Imagine that you have just landed on earth from another planet: zoom in closer and make that landing in Great Britain. Intelligence you’ve already gathered tells you that this country it is one of the world’s most developed, and you want to find out as much as you can about the people who inhabit it. You know that this little country is predominantly Christian and after studying the values of this particular religion and its key principles of honest, sacrifice, service, compassion, care, and respect you can see how it would lead to a healthy, balanced and prosperous society.
You decide to study the media, including TV and radio and pick up a handful of magazines and newspapers. Then you make the shocking discovery that a good third of the people in this country are ‘a drain on society’, ‘a burden on finances’, ‘past their usefulness’, and worse. They are the older people, those past their official job retirement age. You read about a push towards euthanasia, sanitized by the title, ‘Dying with Dignity’.
Studying further, you find that many of these older people are making vital but largely invisible contributions to society. They sacrificially support adult children and their families, work selflessly for charities, give time freely to local community projects and even when they are frailer and physically less able, are sources of wisdom and encouragement for the younger. This is particularly true in churches where their worth is recognised, but to your surprise, this is not always the case.
You realise that your superiors on Planet Zorg will require an explanation for this dissonance, and your research leads you to the conclusion that this view springs from people who do not subscribe to the Christian religion, but often actively oppose it. At the same time, you are amazed to find that in some cases the worldly view of old age has been subconsciously absorbed by Christian believers and taken into their churches where it subtly seeps through the fellowship as a whole, unless leaders recognise and challenge it.
They need to study God’s Handbook, the Bible, the guide to life, and see how God has not merely allowed old age but has specifically designed it as part of life. He sees the experience and wisdom of old age as essential for the integrity and health of the whole church. Instructions in 1 John 2:12-14 reflect the balance between old and young, referring to the ‘fathers’, and to the’ young’. Paul’s letters to Timothy outline the structure of the young church, with a cascade effect of teaching from the old to the younger. ‘The glory of the young is their strength; the grey hair of experience is the splendour of the old,’ says Proverbs 20:29 (NLT).
Old age is viewed by God as a blessing, for individuals and those around them. ‘Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained by a righteous life.” (Proverbs 16:31NIV). And, ‘the righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. 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.’ Psalm 92:12-15
Old age is to be a time of fruitfulness and harvest (Galatians 5:22), displaying God’s goodness (Psalm 4:18). It is a time for sharing from experience (Psalm 78:4).
It could be argued that in many of our churches, even though we have people who wear the crown of splendour we do not give them the place God intended. How often do we ask an older person to give a testimony of God’s goodness? Or ask their advice, or ask them to pray? Very often they are silent prayer warriors, honed by years of practice. Do we involve them in our church planning? Or, even the smallest practical thing, make sure they can get to church easily?
God places His imprimatur on old age and on older people. ‘’You shall rise up before the grey headed and honour the aged, and you shall revere your God;’ He says, adding His royal seal: ‘I am the LORD.’ (Leviticus 19:32).
It is time, now, to challenge the seeping, insidious world view and to do as God says. Unless the Lord returns soon, you too may become old, and the divergence then may be even greater than it is today.
The 208 year old Christian charity, the Pilgrims’ Friend Society, has become a ‘Voice for Older People’, helping to address and shape the issues that affect them. You can join them through the website, www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk, or email through blog.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk.
Louise Morse is Media and Communications Manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is author of Christian books (Lion Monarch) and a frequent speaker at national events and conferences. She manages the blog.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk