It has been said that a society can be judged by the way it treats its children and its old people, those among us least able to care for themselves. The Bible demands that we honour our parents and revere all those older than we are and there is good reason for it. Minimising or trying to obliterate differences of age even in small ways – e.g. by the recent common tendency to use Christian names when addressing older people without being bidden – is all part of a move to deny the passage of time and break with the past along with all the good that has come to us from it. It is a sinful and revolutionary age that cuts through this continuity, this historical umbilical cord, and turns on its elders with vitriol and hatred. We receive life from our parents; therefore to hate our parents is a form of self-hate. The expression heard all too often ‘I didn’t ask to be brought into this world’ betrays a love of death; it is a kind of suicide note.
The fifth commandment to honour our parents is the first with promise: ‘that thy days may be long’ (Exodus 20:12); ‘that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee’ (Deuteronomy 5:16). The distinction between old and young and the honour due to the elderly must remain. The Lord Jesus reiterates the importance of this commandment in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 15:4).
We also benefit from their gathered experience, wisdom, and possible economic success. Whilst we come into this world with nothing, we will always leave something behind. There may not always be much in terms of material possessions, but perhaps in faith, teaching, wisdom, love, a common family bond. Those who cut themselves off from parents dishonour them; they disinherit themselves in all sorts of ways. It is therefore no surprising thing to find that in societies where this mad race to break with all that is past exists – progress, progress, progress –inheritance taxes are high. Nothing from yesterday must survive until today, nothing from today must survive until tomorrow, it must be totally consumed. If you are old you are irrelevant and on your way out, you have less and less to contribute to the community. Not to honour our parents is to sin against God. Yet in many different ways, economically, culturally, spiritually, it is the inheritance of the past that provides the foundation for the future.
Too often older people are not respected but despised, patronised, neglected, ignored, even mocked and written off along with the age from which they came. Their knowledge and experience of life is deemed of little value and trodden under foot. They have no place in the modern world. Of no further use to anyone, they are shuffled off into a brick coffin that hails as a ‘care’ home, vestibules for eternity, a place for the living dead, and this as soon as they become the slightest inconvenience or are likely to disrupt the life style of their offspring.
Despising the old is a mark of a godless society. It is entirely at odds with the Scriptures. Yet Bible injunctions are likely to be set aside or disparaged even by those who ought to know better.
“Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:32)
“The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31)
Clearly from the above verses, quite a part from what they have done or what they are, older people are due our basic respect and honour. They are our link with the past. They are what we build upon for the future. Should righteousness be added to their age then this constitutes a ‘crown of glory’. The apostle Paul appealed to love, to his imprisonment, and to his age in his entreaties with Philemon with respect to the runaway slave Onesimus.
“Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” (Philemon 9)
As we grow older, because of the respect age demands, it is important that we live in a manner appropriate to our age, one that reflects the respect due to us. Many ‘oldies’ live as though they were still in their teens or twenties, dress like it, behave like it, think like it, and believe it acceptable. ‘You are only as old as you feel’ is a piece of stupidity much bandied about today and it is used as an excuse for all kinds of nonsensical behaviour. Grandmas who flounce around like teenage floosies, Grandpas who think they are ‘one of the boys’, ought not to be surprised if no one takes them seriously. Respect will have long disappeared over the horizon. It lends credence to the old adage that ‘there is no fool like an old fool’. They do themselves and all elderly people a gross disservice. Things change when we get older. We cannot stave off the inevitable just by pretending to be something we are not. This is idiotic ‘Beatles’ mentality.
When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a Valentine,
Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I'd been out 'till quarter to three, would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I'm sixty-four?
Sixty-four year-olds behaving like twenty-four year-olds – such people do themselves and all elderly people a gross disservice. Not only do they make themselves look foolish, but they are saying, don’t respect me, I’m not old! This is quite the opposite of what the Bible teaches.
“That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things.” (Titus 2:2-3)
The modern family today is less an organic unit, but is more likely to be an aggregate of immature, self-centred, materialistic individuals, both old and young, who in reality care little for the wellbeing of other family members. Under the motto, ‘we have earned it, we shall spend it’, a wrinkled brigade of pensioners with time on their hands, instead of turning to something useful, sally forth in a spending spree of unbridled hedonism – consume it, don’t leave it where it could do others some good. They foolishly imagine life will go on forever and are often not a little surprised when their mortality catches up with them. Perpetual youth is a sad self-deception. Eventually the facelifts and plastic surgery sag and proclaim age with yet more vengeance. Eighty-year-olds in a bikini? Not really.
Then rather than awaiting with some anticipation their passing into the presence of Christ, having no such assurance, with godless Dylan Thomas, many rage against the approaching darkness.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at the close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
The care that family members owe to each other, both the old to the young and the young to the old, is something emphasised throughout Scripture.
“The children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.” (2 Corinthians 12:14)
“But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” (1 Timothy 5:8)
What is the reality in modern godless Britain? There are of course those who spend sometimes almost a lifetime caring and tending ailing loved ones and they ought not to go without mention. Despite this, throughout the UK, 43 funerals a week are arranged for those who die alone, friendless and without family around them. The isolation and loneliness experienced by so many older folk in our communities is something approaching a national scandal. Of the 10.8 million aged 65 and over, 3.5 million live alone, a quarter of these are friendless, and 1.6 million have little or no contact either with neighbours or family. This age group accounts for a fifth of all suicides. Living in undignified circumstances many of these old people feel that they having nothing left to contribute. They are left at the edge of our communities in loneliness to fade into oblivion. All too often we read of the body of some poor soul being discovered in an advanced state of decay after dying alone in their home and lying for weeks undiscovered. It happens all the time and this is an appalling indictment against the nature of many of our communities.
As Christian believers, our end is determined by our heavenly Father, as was our beginning, as has been our whole life. We can with confidence rely upon His promises and they are many. As long as we live, God still has something for us to accomplish for Him.
“And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” (Isaiah 46:4)
“Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come.” (Psalm 71:18)
The Gospel does not always bring families together. Tragically, on occasions the opposite may happen. Anyone who has gone through such a separation will readily confess how painful and heart-wrenching they can be. A wife may turn her back on her husband and walk away or a husband on her wife (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12-16). Parents may disinherit children or children turn away from parents. Brothers and sisters are divided one against the other. Divisions brought about by the Gospel tend to be more acrimonious than any other. According to the Lord Jesus, this is all to be expected.
"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10-34-37)
Nevertheless, we have the precious promises of our Saviour:
"Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life." (Mark 10:28-30)