The Counsel and Care of the Elderly
Deep down in our hearts, we all like to convince ourselves that we are more knowledgeable and wiser than we actually are. This is why Scripture raises the warning about being "wise in your own eyes" (Prov. 3:7). Pride manifests itself in a thousand subtle ways in our hearts. Add to this the fact that we live at a time of remarkable societal pride. Society feeds the pride of young men and women by telling them that they can change the world--regardless of God-given giftings, intellect, upbringing, associations, providential encounters, guidance, or hard work. Society tells us that the elderly are a burden to progress. While there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9), ours is an increasingly narcissistic culture. This is nowhere more evident than in our disdain and disregard of the elderly.
I have seldom heard younger individuals speak about getting counsel from older and wiser men and women throughout my life. I often think of Solomon's son, Rehoboam, who "abandoned the counsel that the old men gave him and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him and stood before him" (1 Kings 12:8). Presently, we hear exponentially more snide and demeaning comments by younger individuals about those who have gone before them than we have in bygone decades. In our superior wisdom, we like to convince ourselves that the elderly need to get out of the way and let us lead. The Scriptures point us in the opposite direction.
The Psalmist declares that the godly man or woman "bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green (Psalm 92:14). David explains that younger generations need elderly saints to teach them about the might and power of God. He wrote, "So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come." In a similar way, Moses charged Israel to "remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you" (Deut. 32:7).
It would serve us well to remember the old adage, "Older men have wisdom, younger men have zeal." We need the wisdom of the elderly and the zeal of the youth. While God has often used young individuals in remarkable ways throughout church history (e.g., the Reformers, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, Andrew Gray, David Brainard, etc.), there are ample examples of foolish and rash young zealots. Even the great Augustine--when he was older--wrote a book of retractions regarding things he had written when he was young. The more we seek the counsel of the elderly when we are young, the better position we will be in to avoid the snares and mistakes they made.
The principle of honoring the elderly is bound up in the fifth commandment. When God commands you to "honor your father and your mother," He is charging you to respect all superiors in age and rank. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.64 explains, "The fifth commandment requires the preserving the honor, and performing the duties, belonging to every one in their several places and relations, as superiors, inferiors, or equals." This is the way in which God has structured the world in which we live. If we are to fill our place in this generation in a God-glorifying way, we are to do so with great respect for the elderly.
It is not simply in our disdain for the wisdom of the elderly that we show our pride--it is also seen in our disregard for them. Carrying for widows is one of the foremost marks of godliness in Scripture (James 1:27). With all the talk of justice in our current milieu, I never hear people talking about caring for widows in their need. Over years of visiting church members in nursing homes or assisted living homes, I have often sat and listened to elderly saints tell me that their children rarely come to see them. How indifferent have we become as a society that we are comfortable sequestering our parents away in a facility without visiting them? Our churches should prioritize ministry to the elderly as they do ministry to the youth.
A time is coming when you may be able to say with David, "I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his children begging bread" (Psalm 37:25). Such a statement is born from years of experiencing the sustaining, delivering, and providing grace of God through many trials and challenges. Until that time, I would humbly encourage younger men and women to seek the counsel of the elderly, to honor and respect them, and to care for them in their time of need.