Several months ago, I spotted them. I noticed three white hairs growing near the front of my forehead. My initial thought was “oh no, this is the beginning of the end.” In contemporary culture, aging is not celebrated but is rather dreaded and resisted. Recent figures back up my claim. The global anti-wrinkle products market was valued at 20.25 billion in 2018 and is expected to increase by 5.7 percent by 2025. Such numbers reveal we have an unhealthy infatuation with youthfulness, and a distorted perspective on growing old. Sadly, the church has not been immune to our culture’s thinking on age. Many people believe that a congregation of young people and younger families is a sign of vitality while one made up of older adults is an indication of decline.
Since my “white hair discovery” I have attempted to reflect theologically and biblically on getting older. I’ve been reminded that our contemporary feelings on aging are profoundly problematic and unbiblical. To begin, whether a person is one or one hundred they are worthy of equal dignity and respect because all men and women are image bearers of the Imago Dei, the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Showing respect for the elderly is a sign of a person’s deeper respect and reverence for God (Lev. 19:32). Growing old is an indication of God’s ever-present faithfulness: “even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray, I will carry you” (Isaiah 46:4). Furthermore, Moses calls the children of Israel to seek out wisdom of days past for living in the present through inquiring of the elders (Deut 32:7). While our culture sees aging as a curse to avoid as much as possible, the biblical witness understands it as a blessing to embrace.
By no means do I want to romanticize trips around the sun. I have gone to too many hospital rooms and prayed with parishioners whose pain and suffering, at the end of the day, amounted to their being old. Our bodies decay. Over time our physical and (sometimes) mental strength fades. What we were able to do then, is not always possible now. We lose what we once had as we age. Yet, the Bible challenges, indeed calls us, to see the blessing and the gift in the loss. “Gray hair is a crown of glory” (Prov. 16:31). I say, thanks be to God!