Twenty years or more ago I talked with a Christian lady who mentioned that Psalm 90’s poetical expression ‘The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble,’ reflected her experience of life was teaching her what the ‘toil and trouble’ those who live to eighty years of age or more endure.
Will Willimon seems to have had a lot of material published lately. He writes well, he addresses a wide range of topics, he provides those topics specific counsel – not simply repeating himself over and over, applying the same narrow sets of aphorisms to whatever is before him.
It demonstrates a thoughtfulness that engages with the subject at hand, rather than indicating that he approaches each question with a desire to make it fit his pre-prepared answers.
This, among other factors, makes him well suited to consider the subject of ageing from a biblical perspective.
Growing older is a demanding work and give rise to emotions and perspectives that defy neat generalisations.
While the Bible is relevant to the topic of ageing, it is less direct in addressing the subject than might be expected.
There are a couple of reasons for that.
Noting that contemporary lifespans average significantly longer durations that previous generations, some thirty to forty years, Willimon observes a simple reason why there is less direct material about ageing than those of us experiencing contemporary lifespans might expect to see in the Bible:
During his earthly ministry, Jesus probably met few people my [Willimon’s] age. The average life span for men in the Roman Empire was twenty-five, probably less for women, and, as everyone knows, Jesus and many of his disciples were denied the opportunity to grow old. Many of our quandaries about ageing were unknown in biblical times or in the early church. However, that does not mean that Scripture, Christian theology, and local church life have nothing to contribute to our reflection on ageing. As we think about ageing as Christians, we should expect fresh insights and a fundamental reframing of what the world considers to be “The problem of ageing.”
Dramatic changes in life spans have shifted our views of ageing and our expectations of how adults function in the last quarter of life. The challenges of caring for the aged and the sheer size of the exploding ageing population have made ageing not only a major public policy dilemma and a disruption in millions of families but also an opportunity for Christians to rediscover the unique consolations and challenges that our faith has to offer in the last quarter of life.
William H Willimon, Aging – Growing Old In Church, Baker Academic, 2020, pgs 3-4.