 years. Cells move on at different speeds. Red blood cells are typically replaced in a span of four months while most skin cells only last up to four weeks. Cells that line much of our GI system may only last five days while liver tissue may last from 1.5 to 2.5 years. Bones generally don’t fully revamp for ten years.
But as the divine design would have it, not every cell resurrects. While the cornea can regenerate in a day, lenses stay around for a lifetime. And deep within the cerebral cortex are the neurons that help us think, remember, speak, and organize. These remain with us for life even as other more primitive neurological features regenerate on a regular basis. The question remains: Why, God?
A few weeks ago, I sat down with a very bright 5-year-old boy. As I went through a battery of intellectual tests, it was quickly clear that he had a mastery of language uncanny for his young age. As we moved into a visual-spatial reasoning task, he again showed an ability to solve a number of difficult problems. But when it came time to score up the subtests, I found myself surprised even though I have been giving similar tests for years. Expectedly, his verbal abilities were at the 99th percentile. But what appeared to be a quite an advanced performance on the visual task turned out to be nothing more than average for his age.
As I reflected on these results and my knowledge of the lifespan development of intellectual skills, I again found myself reflecting on the question: Why, God? Expanding this query further, something further curious emerges when we look at four primary intellectual skills all humans possess—verbal, visual-spatial, working memory, and processing speed—and how they evolve in life. Using 4 tasks from the WAIS intelligence test looking at each of these skills, we find that the average performance of an 18-19 year-old gradually gives way to an erosion of skills in the latter three areas (starting with processing speed in the mid-to-late 20’s) although working memory decreases at a slightly slower rate. By the time an individual reaches 65-69, the average performance at 18-19 becomes the high end of average to superior performance; by 85-89, the average performance at the start of adulthood becomes superior to very superior (95th percentile and above) in all three domains. In other words, if you could just maintain performance as you grew older like you did as an 18-year-old, you would eventually excel when compared to peers your age.
Meanwhile, though, the average performance in vocabulary abilities of an 18-19 year-old is actually worse than that of a 75-79 year-old. In other words, while all other intellectual skills are declining, verbal abilities are still improving into our 70’s. In fact, by the time a person reaches 85-89 years of age, the very score that was perfectly average when adulthood began is the same score that results in a perfectly average score as 90 quickly approaches. And since the norms stop at 89, average may remain average for still years to come.
Certainly experience and exposure has something to do with this phenomenon. But in the midst of everything, we must ask again: Why, God? Why is Your design this way? Are we living Your resurrection each day more than we ever know? But in living death and resurrection each hour of our day, does our word as Your Word remain ever viable and important to us and those around? It seems that as people age, what they offer is not measured in speed or indelible memory or feats of agility. But we do look to our elders for the proclaimed wisdom from what they have seen and come to know—created in God’s dynamic design.