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Green Bananas—or Actuarial Expectations (Dale Jorgenson)


DaleJorgenson Dale Jorgenson

           I was recently privileged to serve as chaplain for three of my old World War II Marianas Army Air Corps wings in a Kansas City reunion of us old geezers.  As the second-generation leaders who now do the planning for us asked, “Where would you like to meet next year?” my light-hearted response was to mouth the old-folks’ adage, ‘But at this age, we don’t even buy green bananas!”  The phrase really means  what James is discussing when he says, “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that” (James 4:14-15 RSV).

Hall Crowder spoke for me when he announced in a sermon at Sellersburg a few years ago, “When you’re eighty, everything hurts.  But, if it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t work!”  With that truism in mind, one is bound to be thankful for pain, because it is a sign of continued life and a body which can still function—at least up to a point!   The Apostle Paul, himself no stranger to physical as well as to spiritual-emotional pain, often used  the word, and summarizes some of his thoughts in II Timothy 2:23 when he says, “If we endure, we shall also reign with him.”   Peter, who gave us the marvelous study of the meaning of pain in Chapter I of his first epistle, tells us that suffering “various trials” may attest to the genuineness of our faith.

At age eighty-seven, one cannot be unaware of his actuarial expectations, and the problems his living or his dying may create for his family and friends.  With a happy and long-enduring marriage behind me, I do not wish to jeopardize it now by speaking of my wife’s age.  At a congregation a few years ago, I quipped that I married Mary Lee when she was eight years old.  A lovely Christian lady in the congregation met me at the door and pronounced, “You ought to be in jail!”  She seems ever young to me, but it is best not to lie even about a beloved lady’s years!

Actuarial questions are frequently discussed in Scripture.  Contemporary readers are still curious about the long lives of Methuselah,   Noah, and their generations.  Before the flood, the Lord speaks of a span of one hundred twenty years given to man—a span which may indicate the time of repentance available before the Deluge or the ultimate time given for an average person’s life (Gen. 6:3).  Even after the flood, remarkable longevity seems to have been the norm, until Abram’s father Terah whose life span was only two hundred five years.  But Abraham died at the age of one hundred seventy-five years, a life which Genesis calls a “ripe old age” (Gen. 25:8 NASV).

Several hundred years later, King David wrote a poem about the normal age of  Man, apparently in some sorrow, as he said, “Our years come to an end with a sigh, The years of our life are three score and ten, or even by reason of strength, fourscore” (Ps. 90:9b-10 RSV).  It would seem that David, strong physical warrior that he was, did not attain to the “reason of strength” extension, and died at seventy (II Sam. 5:4 NIV).

A tragic story of over-attention to actuarial circumstances is that of King Hezekiah, who when diagnosed as terminally ill at age thirty-nine begged the Lord (through the prophet Isaiah) for more time.  Given fifteen more years by the Lord, he began his additional gift of time by demonstrating pride and arrogance of power, and his immaculate record of a godly career is sullied by the greatest spiritual breakdown of his entire life ((II Kings 20).

Both apostles Peter and Paul seem to have been sensitive about the amount of time they may have had remaining before they ended their lives on the earth.  Paul’s well-known lines in the letter to the Philippians remind us that he was ready to live longer in service or to go immediately to be with Jesus, “which is far better” (Phil. 1:21-23).

At the time, however, when circumstances seemed conclusively to indicate he was destined to die shortly, he wrote somewhat plaintively but confidently, “The time for my departure has come.”  Confident of the crown of victory at the end,  he exhorts Timothy and all his readers to love Christ’s Appearing and to share fully in the prize (II Tim. 4:6-8). Peter likewise, perhaps scheduled to die in the same Neronic persecution as Paul, was aware that “The putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ has shown me” (II Peter 1:14).  Peter’s concern was not primarily the matter of his dying, but of the lasting impact his message would continue to have upon his Christian friends (II Peter 1:15).  Probably neither of those great apostles reached the age of seventy—some traditions hold that they died around 67-68 AD and both were in their early sixties.

But actuarial awareness can be a good thing.  At this age, one had best be thinking of the witness he/she has left behind, as was Peter in outlining his own position in II Peter Chapter 1.  A responsible person has to think about the family members who may survive him and be responsible for winding up his affairs in this present world.   Our generation has been blessed with wonderful medical care, the consequent extension of life well beyond the expectations of our parents, and the management of physical pain to at least a great extent.  But ultimately, the only actuarial truth which gives us hope in our eighties is the one given by the Lord Jesus:  “I am the Resurrection and the Life.  He that believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26 RSV).   Then one feels the power of Jesus’ gaze while He asks a most personal question, “Do you believe this?”


Today my wife sent me to the store for some bananas ”that are not overly ripe.”


-Dale Jorgenson

Chaplain’s Assistant, Army Air Force, Guam, 1944-46

Ex-teacher:  KBC, SCC, Indiana University, Texas Woman’s University, Bethany (WV) College, Milligan College

Head Emeritus, Division of Fine Arts, Truman State University

Country Preacher;  Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri

Married to:  Mary Lee Strawn (1947)


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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4