The timeless to the timely: Applying Scriptural Truths to Today
1/1/14 at 12:01 PM 7 Comments

What Is the Bible’s Perspective on Aging?

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When it comes to aging, the youth-driven world culture seems to offer us limericks such as these:

You’re barely alive at 65,

You cease getting kicks at 66,

You’re halfway to heaven at 67,

You’re way out of date at 68,

You’re over the line at 69,

You’re coming up empty at 70,

There’s no more fun at 71,

The joys are few at 72,

They don’t recognize me at 73,

You’re out the door at 74,

You’re done with that jive at 75,

You’re always sick at 76,

But, I say,

You’ve still got plenty at 70,

Your opinion is weighty at 80,

You’re the Lord’s mighty at 90,

You’ve a bounteous head at 100,

You can do it again at 110,

You’re a horn of plenty at 120.[1]

As I contemplate my 67th birthday, I find it difficult to turn from 66 to 67. Sixty-six, after all, is close to 65 and 65 and 66 are landmark years when one is completely eligible for social security and pension benefits and reductions for plays, trains, and other celebratory activities. But, 67, instead, looks forward to 70. At 70 one could more likely get a limiting physical disease or disability. It is not as likely as at 80, but one’s memory could go. One’s sight is definitely deteriorating, but maybe the Lord might help, as the Lord did with Ahijah, who though “his eyes were dim because of his age” still received a word from the Lord (1 Kings 14:4-5).[2] (You can note this in the big print version.) Moses only promises we may live to 70 or perhaps 80, “if we are strong” (Ps 90:10), yet he lived until 120 and his “sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated” (Deut 34:7). But, he had been in close presence to the everlasting God! We definitely will not pass 120 since God declares that is our maximum age (Gen 6:3).

What does the Bible have to say about the golden years? The psalmist King David sings at the temple to God before the people that “from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come” (Ps 71:17-18). David brings our concerns about aging to a higher level. We should be concerned to keep communicating good news about God to all generations. David’s son, King Solomon, even goes so far as to declare that “the beauty of the aged is their gray hair,” while “the glory of youths is their strength” (Prov 20:29). “Gray hair” should be a symbol of wisdom gathered through years that have taught us how to treat others (e.g., 2 Chron 10:3-16; Job 12:12; 32:7-8). Gray hairs are a symbol of a righteous life and thus “a crown of glory” because the fear of the Lord prolongs life (Prov 10:27; 16:31). Of course, as we age, we appreciate those who respect us. Leviticus commands: “You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old” (Lev 19:32). The prophet Samuel exemplifies that there does come a time to pass on one’s responsibilities: “See, it is the king who leads you now; I am old and gray, but my sons are with you. I have led you from my youth until this day” (1 Sam 12:2). His ministry was one of integrity (even though his children may not have been the best choice to follow him). Yet, Samuel vows to keep praying for the people and instructing them in “the good and the right way.” Even as retired, he kept exhorting them to remember the great things the Lord had done for them (1 Sam 12:3-5, 23-24; 19:20). The women’s encouragement to Naomi should encourage all of us: the Lord “shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age,” especially through the love of one’s family (Ruth 4:15).

May we be righteous and thus “flourish like the palm tree,” in old age “still produce fruit,” always be “green and full of sap, showing that the Lord is upright” (Ps 92:12-15). I was reared in the Dominican Republic where palm trees bend over from the thrashing of the wind while yet producing coconuts for people to eat and drink. We too need to continue always to show that the Lord is upright and our source of being and nourish others. Meanwhile, we need to remember that even when our hair turns gray, God “will carry” us, as God has carried us throughout our lives (Isa 46:3-4).

We need not come up empty at 70, but rather we can be the Lord’s mighty at 90!


[1] Thanks to Bill Spencer for the limerick.

[2] Bible citations are from the NRSV.

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