Full of sap in old age
There are all sorts of different views about growing old, and most of them are pessimistic. That is understandable, because old age generally brings physical and intellectual decline in many different forms, and limitations and losses that permeate the whole of life.
In a fallen world this is what we must expect. No matter what papering over the cracks we engage in, the reality is there: old age has very negative connotations and, worst of all, it leads on to death.
But life expectancy is getting greater and most of us can look forward to living well into our eighties, and some even longer. Thankfully, advances in medical science, hygiene, nutrition and social support mean that many of the problems of old age can be delayed, if not eliminated.
But still there are the losses and limitations that come with advancing years. So is there any positive aspect to contemplate and prepare for?
The answer to that question is a resounding yes! What we have been considering up to now in this article is the natural view of things. We must turn to the biblical view and see a different aspect of old age that puts all the negatives into context.
It is this wider and more balanced view that Pilgrim’s Friend Society seeks to promote in all its varied activities. Let us look at three passages of Scripture to get an idea of the Bible’s teaching.
Hezekiah was dying (Isaiah 38-39) but God was merciful to him and answered his prayer by adding 15 more years to his life.
What were those years to be like? Although he had made a terrible error and exposed Israel to danger, the consequence of his errors would not be felt until after his death. So Hezekiah sums up the last part of his life like this: ‘there will be peace and security in my lifetime’ (Isaiah 39:8).
That can be translated ‘peace and truth’. Hezekiah is often condemned for that statement as being selfish and complacent. I think that is to misread his character and the flow of the account of his life.
He is grateful that, despite his folly, there will be a further 15 years when the work of God would continue to progress. His last years were to be marked by continuing usefulness, despite what he had done.
What hope for many older people who feel regret over the mistakes and sins of earlier years. The last days can still be useful!
Jacob was 130 years old when Joseph sent for him to go down to Egypt to escape the devastation of the famine that was affecting the whole of that part of the world (Genesis 46-49).
He was anxious about making such a move at his age, but God reassured him that it was going to be alright (Genesis 46:2-4). Jacob spent 17 further years in Egypt and they were remarkable years.
His last years were not marked by the inconsistency and duplicity that had been evident in so much of his earlier life. Rather the godliness and maturity that comes from a long life of walking with God began to shine out.
He started those years by blessing Pharaoh — twice! And they ended with him blessing Joseph’s sons and then his own twelve sons. His last years were so useful; 17 years which were distinguished by his being a blessing to others.
Psalm 92:12-15 are verses we often quote in regard to old age (especially verse 14, ‘They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing’). And we are right to do so. Their emphasis is that old age is intended to be a time of fruitfulness.
Not perhaps the fruitfulness of earlier years, when we had lots of energy and could rush around doing all kinds of activities, but rather the God-glorifying fruitfulness that shows itself in the declaration of the greatness of God and demonstration of his faithfulness.
Our last days, can be a time of special witness to the astounding grace of God; and usefulness in speaking and encouraging the praises of our great Saviour.
Old age is the last part of life. Thank God, it is a time for the triumph of grace over the ravages of time, the decay of a fallen world and the corruptions of sin.
Those negatives are present — we cannot avoid them. But Hezekiah, Jacob and Psalm 92 all show us that the last part of life need not be overshadowed by a cloud of gloom and foreboding.
God’s grace makes our last days a time of usefulness. We see that so much in Pilgrim Homes’ residential work, in the conversations we have at their deputation meetings, exhibitions and conferences, and in the letters and phone calls we receive from godly older people.
In a generation that disparages and fears old age, we proudly testify that God makes our last days useful days.
This article was first published in Pilgrim Homes’ Quarterly for Spring 2012