The world is getting older.
In 1900 only 4 percent of the American population was sixty-five or older. Today that figure has risen to 13 percent. Today there are about 455,000 people in the world who are 100 years old or older.
Now more than ever, we are in need of some guidance for our golden years. Aging isn’t easy. It’s not uncommon for older folks to feel useless, bitter, resentful, lonely, or afraid.
One of Jack London’s stories, “A Piece of Steak,” captures the frustration of getting old through the story of a penniless, aging boxer who knows he is outmatched by his younger opponent, a tough scrapper named Sandel.
As he sat in his corner, glancing across at his opponent, the thought came to him that the sum of his wisdom and Sandel’s youth would constitute a world’s champion heavyweight. But that was the trouble. Sandel would never become a world champion. He lacked the wisdom, and the only way for him to get it was to buy it with Youth; and when wisdom was his, Youth would have been spent in buying it.
The boxer wasn’t entirely wrong. Old age is physically debilitating. In his own later years, Solomon describes it vividly as “evil days,” days in which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” In those days “strong men are bent, and the grinders (teeth) cease because they are few.” “Those who look through the windows are dimmed (you can’t see)…the sound of grinding is low (your joints creak), and one rises up at the sound of a bird…terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms” (your hair turns white), the grasshopper drags itself along” (you can’t get around like you used to) (Ecc. 12:2-5).
The boxer was also right about the wisdom that comes with old age. Job said, “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days” (Job 12:12).
Where he went wrong was in thinking that a physically-demanding sport like boxing was all there is to life. When you put God as the center of your life, old age doesn’t have to be dreaded. It can be welcomed.
Consider the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 92:12-15:
The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Here the focus isn’t on the physically debilitating effects of old age but on the spiritual fruit that can be born during this period.
Consider an important implication from something Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” If our inner self is being renewed day by day as our outer self is wasting away, then the soul should be strongest in old age.
We may not be boxing or running marathons in old age, but we can flourish in our souls and in our work with God. Old age is a gift. May those who have been blessed with it use it for God’s glory.