Thursday 26 October 2017


        At a time when they long for stability older people are often called on to face drastic, and sometimes unwelcome, changes— moving home, retirement from a job, the loss of a partner. As their physical powers wane they may have to cope with illness, pain or loss of mobility. Loneliness is a very real problem, as contemporaries die and families move. They become increasingly aware that their life on earth is nearly over and many are afraid of dying. Finance, too, can cause concern, since half of the elderly are trying to make ends meet on less than half the average wage. It is not a time of life to be sentimentalised but to be faced with such realism as that shown in chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes.
        While our society provides a high level of medical and social care, the problems of the elderly are beingaggravated by certain social and cultural trends. Smaller and more mobile families are leading to the break-up of the extended family unit and this disintegration is further encouraged by the instability of marriage and the practice of both husband and wife going out to work. The result is that we are moving towards a society in which all the young and able-bodied are fully occupied with their own lives and older people are left without any relatives able to help care for them.
The development of the welfare state has not proved an unmixed blessing. It has created a "leave it to them" mentality, the tendency of the citizen to shrug off his own responsibilities with the comforting reflection that the state provides all that old people need. They are then abandoned to the mercy of an impersonal bureaucracy and starved of friendship and individual care.
The rampant disrespect for human life which is evidenced in the murder of thousands of the unborn is bound to affect those at the other end of life, especially as they consume an ever-increasing proportion of medical resources. Abortion will, paradoxically, have a child—called euthanasia.
Perhaps the most subtle, yet frightening, pressure which society exerts upon the elderly is its widespread worship of youth. Our culture glorifies the young, strong and beautiful. A whole industry is devoted to staving off the signs of aging, because, in the Western world, to be old is the unforgivable sin. The question of the popular song: "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?" is beginning to be answered in the negative.
        The Word of God stands firmly opposed to current devaluation of the old. They are to be given honour and respect: "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19: 32). Their advice is to be sought: "Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old." (Proverbs 23:22). Old people are not some separate species, but people who happen to be old— - ordinary people, whom we are commanded to love as ourselves, to care for in their need, to treat as valuable and important. Christians must lead the way in loving the elderly sacrificially, imaginatively and perseveringly. We must provide a model which, by God's grace, society may be led to follow.
        Scripture places the main responsibility for the care of the elderly upon the shoulders of younger relations. Such care is regarded as an essential element of saving religion: "But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God . . . But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (1 Timothy 5: 4, 8).
These verses of course require more of us than financial support. Older people are to be recognised as part of the family, not overlooked or pushed to one side. Their advice and help should be sought whenever appropriate. If they live on their own— - which is usually desirable in the interests of maintaining identity and independence -- there should be frequent visiting and contacts. Nor should this be thought of as "one-way traffic", for grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles have an immense contribution to make to the younger generation. Young people who cultivate the society of their elders will find their own lives deeply enriched. There is, too, the promise of God's blessing upon a faithful observance of the fifth commandment: "Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.

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