Honor, and Those That Should Receive It
It’s fun to be young. We have our strength, energy, good looks (some of us), and we have the semblance of wisdom (fewer of us). Everything exists for today when we are young and the future is gloriously more of the same only better, because we won’t ‘get old’ like the others before us—how can we in these fine bodies we have?
This year my grandfather celebrated his 89th birthday and grandma her 90th. Today, I attended a party celebrating a colleague’s 90th birthday. Another colleague said his mom is about to celebrate her 96th birthday. In each of the three lives I can directly observe, they are not strong in the way we think, but are frail. They move slowly and tire more easily than they used to. The look good for their age. But in large measure they do have wisdom. Some have aged more gracefully than others who have fought the reality of their lessening abilities.
Yet their endurance is a testimony to a different kind of strength. Their energy is focused more on things that last longer. They advise people often as much by what they don’t say as by what they do say. Yet, in a society that worships youth and vigor, they are dinosaurs and a problem. When we are young we just don’t have any concept that they were young once too. We don’t take the time to listen to the stories of their exploits, their misadventures, and their lessons hard learned.
I think this is why the LORD made the fifth commandment to honor one’s parents and all the more when they age, and included a promise of blessing for those that obey this one. It is the only such commandment with a promise. It is as if God knew how hard it is to honor our elders as they decline and wanted to drive home the point. In 1 Corinthians 12:21-26, Paul says:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
I think this applies to how we treat our seniors. They have spent their strength creating the world we have inherited. Likewise, those who follow us will inherit a world of our making. How then should we be honored when our time comes? Will our legacy be one deserving honor and support? What have our seniors wrought with their hands that have lifted us past them at a younger and younger age? Will we despise them because they don’t seem to know what we know?
I find myself asking if I would have been able to create the same kind of world had I been in their shoes, and doubting it. Yes, I might be able to use an iPhone or repair a virus riddled computer, but to dig a well with my bare hands to give water to my family and animals while teaching full time, caring for a disabled spouse and raising two kids on a farm? My grandma did that.
Would I be able to defend my country by creating new technology and using it for peaceful purposes also? My grandfather did that.
Would I be able to build coalitions of scientists from literally the entire globe, including from enemy states, to study science together collegially and peacefully and have these coalitions last 50 years and counting? My colleague did that.
Who does our culture really honor and why?