The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
• Psalm 90:10, KJV
• • •
Well, I’ve gone and done it. Used up my threescore.
Today I turn sixty years old. If we think of life in twenty-year-long laps, I’m starting the last lap. If we think of it as a game, I’ve reached the fourth quarter. According to Psalm 90, I’ll only make it all the way ‘round the track again or complete the contest “by reason of strength.” Yet the “strength” he mentions includes “labour and sorrow.” Lighthearted guy, that Moses.
Solomon could be a downer at retirement parties too.
Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain; in the day when the guards of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the women who grind cease working because they are few, and those who look through the windows see dimly; when the doors on the street are shut, and the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low; when one is afraid of heights, and terrors are in the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along and desire fails; because all must go to their eternal home, and the mourners will go about the streets; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher; all is vanity.
• Ecclesiastes 12:1-8
Oh boy, so much to look forward to. You can’t fool me with all those metaphors, Solomon. You’re talking about what it’s like to get old, to see your body break down, your teeth fall out, your strength wane, and your eyesight and hearing fail. “The days of trouble” are coming, and you are not optimistic that they will yield me pleasure. Spoilsport.
Even Jesus spoke about old age in a way that must have made Peter want to check out early.
“Very truly, I tell you,” he warned his disciple, “when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18).
The text goes on to say that Jesus was talking about Peter’s death. But, believe me, I’ve been around enough elderly folks to know that what he said can be a pretty accurate description of life for many of them before they reach the end. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be: the child becomes an adult and then a child again. Hand over the controls.
Whaddya mean, I can’t drive anymore?
On one of his better days, when he was teaching people far younger than I, Solomon either found or passed along a much more hopeful proverb.
But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
• Proverbs 4:18
Unlike other portions of scripture, which suggest that we are moving toward sunset, the diminishing of light and the onset of darkness, this word of wisdom sets forth another possibility. Life, long and abundant, may be lived entirely in the fresh and growing light of morning! Our path may begin at dawn and culminate when the noonday sun has reached its zenith, shedding its light and warmth over all the earth.
Our pilgrimage, however long it may be, may grow brighter and brighter until the most brilliant moment of all, when “the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43).
Now let me issue a caution. We must hold this word, like all wisdom sayings, lightly, and not think of it as an ironclad promise, a guarantee that our lives will get better and better, easier, and more pleasurable as we age. That we will not suffer or face the normal, seemingly random and often unfair mixed bag of experiences all human beings face.
We will. And I have no way of telling you how it’s going to go and how it’s going to end. Run as fast as possible from anyone who proclaims to you that they can.
Nevertheless, I find something here in which to take hope. Something for which I can pray. Something for which I can at least pursue in my inner being as the body slows and becomes more fragile over the years.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
• 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
One more lap to go. One more quarter left in the game. If by strength.
I’m aiming toward the light.