No one has said, or at least should have said, that aging is easy.  I was reminded of this last summer when, sort of in preparation for my class on the history of the Middle Ages, but more in pursuit of skillful writing, I read Hilaire Belloc’s William the Conqueror.

“In the last phase of human life there is, for the most of men, and for nearly all active men, a period of some years introductory to death: which years are years of disappointment at the least, and at the most tragedy.  There is on this truth a foreign proverb made for another climate than ours: ‘Clouds gather at evening.’ The reasons that this should be so are plain enough.  Not only does there come upon all men the realisation that from whatever they have known they must be parted, and that all they have called their own must cease–an active realisation which comes commonly late in life–not only, I say, do these things accompany the end of life with all men, but with those who have done much there is an added burden, which is that they must cease from battle; the body is no longer supporting the immortal mind.  And what is more, the petty value of things mortal grows more clearly apparent” (136-137).

Belloc was a fervent traditional Roman Catholic, but he always had a somewhat pagan sadness about death too.  The sadness is certainly not completely misplaced.  It is a healthy reminder of our mortality.   The sobering words of Job 14:1, “Man that is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble” remind us that in this fallen world we are made from dust and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19).

Nevertheless, the sadness over our mortal state is a hopeful pointer.  We feel that, somehow and in some way, death is not natural, that it should not be.  And we are right.  Strange as it may seem, the good news is that death is the punishment for sin.  As the Apostle Paul asserts, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death was not meant to be the end, and it is not.  Paul continues, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).  In fact, death is the last enemy, and it will be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26).

What has this to do with aging? Several things.  The fear of death is a kind of slavery that saps the joy and purpose out of life, but Christ overcame death by dying on the cross and being risen from the dead (Hebrews 2:14-15).  We no longer need to live in fear of death.  We also have confidence that the God who delivers us from death will be watching over us throughout our allotted years.  We are promised that he is our God in old age and will carry us even to gray hairs (Isaiah 46:4), He is “our God forever and ever” and “will guide us until death” (Psalm 48:14).

Well, this is encouraging, especially with my gray, er, white hairs, but in the words of the old man in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, “I’m not dead yet.”  I do appreciate the comfort of the biblical promises of eternal life, but I am not quite ready just to wait upon it to come upon me.  I believe that I have things yet to accomplish, a purpose and mission to complete.  Given that sense of purpose, it is encouraging to know that because of Christ’s resurrection, my “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). So, while I am still able, I shall gladly continue laboring for him until the day comes when strength is gone and all I can do is wait for him to take me home.

But for now, I am grateful that I can continue to minister for him.  Why just this past week, I gained a new insight while teaching my high school students about Søren Kierkegaard and his comments on living in the presence of God.  The Dane writes, …  But wait I’ll save that for another day.

 

 

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