In Part 2, I’m talking again about the ‘challenge of old age’. How do we face what’s called the ‘twilight years’ of life? With feelings of dread or of hope?
The French-born film and vaudeville actor Maurice Chevalier (1888-1972) remarked glibly, “Growing old is inevitable for all of us. The clever thing is to accept it and always plan your next move well in advance.” But his recipe for contentment in old age gives cold comfort. Evangeline Booth of The Salvation Army had a better perspective on ageing. She said, “It is not how many years we live, but what we do with them.”
Contrary to the myth about ageing, seniors do not necessarily decline in intelligence or lose their decision-making abilities. History gives us countless examples of creative, active and productive seniors:
- Michelangelo (1475-1564) was appointed at 71 the chief architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome
- George Bernhard Shaw (1856-1950), Irish dramatist and author, wrote Farfetched Fables at 93
- Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982), the Polish-born American classical pianist, gave a stunning performance at Carnegie Hall at the age of 90.
Like these famous people, there are millions of elderly people who are still productive and active in their own way and want to remain so.
Let’s have a look at ageing in the Old Testament. Scripture regards great age as the supreme reward of virtue. The aged were shown respect and honour. Old age is a blessing and not a curse. Scripture says, “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God” (Leviticus 19-32 – NIV).
The psalmist testifies (Psalm 92:14-15 – NIV) to growing old in hope. He says,
They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
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A Symbol of Blessing
Growing old became a symbol of blessing, wisdom and righteousness—an honourable process by which God rewarded those who were obedient, for example, in honouring their own parents: “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12 – NIV).
In Proverbs readers are essentially promised a long life if their hearts will, “keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.” (Proverbs 3:1-2 – ESV). The very display of grey hair itself, a sure sign of growing old throughout the centuries, becomes in Scripture, “a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Proverbs 16:31 – ESV).
By pushing the elderly aside to fringes of society, we diminish them and make our society the poorer through the loss of their experience and maturity:
- When Moses was 80 years old, God called him to lead his people to the Promised Land. At that greatly advanced age, Moses became the historian, leader and statesman of Israel.
- At about 85 years of age, Joshua was divinely commissioned to succeed Moses. At his death at 110 years of age, he was deeply mourned and his eminent service widely acknowledged. (Joshua 24:29-31)
In the New Testament the attitude toward ageing is no different from that in the Old Testament. Those who reached an advanced age were honoured and esteemed in the community.
Aged saints have a significant role in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospel. The first characters to appear on the stage are the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were both “advanced in years.” (Luke 1:7 – ESV) They are the instruments of God’s purposes and the first interpreters of God’s saving acts.
Simeon and Anna are the prophetic chorus welcoming the child Jesus on the occasion of his purification in the Temple. (Luke 2:22-38) The remarkable thing is that the aged Simeon dies in the beginning of the Gospel account. His eyes are fixed in hope on the one newly born, in whose life, death and resurrection the world will know peace. He has long been hoping for ‘the consolation of Israel’ and has been promised by the Holy Spirit that he will not die before he has seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Anna—an 84-year-old prophetess who frequents the Temple to worship and pray night and day—recognises Jesus, gives thanks to God, and declares the news about him “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38)
As people who have clung to God’s promises over many years, they embody the virtues of long-suffering patience and trust in God’s ultimate faithfulness. They also exemplify faith and hope, even when circumstances seem hopeless.