It does not escape my notice that as a general rule, our culture seems to look upon the aging with at best a kind of disdain. Commonly, the aging are featured in their weakest moments in our films and conversations, and scorned and mocked for their lapses in memory or their impatience toward the impertinence of the younger generation.
Not surprisingly, in a society that seems to worship youth, we explore without the slightest pangs of conscience, even the possibility that killing off such weak and failing human beings is perhaps the most merciful - and so we deceive ourselves that we the young are not only worthy of preeminence in this world, but are noble for finding additional ways to exalt ourselves (like the playground bully exalts his own sense of self-importance by picking on the little guy) and remove any frail (condemning? convicting? costly?) presence. And, it seems, the elderly begin to think that perhaps we are correct – they are, after all, a burden on our economy with their end of life care, and a burden on their families, with their increasing dependence, and a burden to themselves with the mounting physical sufferings they must endure as they approach the end of life.
Sacrificing Wisdom on the Altar of Self Worship
What if, for one moment, we could collectively consider the wealth of experience and life-taught discernment and wisdom that we are so quick to abort and discard?
What if, instead of our love for the sound of our own voices, we would pause from our frenzied pace, and ask the tough questions for which it may even seem there are no answers, and listen to what those with years and “hoary hair” might be able to bequeath us?
What if, taking time to “be still” rather than so consumed with our own here and now, we would consider – I mean really consider, such as the kind of which it has been described as “treasuring up all these things and pondering them in your heart” – the years that have preceded us?
*The wars that have been fought on foreign soils and the blood of our fathers and great uncles and so on and the mothers left at home to work their fingers to the bone and the children who had to grow up so fast.
*The technologies that have incrementally improved lives and the cost of obtaining them.
What if we confessed that – contrary to what we would rather believe – we really do not know everything...or always know better?
“Even what he thinks he has will be taken away....”
Holy Writ exclaims that it is better to be in a house of mourning: “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2) It is GOOD for the living, we who remain, to consider the brevity of life, to weigh the matters of eternity and – if it were possible – to make an accounting for our souls’ sake.
I spent a small (relatively speaking) amount of time in a “house of mourning” recently as I watched my Granddad pass from this life into the next. (He didn’t pass away – he passed through, and is now near to his Lord, Jesus Christ who paid the redemption for his soul.)
The phrase “he went peacefully” would be the most likely applicable phrase in the case of my Granddad’s passing. He was 86 years old – by any present standards a “good old age,” a man “satisfied with life.” And his passing, though exacerbated by an advanced and too-late discovered cancer, was accepted by most everyone as the “normal” course of things. And I am grateful – there are plenty of more violent ways that a soul is torn from its body and hurled into the eternal presence of the Creator God. That my Granddad went “peacefully” is, by all accounts, a mercy.
But I take issue with the notion of dying, even peacefully, as the “normal course of things.” As if that means it is an acceptable reality. At least here and now, I am again angered over the course of sin in this life. By this I do not even mean a man’s OWN sin, but rather the effects of sin – the consequences of sin in humanity and in this fallen world – such that all creation veritably “groans” because of it “until the sons of God be revealed!”
It seems to me a great tragedy that we – when we are MOST weak, MOST frail, MOST vulnerable – are MOST subject to the vilest, brutal and gruesome consequences of sin.
*Cutting off the flow of blood to the ends of our limbs.
And what to do when the body in decline becomes your own prison and the instrument of your torment and torture!
You strain against your own flesh just to try to make eye contact with your loved one by your bed. You muster all the powers of your mind to try to control your lips and your dehydrated and now crusting tongue just to say, one last time to your daughter holding your unresponsive hand that you love her, and she’ll always be your little girl. And at last, the only thing that you can manage is a single tear which escapes your unblinking eyes and rolls down your cheek as your grandchildren sing to you of the sweetness of the Lord whose eye is on the sparrow, and you know he watches you, even now, as you are longing for heaven. And home.
The effects and consequences of sin on the body, bringing about death, rob him of his words of wisdom, his experiences, his expressions of love for his family which has – over the years and by the grace of God – only multiplied! When, in the life of a man, he has the MOST to offer, and he is least able to give it. And “even what he thinks he has will be taken away.”
Should this not cause us to shudder? Should this not cause us to fear – for even in the BEST of circumstances, even if we would go peacefully (!), we have but the mere delusion of control over our lives, over even our breaths.
How dare we suspect we could over-state this!
I fear how often we willfully neglect the truth of such things! I fear how often we avoid the bedside of the dying, and comfort ourselves with platitudes and common phrases of acceptance – our way, it would seem, of trying to maintain SOME illusion of control even of our dying.
Our scoffing at the aging – using an iconic toothless, wrinkled and sun dried character as the “fool” of story – is only a symptom of our greater efforts, deceiving even ourselves (!), to keep from thinking about the fact that some day we will no longer be able to hide from the strain and pull and snatching and snagging death grip of sin! After all, it comes only to take its due! Its wages, its just recompense!
There is no “peaceful” dying!
There is no “peaceful” way that the soul is stolen from its flesh, and the man – any man! – is immediately face to face with God, more brilliant than any sun or star, and infinitely more consuming!
It truly IS better to go to a house of mourning than the house of feasting – because in death we lose our self-deceptions. And though the kindness of the Lord, indeed even the mercy visited upon us in our dying, may well be visible, it is nevertheless the mercy of the Lord as concerns our living toward which we should be sober-minded and alert.
Who will pay our Redemption? How will we find hope in the face of death? How can we have any hope to withstand the all-consuming blaze of the Holy Father God – be it not even his wrath (!) but just his glory! Only ONE has ever truly paid the penalty, himself a sacrificial, “pleasing aroma” to God. If we will not have Jesus, to whom will we go; who is left? If we will not yield our lives to the Lord’s Christ, what other hope have we?
We cannot even keep breathing by our own strength and will!
...How frail we are.