A Theology of Aging, part 4
For the past several weeks we've looked at a Theology of Aging. Last week we looked at Ecclesiastes 12:1-8 and saw how God described in some creative detail how the aging process worked - and how all of us would be affected by it. We dealt with every verse except verse 1 of that section. That is what I plan to do this week.
"Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no delight in them"; Ecclesiastes 12:1 (NASB)
Last week's journey through Ecclesiastes 12 could have been a very depressing one unless you took time to look at this first verse. It is a depressing journey for those who have only this life as their focus. Those who only have life on earth to treasure will find, as we found last week, that their treasure is deteriorating and fading fast as they age. The very aging process is supposed to turn our eyes away from living for the things of this earth - and to live instead for the things of God. But these this view of life needs to be embraced in one's youth.
The call here is to REMEMBER. The word used here is zakar, which means more than just to remember something briefly. It means to call it into your memory for the purpose of thinking about it, meditating on it, and hopefully learning from it as well. We are called to remember our Creator. This is interesting - because it immediately militates against naturalism which says that there is NO creator. Those who embrace naturalism ONLY have this life to live. Their view is that once we die - we just die. Our life actually has no meaning - we were a cosmic accident, coming together through random processes in some form of evolutionary development. Thus, when it is over - it truly is OVER! There is no hope - because we go into the ground and are destined to be little more than worm dirt for the plants to derive nutrients as we decay in the ground. For those who thought Ecclesiastes 12 was depressing - try on a naturalist worldview and see how depressing that is!
What exactly are we supposed to "remember" as we think and consider our Creator? From what Solomon says in chapter 11:9-10. "Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting." Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 (NASB) We are to REMEMBER that God is not only our Creator, but also the One who will render judgment upon the choices we made in life. It is evident from what Solomon says here that living for the "impulses of our heart" as well as the "desires of our eyes" is not a wise choice. In the end these things will be judged by God as unworthy pursuits. Living for pleasure alone is a waste of a life given by God. Ever since the Fall of man into sin - sin has corrupted our desires and how we view things with our eyes. To follow them would be exceedingly foolish. So as we remember our Creator - part of that remembrace and meditation on Who He is involves us remembering our sinfulness and our propensity to be selfish and self-centered.
Taking these revelations and applying them to our passage, we see that a selfishly lived life will not last. In fact we see from Ecclesiastes 12:1 that in the end - in our latter years - we will have no delight in life. We will find life miserable. Ever hear an older man express regret over his life? I've heard many who have lived for selfish ends - and they have great regret. It all seems so . . . so meaningless at the end. It is as if we were made for something so much more. That is exactly why Solomon wrote this book. God wanted to show us that no matter how rich you are - how much power you have - how many relationships you have - it all turns sour and empty when you see aging and death creep nearer. That is why YOUTH are encouraged to remember and meditate on their Creator. That way they can remember to live for God - for His purposes and plans. They are reminded to be careful about their own desires and the things that tantalize their eyes and lusts. These things can be deadly - and they are definitely deadly when lived for over an entire lifetime. That is why God had Solomon write such a depressing view of aging.
God warns throughout His Word that we are going to age - and that ultimately - we are going to die. He has revealed these things - not to depress us. He has revealed them to us so that we will learn from them. We need to learn that life is limited. We need to learn that life is short. We need to learn that there is a purpose for us - a plan on how we should live and for Whom we should live as well. When we remember our Creator and remember these things, we will be blessed. Ignore them . . . and as our lives come to a close we will find ourselves saying exactly what God said - that we no longer find any delight in them. Remember your Creator God - remember His ways and delight in His will - for in delighting in Him you will find life itself a delight as well. And death, which so many dread and fear will be no longer a fearful, terrifying moment - but rather one where we graduate from the pains and suffering of this life - to awake in His presence, experiencing pleasures forever at His right hand!
A Theology of Aging, part 3
One of the longest sections of Scripture that have to do with aging is Ecclesiastes 12:1-8. It has quite a commentary on what happens to us as we age. It is a laudry list of the affects of aging on the human body. It begins with comments about the loss of our ability to see as we age - and does not stop there. Let me quote each verse and let you know what Solomon is telling us as he describes aging. Also understand that all of this is done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In other words, God wants us to know these things about aging. I'll reserve my comments on why for when we are through with this passage.
Verse 2 - ". . . before the sun and moon are darkened . . . " - This refers to our sight getting worse as we age. The sun and moon have not lost light - but we gradually lose the ability to see it as well.
". . . and clouds return after the rain." - This is a Hebraism that refers to trouble and difficulty. The clouds returning after the rain refers to one trouble ending - and as it ends, another begins. I can tell you that as you get older, between your own health problems, the health problems of loved ones - and the beginning of the death of friends and family - it can seem that as soon as one trouble ends - the clouds of another are on the horizon.
". . . in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through the windows grow dim . . ." - This entire section is an amazing, although somewhat depressing picture of our feebling with age as pictured through a house and business starting to crumble. The watchmen should be strong, yet he trembles more as he ages in this task. The mighty men stooping refer to our legs and back giving way to age and weakening over time. Thus they stoop rather than stand tall and erect. The grinding ones being idle and few refer to our teeth which are used to grind food, but which age over time and are not as strong for this task. The sight is again mentioned as the looking out the window is dimmed with age. The truth is that as we age our bodies will break down - and our abilities will be dimmed and diminished.
Verse 4 - ". . . the doors on the street are shut as the sounding of the grinding mill is low . . ." verse 4 - The doors on the street are shut and the ability to hear the grinding refer to our loss of hearing.
". . . and one will arise at the sound of a bird . . . " Our sleep will also be affected with age. We will seem to wake at the sounds of anything in the night.
". . . and all the daughters of song will sing softly." - the reference here is to an ability to sing and speak, which too will be less. It is interesting to hear and great singer in the latter stages of life. They do not usually have the power or the clarity with which they sang when they were younger. This is because the lungs, voice box, throat are all affected by age and that affects the ability we have to speak and sing.
Verse 5 - "Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road . . ." - Here is a verse about a couple of things. First, our feet and our sureness of our step is affected with age. You know the reason old folks walk like they do? It's because they are old - and age affects our joints and our muscles. We don't walk with the confidence and light step we used to have. Our tendons become tight and inflexible - and our muscle mass lessens over time and age. For this reason we are not as sure as we walk - and that is multiplied by high places. We are more concerned walking down steps - or in their case up and down mountain-sides. What they could bound up and down as a young man or woman - is much more fearful as our steps are not as sure. The next statement is that we experience terrors on the road. Journeys are not as carefree - because we know that we are not as nimble in step - nor exact in eyesight. Something common to older people in our day is a nervousness about driving at night. We just don't navigate and drive as well as we used to.
". . . the almond tree blossoms . . ." - When the almond tree does this - the blooms on the flowers are white. The picture is of the white hair of those who age. We color our hair in this generation to hide this. If it were not for these chemicals we put in our hair - we'd notice that as we age - our hair grows grey and white - and - we look like an almond tree in bloom.
". . . the grasshopper drags himself along . . . " - This is a picture of strength and vitality. The grasshopper usually hops along - but now can only drag themselves along the ground. Young men bound to a task when asked to help - but for an older man - the bounce is not in his step and difficult tasks seem to cause us to drag after even a short stint doing them.
". . . and the caperberry is ineffective." - The caperberry was a stimulant of sexual desire. Those desires also wane and begin to go away with age.
Verse 6 - "Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed." - Many believe these to be illustrative of various parts of the body. The silver cord refers to our spine and back - which deteriorates with age. The golden bowl refers to our head or more importantly our brain - which is actually the last thing to go at death. The pitcher by the well refers to our heart - which can no longer draw water and distribute it throughout the body - and the wheel on the cistern, most likely refers to the aorta - which then takes the water and delivers it - thus the heart pushes the blood through this artery - but at death it no longer delivers the blood throughout the body.
Verse 7 - "Then the dust will return to the earth . . . " - This speaks of the body, which came from dust, then returning to dust and decaying in the ground.
". . . and the spirit returns to God who gave it." - This refers to the immaterial part of man - which God breathed into man to make him a living being. That will return to God - to stand before Him. The phrase here, "who gave it," has interesting implications. Since God gave us life - we do not just return to dust. We return to God in our immaterial part - to stand and give account to the One who gave us life.
Verse 8 - "Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, "all is vanity!" - The end of this aging process is seeing that those who live only for this life, this world, and this body in which our spirit lives, is living a vain life. The ultimate fact of life is aging and death. Therefore to live for only now - is foolish. It is not a pleasant thought - but definitely an accurate one - that we all will die. When we do, our bodies will age, fall apart, die, and decay. Our spirit, though, returns to God who gave it.
A proper theology of aging recognizes that our physical bodies are aging, becoming more feeble over time, and eventually die. Therefore to live only for them is truly a waste of our lives. Our focus should be that while we live in these physical bodies - we focus on the spiritual realities. We focus on God - His will - His purposes - His intentions - His plans - and His pleasure. Thus, when the process of living in the physical is over - we return to Him having lived this life for what matters.
But you might ask - why the depressing description of the human aging process? What is it God is trying to teach us by walking us through a truly bummer-ific look at the latter years of living? We'll look more at that next time.
A Theology of Aging, part 1
The last time I wrote to you, I spoke of the lessons God was teaching me as I care for my mom after her stroke. This is not something isolated to me - many who live into their 40's and 50's will have to walk through a time when their parent's health fails. Some lose their loved ones quickly through a heart attack or massive stroke - but others face the task of loving their closest family members through a much longer, debilitating illness. That is what I may be facing in the weeks and months ahead. It is already what I've faced in the we lost Sherie's mom and my father. So where does God fit in to all this?
As I've walked through this time, I've been thinking about aging. If you see another sunrise - you are participating in aging. It is something we all do in life, but seldom think about unless there is a situation which pressing such a thought into our minds. Before all this happened, the only times I thought about aging was after a workout after a long layoff - or maybe someone's death. Most often we let such thoughts come and go rather quickly. But a debilitating illness brings the issue front and center. Let me share a few things I learned - and maybe lay out a very brief theology of aging.
First of all - aging is a result of the Fall. I am not sure what exactly would have happened with Adam and Eve if they had obeyed God and lived until they were several thousand years old or more. The Fall brought aging and death to the world. Even after that the early ancestors of Adam and Eve lived for hundreds of years - most of them passing 500 or more. It was only after the Flood that God chose to limit man's time on the earth to a hundred years or less. His decree at that time was that He would only strive with man 70 years - and so from that time forward old age was relegated to our 60's through 80's. Those who would live into their 90's were few and even fewer would live past 100. The norm for mankind was exactly what God said in Hebrews 9:27, "It is appointed for man to die once, and then comes the judgment." Any decent theology of aging begins here - because I am not sure that before the Fall aging was going to be an issue. It certainly is not one in heaven, where we will receive a new body that will last for all eternity. Thus the issue of aging is only applicable for those of us who are between birth and death here on earth.
The fact that we are going to age and eventually die is to have its proper effect upon us. The reality of death and an appointed time to face the judgment should turn us to seek God. That is the effect it had in Genesis on men. When Seth had his first son (which was after the death of his brother Abel whom Cain murdered) he named him Enosh. That name means mortal man - and focuses on the mortality of man. It was at that time - and after that name was made known to mankind that ". . . men began to call upon the name of the LORD." There was something about knowing our mortality that awakened mankind to the need to call on the name of the Lord. We needed God - and death woke us up to that truth. That is why Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that thoughts of our mortality will make us wise. Let's look at those verses in Ecclesiastes 7 for a moment, as we close out our first installment on a theology of aging.
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, Because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for when a face is sad a heart may be happy. The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 (NASB)
Solomon is not just a depressed old man, as some may think. He spoke wisdom when he wrote these words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The end of every man is to be in a house of mourning. A wise man knows this and "takes it to heart." He remembers that this life is not just about "this life." We will have to face God when our lives come to an end - and a wise man would consider this fact as he lives out the few days he has on this planet. The rich farmer in the parable of Jesus made his decision without a proper theology of aging and death. His barns were already full when he had another bumper crop. As he thought about what to do, his thoughts turned to what he should do with this additional wealth. His decision was to tear down his existing barns, build new ones, and store his new found wealth so that he would be set for life. What he did not realize was that his life had only one more evening before it was over. God's Word to him was this, "You fool! This night your life is required of you, and what will you do with all this wealth?" His decision was based on a wrong theology of aging. He was about to see his life end - and - he had done nothing to prepare for eternity. He would not enjoy any of his wealth for longer than 24 hours - followed by an eternity in hell. So now how do you feel about Solomon's wise words from God?
The mind of fools is in . . . are you ready for this? It is in the house of pleasure. This man is thinking that the purpose of life is pleasure. Now we need to realize that God wants us to enjoy things. Even Solomon speaks of enjoying the wife of your youth - good food - good friends - and life in general. But - a life lived only for pleasure is a foolish life. Our times of pleasure and fun need to be balanced with times when we consider the end of life - and what is beyond the grave. A wise man thinks about things like eternity - and about what this life is all about. Death and the way it takes everything of this life from us - should make us realize that life is about more than the things of this life. As Solomon says, ". . . this is the end of every man, and the living take it to heart." We are to take to heart the death of family and friends. We are to see that all is not as it should be in this world. In a later chapter of Ecclesiastes Solomon describes the process of aging - and honestly - it isn't very pretty. Very real and truthful - just not particularly pretty. Yet - that is the end for all of us who walk through this whole thing called aging.
So what should our response be to this whole thing called, aging? First of all I want everyone reading this to know that there is not just one response. But, that being said, there should be one response that we should not miss. That response is the one that addresses our mortality. We should be wise in knowing that there is more to life than just this present existance. We should see things like mortality and death and allow them to speak an important message to us. Things are not right here - and we should explore whether there is more than just the here and now. We should explore why the creator of such a marvelous world as ours, filled with so much life, creativity, and wonder - has it age, fall apart, and die eventually. As we ask such questions and explore such things, God's purpose is that we would come to understand the gospel and His work to restore and redeem this world from the death and dying that dominate it. Remember that the purpose of theology, even a theology of aging and death, is to know God through it.
Aging and death are real - that has once again forced its way upon my consciousness. But how glorious it is to see that even in this God's purpose is to bring His gospel and His calling me to Himself to the forefront. Yes, the topic of the theology of aging and death can seem depressing - but only to those who miss God's grace in it all - calling us beyond this life - beyond the mere pleasures of today - to eternity and the glorious pleasures forever at His right hand.
Most of these articles are taken from the Calvary Courier, a weekly newsletter that is sent to the folks who attend Calvary Chapel Jonesboro. Due to the response to these articles, we've decided to print some of them which proved to be very helpful to God's people at the fellowship.
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