IVP - Online Pulpit - The Age-Old Myth, Part 2

February 24, 2012

The Age-Old Myth, Part 2

by Emily Varner

The ways that elderly persons fit into our local congregations expose an “Age-Old Myth” many of us thoughtlessly buy into, not as much a wrong belief about aging but about what it means to be human at any age.

Christians are perhaps just as likely as unbelievers to define themselves by what they do, how much they accomplish, what their particular gifts and talents are, and other measures that, frankly, miss the mark of a biblical view of humankind. The starting point for a Christian theological anthropology, insists James Houston in A Vision for the Aging Church, is the life of the Triune God and the image of God stamped on each person. Fundamentally, then, to be human is to be in relationship. It is not our production or profession that give us meaning. Rather, the human-to-human and human-to-divine relationships in which we give and receive love make us persons of value and give us lives of meaning.

For those whose relationships seem distinctly one-sided, as for example those with advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia, this idea of being defined by those who love us is particularly important. Think, for example, about the book-turned-movie The Notebook. Each day the husband, no longer remembered by his wife, redefines her by telling their love story to her. He has become the guardian of their shared history, their collective memories, and he determines whether their legacy will be one of love or estrangement. This concept related to God’s view of each person is profound.

God has a past, present, and future with each human being. All persons, regardless of their age or ability, are beloved by God and bear God’s image. When the church stands up for this view of the human persons, it does so in marked contrast to a society where the value of a person is measured by beauty, net worth, IQ, productivity, and a host of other measures that fail to account for the reason God created human beings: for a relationship with him that, in turn, redeems our human relationships.

The biblical witness testifies to this theological vision but also presents a very down-to-earth reason why the people of God must respect and value their elders: wisdom. The Bible identifies wisdom as reverence for God and often links wisdom with experiences that can only come through length of life lived before God. Simply put, we honor our elders by acknowledging that their lives have given them a perspective the younger people in their lives need to hear. There are exceptions to this rule—most of us probably know an old fool and a young person with a wise spirit—but the Bible admonishes readers to expect that the words of those who are older and wiser will benefit the larger community.

A Christian theological anthropology dignifies each human person, and a biblical understanding of wisdom refuses to discount the many experiences only an older person can draw upon in wise counsel. When these ideas bear fruit in churches, ministry changes result that congregants and, likely, community members notice.

A third and final post will lay out some of these.

varnerOP.jpgEmily Varner worked extensively with A Vision for the Aging Church as a freelance editor and publicist for IVP Academic. Her business, AcademicPS, focuses on ministry books and academic texts from Christian publishers. She and her husband doug have a six-year old daughter and are also foster parents to a baby girl.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at February 24, 2012 12:22 PM Bookmark and Share

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