Life Is But a Vapor
By Eric Lowther
“For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
“Space by itself, and time by itself, are doomed to fade away in mere shadows” —Hermann Minkowski).
“I want to know God’s thoughts … the rest are details.” —Albert Einstein
Infinity (definition): limitless or endless space, extent or size; impossible to measure or calculate: the infinite mercy of God. [synonyms: vast, forever] The Oxford American Dictionary
“Modern mathematics has given us the concept of infinity. The sum of any number multiplied by infinity is zero. Therefore, our lifetimes, whether 17, 70 or 700 years, when multiplied by infinity, are nothing compared to the infinite lifetime of God.” —John Bevere
About vapor: How many of us have watched steam evaporate from a teapot, your breath in cold weather, smoke rising from a chimney, or morning mist dissolve over a lake at sunrise? How about watching a shadow appear, then disappear as the sun moves across the sky?
So too, our physical bodies are here on earth for only a fleeting moment in God’s eyes (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8). How dare we waste that short time in our own selfish endeavors! And how much a single breath is like a foggy mist that evaporates in a heartbeat. Each morning when I awake I praise God and thank Him for His breath of life, being aware that my entire lifetime exists in less than one breath from His nostrils (Genesis 2:7; Job 33:4).
About infinity: Although the definition above pretty well sizes it up, it must be added that infinity encompasses both the infinitely large and infinitely small. Even the ancients could identify infinities found in nature:
“For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12).
Obviously, “the heavens” refer to the infinite firmament; but also, if one travels directly east-to-west (or vice-versa) around the circumference of the globe, one will eventually end up at the same point where one started, following what is essentially an “infinite” endless circle.
Infinity, along with the monotheistic God Yahweh, are perplexing concepts which we humans will never fully understand.
Light is a unique phenomenon, and utilizing the fact that the speed of light propagated in a vacuum is constant regardless of the motion of the observer, special relativity predicts several bizarre, nonsensical effects that will occur when an object approaches the speed of light; along with the fact that any object with mass, no matter how infinitesimal, cannot achieve the speed of light. Now, for just a moment, let’s imagine that it is possible for an object with mass to travel at the speed of light. At that velocity three phenomena will happen, relative to our ‘static’ position on earth:
1) Length contraction: the object will contract to the point that its physical dimensions become infinite (similar to a singularity or “black hole” which (in theory) has infinite mass but no physical dimensions).
2) Time dilation: the closer an object approaches the speed of light the more time slows down; at the speed of light the passage of time stops completely. Therefore, the object will occupy all points in the universe at all times the universe has existed and will exist.
3) Mass and energy (which, according to special relativity, are equivalent states): The object will attain infinite mass and will require an infinite amount of energy to propel it; which is, of course, impossible according to currently accepted laws of physics.
This seems completely contrary to our notions of common sense, doesn’t it? And if this is not confusing enough, along with the three known physical dimensions, add the fourth dimension of time, and we have a subject that is thoroughly incomprehensible to us mere mortals.
So, our imaginary “object with mass” traveling at the speed of light has three infinite properties: physical size, time, and mass/energy. By now, you may be thinking, This object sounds like something — or Someone — I’ve heard about in Sunday school and church! During a presentation on relativity, I was stunned at the conclusion that God is light and infinite energy, then I immediately made the connection with 1 John 1:5:
“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”
The Order of the Universe: Don’t allow this concept of infinity to overwhelm you, even though it clearly demonstrates how small & short our lives are compared to God, our corporeal lives being mere vapor compared to the infinite size, time and energy of God. However, like the paradoxes of relativity and the Holy Trinity we humans are certainly more than passing shadows, more than nothingness in God’s eyes. We are all unique and important creatures in the order of the universe. And although our physical lives may wither like grass and fade like flowers, the Word of God stands forever to guide our spiritual beings (Isaiah 40:6-8).
The Reality of Life: Some folks complain and say, “life is so long, 70 years or more, why should I bother making long-term plans? Why should I do today what I can put off ’til tomorrow?” On the other hand, some do make plans, to the point where they are so focused on some distant unattainable future they ignore what’s happening today. Then there are others who live reckless, uncaring lives according to Isaiah 22:13: “Let us eat, drink [and be merry], for tomorrow we die!”
So what’s a happy median between these extremes? I believe it is careful balance. Live for today certainly, but also look to tomorrow, keeping long-term goals in sight (Philippians 3:14).
This is somewhat similar to balancing self-assurance/ self-esteem/ humility against egotism/ arrogance/ self-righteousness. And when things don’t go quite according to plan, keep your focus on Christ’s salvation, lest you fall into the rut of the shadow of darkness and vanity (Ecclesiastes 6:12).
If and when the stress of this balance becomes too hard to bear, or if worry starts eating you alive, keep things simple. Break down complicated projects into smaller tasks, look at just one day at a time. Pray on what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:34:
“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough worries of its own. Sufficient for today is its own trouble.”
Then allow Him to share your burden as in (Matthew 11:28-30).
“For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NLT)).” A
And if this just sounds a lot like common sense, think of the One of infinite size, time and energy. What seems bizarre circumstances to us are merely common sense to Him.