Five hundred years. For ancient historians, it’s a mere time gap. For geologists, it’s a small error margin (“give or take a million years” is a typical paleontologist’s estimate of age). For cosmologists, 500 years is nothing at all. But for you and me, 500 years may as well be forever.
According to the Bible, the Israelites were in Egypt for 400 years before God delivered them from bondage. Archeologists and historians best guess is that happened sometime between 1446 to 1200 B.C., but they really have no clue. That would mean when Joseph’s brothers arrived in Goshen, the pyramids were already at least 700 years old.
No man-made building in North America is even close to that old. (There are mounds and other man-made sites that are thousands of years old, but not buildings.) In fact, when I talk to my British friends, they tell me nothing in America is old. They’ve got walls and roads dating back to Emperor Hadrian in the year 100. I’ve driven on some of those “Roman roads” and they’re narrow, but straight as an arrow.
It wasn’t for another 1000 years that the Battle of Hastings was fought. Nearly 500 years before that, Muhammad was born in Medina, in what is now Saudi Arabia. He lived much closer in time to the Pilgrims’ voyage to Plymouth Harbor than to Moses crossing the Red Sea.
In the time when Moses lived, there were somewhere between 50 and 100 million people in the world—the whole world. That’s less than the populations of California, Texas, Florida and New York combined. The world was a hard place, and we humans just didn’t have the systems to support a large population. In Christ’s time, there were between 200 and 300 million of us humans around.
In 1500 years, humanity had more than doubled.
Now consider this: the last Civil War combat veteran to die was born in 1843. There were 1.2 billion people in the world when he was born. He died in 1953 a 110-year old geezer, and there were 2.6 billion people in the world. The one man saw the world double before his eyes. (This despite killing off a few hundred million in wars, famines and epidemics.)
Once major diseases like Smallpox and Polio were tackled, we humans spread faster than kudzu. It took 36 years for the world population to double again in 1989. Scientists think it will take 81 years for the next doubling, sometime around 2070 with 10.5 billion humans.
More humans are alive today than had ever lived in Moses’, or Christ’s, or even Muhammad’s day. Population scientists guess that about 6.5 percent of the people who ever lived on Planet Earth are alive now (or were in 2011 when they did the calculation).
Why bother thinking about things this way? One word: perspective. We will only live a very short amount of time, but we will see far more change than anyone who’s lived before us. That last Civil War vet—his name was James Albert Hard—saw America go from single-shot muzzle-loading rifles to nuclear weapons. He saw us go from horse- and mule-drawn carts to jet aircraft.
In World War II, 16 million served in the U.S. armed forces. According to the VA, there are around 620,000 left, and they’re dying at a rate of 500 a day. By 2021, we’ll be down to a handful. By 2030, they’ll all go the way of Mr. Hard.
By 2040, England and France pledge to sell no more internal-combustion engine cars. Today’s teenagers will grow up to see a world where electric cars are the norm, and missions to Mars are a reality. When they grow up, iPhones will be a quaint antique—probably replaced with wearable supercomputers that work in 3D and communicate in natural language like another person talking to you.
Typing on a little touchscreen glass with your thumbs will be a lost art (like Disco, and good riddance just the same).
And since the Pilgrims landed, in 2040, it will have only been 420 years. In Heaven, we will enjoy eternity. Let’s not lose sight of how tiny our lives are here on Earth, and how much love we can share with others while here.