The Bible gives a broad framework for living and aging well. Those who follow a pattern of wickedness find it hard to change. Those whose feet walk a righteous path must keep to the disciplines and choices it requires.
As we age through life’s stages, we see wisdom in the Bible about:
• Life’s seasons. A time to be born and a time to die. General assessments. Life is summed up in two ways. Right and wrong.
• Honoring relationships. The fifth of the Ten Commandments states, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12).
• Life’s limits. A long life is 70 years, maybe 80 with strength, but all years come with labor and sorrow and we finish with a sigh (Psalm 90:9–10).
• Death, sin, and eternal life. Death is the consequence of sin (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12) and comes to all (Ecclesiastes 8:8). However, “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Communal wisdom or contemporary culture?
While American society idolizes youth, energy, and individualism, the Bible promotes the communal wisdom of those who have found the Lord faithful over multiple decades.
In contrast to the prevailing culture, the Bible doesn’t fight aging. It addresses our natural fear of death by pointing to Jesus, who conquered death (Hebrews 2:14). For those doing all they can not to appear old, the Bible encourages facing the future boldly. “Do not fear, for I am with you” resonates from both testaments (Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 28:20).
Success in the Latter Years
Gerry Peak, minister to senior adults at Second Presbyterian Church, notes the Bible never sugarcoats age-related difficulties. For instance, Ecclesiastes 12:1–5 outlines a time when a person takes no pleasure in daily life. Vision blurs, the body trembles, a back stoops, and teeth cannot grind because they are few. Such a life dwindles to isolation. However, the Bible also presents successful aging.
Consider these examples:
Resilience blooms after loss, anger, and change. Naomi (the book of Ruth) experiences the deaths of her husband and sons. She expresses anger toward the Lord. Once assured of provision, Naomi begins to live again and does what she’s good at: matchmaking! Her suggestions help Ruth, her daughter-in-law, and Boaz, a wealthy landowner, marry. Arguably, she now views her life “with a reasonable amount of satisfaction.”
Productivity endures as a choice. Describing himself as a servant, the apostle Paul worked for the Lord up to his last moments. For example, while confined in prison he wrote letters. Despite his circumstances, his letter to the believers in Philippi exudes joy throughout.
After suffering comes the ministry of prayer. The book of Job chronicles Job’s losses of family, wealth, status, and health. Job defends himself against the prevailing opinions that he sinned greatly and is receiving appropriate punishment. Job repents, acknowledges the Lord’s wonderful sovereignty, and receives an assignment: prayer for his accusers.
Steadfast character serves well. Barzillai, a wealthy Gileadite, intercepts David when David flees for his life from his son Absalom. He brings supplies and food for David and his followers.
Long-term issues find resolution. Miriam and Aaron speak against their brother, Moses (Numbers 12). Miriam seems to lead the jealous altercation. The Lord rebukes the two and Miriam is stricken with leprosy. The Lord banishes her for seven days. The Bible remains silent on what she thought about for a week, but she must have repented. Miriam returns, healed. The Lord later honors her equally with her brothers (Micah 6:4).
Aging provides models of lives of worship. Anna represents the Bible’s most succinct model for aging. At least 84 and possibly 105 years old, she exemplifies the prophecy given to Asher, her tribe. Her disciplined life incorporates fasting, prayer, worship. She completes the elderly foursome of righteous Israelites who bridge the old covenant and usher in the new (Luke 1:1–2:38).
About the Author. Robin Gallaher Branch writes widely for the secular press and for academia. She currently teaches adjunct classes in New Testament and Old Testament at Christian Brothers University. The full version of “Starring Roles Late in Life” appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of the Church Health Reader, Church Health’s quarterly magazine exploring topics in health and health.