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.