Ageing is ‘Becoming’
Proverbs 15:1-11 & 50-58; 1 Corinthians 4:10-22.
Most of the sayings in Proverbs are attributed to Solomon who as a young man had a passion for knowledge and wisdom. The wisdom spoken of here begins when our lives are in right relationship with Christ, who is the source of wisdom and life. Here we have a reflection of two contrasting pictures of what it means to grow older.
Just as we are born and experience the natural process of growing through childhood, so it is natural that in passing through the stages of life that we begin to experience the limitations that come with growing older to eventually face the finality of death.
Our society tends to focus on highlighting the excitement of youth. More than that, in youth we own the world, and, in our optimism, we are tempted to live recklessly for the present because life seems charged with the energy and vitality of a material/physical world.
As we age the slowing pace of life can be a creeping humiliation that acknowledges that we have reached our physical potential. We wear out and growing weaker we learn to cope with a loss of strength and the seeming handicaps that come with age.
The Bible’s understanding of life however does not end there and neither need ours. It is not a crime to grow older and neither is it a state to be pitied. Nor does it mean we become a different species or class of person. Dr Allport describes the span of life as a period of ‘becoming’. While our bodies become weaker our personalities are built on accumulated experiences of life. There is a dynamic creative process happening. As we grow older, we tend to become more of what we really are. We reflect the aspects of life that have shaped us.
The verses in Proverbs contrast two different well-defined paths a person can follow as they grow older.
(1) The Path of the Faithless (v19)
This is the path of the person who is indifferent to God and the source of life that exists beyond themselves. This person understands life in terms of themselves and as they age and near the end of life, they feel the frustration of not having achieved everything they had wished. They easily become isolated, cynical, self-centred.
There is a restlessness that comes with a sense of failure and guilt, of not having achieved or squeezed all they wanted from life. Even the things they have achieved fail to bring satisfaction.
As a psychiatrist and physician Paul Tournier says,
“There are old people, selfish, demanding, domineering, bitter. They are always grumbling and criticizing everybody. If you go to see them, they upbraid you for not having come sooner; they misjudge your best intentions and conversation becomes a painful conflict.”
They are unhappy with themselves and understand life in terms of hurt and disappointment. They have nothing to look forward to. The more they experience the more their lives are like a candle or meteor that starts well but that disintegrates and burns out.
(2) The Path of the Just (v18)
This person is no longer a slave to the past, to guilt or things left undone. This person knows there is only one person who has ever been just and right. Jesus Christ was the only one who was right before God and in a position to be able to exchange places with us.
Only Jesus Christ was able to take this person’s past. He was the only one who could take their brokenness, by making them his own.
Tournier says these people are, “---sociable, radiant with peace. Troubles and difficulties only seem to make them grow still further in serenity. They make no claims, and it is a pleasure to see them and help them. They are grateful, and even astonished, that things are done for them, and that they are still loved.---they are interested in everything and are prepared to listen to anyone.”
Jesus Christ is the key to God’s offer of forgiveness, freedom and newness of life.
This person is not ending they are ‘becoming.’ They know the past has been dealt with once and for all. Jesus death was for them and now they understand themselves as forgiven. More than that, they are re-instated people of worth bought with a price and set free of struggle and fear. They are always sure that the best was yet to come. The more of life this person experiences the more they are exposed to the mercy, provision, love and keeping power of God.
The Rising ‘Son’
For those who have come to trust in Christ alone, life is not a slow sunset. Everyday ageing is like the sun rising above the horizon.
As we age, we face the twilight years, but the shining light of the resurrected Christ and the goodness of God gradually increases. ‘It shines more and more until the perfect day.’
As the light beams of God’ provision shine, this person and all of God’s people emerge from the final shadow of death into the full, uninterrupted blaze of the promised presence of our Father God.
“Learning to Grow Old,” Paul Tournier, SCM Press, Ltd 1972. p118.
“Becoming. Basic Considerations for a Psychology of Personality,” Yale Uni. 1977.