The Wisdom of the Elderly and the Culture of Death

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

In September my congregation celebrated the 90th birthday of Elder Emeritus Mr. Sehon. He had turned ninety years old, and has been married for over 70 years. He isn’t in quite the shape he was likely in when he was my age: He sometimes struggles to stay awake during the sermons, and even spills his coffee sometimes. He doesn’t get around very well anymore, and can’t drive himself to Church.

Recently, on the Lord’s Day, I got to see his face when the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was brought to him and his wife. His face lit up, as if Jesus Christ was meeting him there. He then gently handed a piece of the bread and a cup of wine to his wife. Even after over 70 years of marriage he holds her hand during the service.

He was an elder in another congregation for many years prior to ending up in my congregation. With this in mind, and out of respect for him and his service to the Church as a whole, the session made him Elder Emeritus.

Because he is unable to drive, one of the elders gives him a ride to Church every week. How I wish I was privy to the conversations they have before and after the Lord’s Day service. The influence he has on this elder isn’t readily apparent, but I am sure it is considerable. I can’t begin to imagine how Mr. Sehon has influenced me indirectly through the elders and the other members of our congregation.

Unfortunately, many people who are younger than our Elder Emeritus would rather enter into death than to continue in this life where they could be a positive influence to the young, leaving behind a legacy.

On “The Briefing” Thursday Dr. Albert Mohler read a story about a 65 year old woman who said she prefers euthanasia over continuing in this life if she can no longer attend the theater, or if she becomes unable to get around on her own. Is life worth so little to her that she would prefer hers end rather than to give up some of her personal autonomy with the need to rely on others? What legacy is she leaving behind letting the wisdom she should have accrued over the years perish with her rather than passing it on to the younger generations? What this says of her opinion of the Law of God, which forbids suicide is a matter for another time. I’ll just leave a reference to Westminster Larger Catechism questions 134 through 136 here for that.

As I listened to Dr. Mohler my thoughts drifted to our Elder Emeritus, imagining if he and the other elderly in our congregation were to decide they would rather perish than to encourage us with God’s grace and the wisdom He has given them. How much wisdom would be lost? How many avoidable mistakes would we as individuals make because we didn’t receive from those who have gone before us? How much of our sanctification are we missing out on? Is avoiding that loss of personal autonomy worth it neglecting the benefits the elderly can provide to us? Obviously, I don’t think so. I’ll close with question 129 from the Westminster Larger Catechism, on the subject of positive use of the 5th Commandment.

Q. 129. What is required of superiors towards their inferiors?
A. It is required of superiors, according to that power they receive from God, and that relation wherein they stand, to love, pray for, and bless their inferiors; to instruct, counsel, and admonish them; countenancing, commending, and rewarding such as do well; and discountenancing, reproving, and chastising such as do ill; protecting, and providing for them all things necessary for soul and body: and by grave, wise, holy, and exemplary carriage, to procure glory to God, honor to themselves, and so to preserve that authority which God hath put upon them.