Ps. 71.9 Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone—even when I am old and gray (v. 18).
Isa. 46.4 Even to your old age and gray bones I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you.
We never feel more invincible than when we are young. Our reflexes are good and any aches we have quickly disappear. Our peers have the world by the tail, even if they are being pulled along hanging on to it. Everyone knows something that is new and different and, when pooled, the total sum of knowledge easily eclipses that of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Or at least that is the way it seems. Actually there is insecurity continuously in life and the young demonstrate theirs by an insatiable lust for music, sex, fast-food and electronic gidji-whats.
All this by way of introduction: Because all of us who are old and still around were once young. The converse is not true: many of the young and especially those who were unwanted in the womb are no longer with us. There is no guarantee that you will grow old, but if you are old you can be assured that you were once young.
Some people, it seems, are born old. They somehow take on early all the seriousness and lonesomeness of the old. They worry about anything unusual and they complain about anything new. They have trouble enjoying life because the problems of life overwhelm them.
Other people, though old, view life through eyes of the young. New experiences and ideas excite them. They keep on tasting the new and, if it appeals to them, they are not afraid to move outside the familiar and the comfortable. Such people learn to fly at 60 or study Russian at 65. They are young at heart.
Normally, however, as people age they reflect on the uncertainties of the future and hail the golden age of the past. The old pictures prove that there was once plenty of hair but very little paunch, just the opposite mirror image of today.
The projection of the image of ourselves as part of our cultures carries over to our view of God. We see God in our terms. This is not unusual or necessarily harmful. David prayed often to God for help and when he did he saw God using a shield, a spear, a war ax and armor. David put his implements of war on God to protect himself because he could not picture God without the same things which he used for fighting. In fact David’s plea for help meant God should fight. He should bare His mighty arm and act like the mighty King He was. If David needed His army and war horses, God should call for them.
Now if David saw God as a warring king, intent on revenge, how might we see him? And, especially as we get older, how might we depict him? If we can substitute our words, instead of those of David, just what might we say? Would we plead with God as the master computer analyst, project engineer, professor of whatever, senior broker, or resident psychiatrist? O, Lord God, of Wall Street, compound the dollar and suppress the Euro on the world market. Raise the price of Texas crude. May our common stocks increase and our mutual funds grow fourfold – for your glory, of course.
But to return to the aging process. As David grew older he became less warlike in his prayers. Likewise I believe that the prayers of the aged may become less militant in their tone. Older people intuitively prepare to die. For the Christian, our prayers are directly related to our hope: to actually be with Jesus, to worship God in his heavenly presence, to be whole again, to be rejoined with God’s and our family.
Of course, the older atheist or non-Christian will handle aging differently. Every culture has its own method. In so-called primitive parts of PNG there are no “rest” homes or retirement centers. There are no walkers, hospital beds or life support systems. There are no human vegetables. People still die with a certain amount of cultural dignity. All is not negative, as far as care is concerned, in the non-Christian context . There is more concern and care than in the secular USA, the citadel of learning, development and evolution.
Here in the US suicide machines are said to provide dignity to life. Recently a doctor very “humanly” killed one of his patients, at their request of course. The person had an “incurable” disease, had lived a “full life” and was ready “to go”.
No one dared to ask “go where”. No one asked the doctor what moral standards he was following nor on what basis he decided when his patients were “ready to go”. The doctor interviewed the patient and the patients trust in the doctor was obviously complete. There was no doubt the doctor knew how to make her die in comfort and with dignity.
Why is it so important to die with dignity? Dignity is the quality of being worthy of respect.
The dying person wants his or her appearance to be serious, calm and controlled. It is a serious matter to die (or be given life) so that is a worthy attribute. Of course we would all like to be calm when we die, not screaming in protest and pain. But we can’t be in control of our own death, unless we resort to suicide, even if assisted.
In 1990 we visited five friends who died within months. One was in a nursing home in Australia, unable to get out of bed or move. Three others were dying of cancer in various ways: one was about 50 and a mother and wife; the second was a man about 80 whose wife had died many years ago and the third was a spinster about 70 who had battled cancer for 15-20 years. Each faced death differently, but none of them controlled it. And its final sweep, it was not pretty at all. It was and is the final enemy, but it is not for the Christian, the final victor. Death gets its power to hurt from sin (1 Co. 15.56) but if your world view and philosophy allows no sin, then where does the pain come from?
It is then related directly to the disease and not the underlying cause. TV- aggressive behavior is learned, so it can be unlearned. Blame was put on the parents. The thought is: If we can conquer the disease we will overcome the pain and perhaps even death. But such thinking is absurd – our bodies are mortal but our souls are not. Our bodies age, decay and succumb, but our souls do not.