Those who have a discouraging awareness of the sorrow of reaping or who are living in dread of it. Perhaps you came to Christ late in life after so much damage had already been done. Perhaps you came to Christ early but spent many years in apathy or disobedience. You need to know that God’s grace is sufficient to redeem your failures. Because of his grace, none of us experience all the reaping we could. Because of his grace, none of us have to fear even a moment of this life or the life to come. Yes, there may still be consequences for your sin. But even this will not be purposeless. Even this will be found to have been used by God for his good purposes. Take heart. “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (Psalm 27:14).
Our only experience of aging is within this sinful world. We don’t know what aging would have looked like if this world had remained unsullied by sin. We do know, however, that aging would have still occurred. Before God created people, God created time. So God created people to exist within time and pass through it. Thus, babies would have grown to be children and children would have matured into adulthood. Perhaps the benefits that come with aging would have continued ad infinitum without any of the negative effects we see and experience. We just don’t know.
(Did you read part one of this series? You can find it here: Aging Gracefully.)
What we do know is that in a world like this one, aging has a strong association with pain and sorrow. Though aging is not without its benefits, it is known first for its sorrows. We experience this sorrow because greater age brings greater exposure to sin and its consequences. As we pass through time, we see more and more of the sin that lies within our hearts. As we accumulate years of experience, we also accumulate a deeper knowledge of the sin that inhabits other people’s hearts and comes out through their words and actions. With every day, with every year, we see and experience in greater measure the consequences of sin in the world around us—death, destruction, disaster. It adds up to a great weight of sorrow.
This sorrow is universal. Even Christians experience sorrow in aging. They, too, find that greater age brings greater sorrow. It comes in many forms. Here are five of them.
The Sorrow of Weakness
As we age, we experience the sorrow of weakness. Of course, as we first begin to age, we grow stronger. As we pass from infancy into childhood and from childhood into adulthood, our bodies grow and strengthen. From his vantage point in old age, Solomon says, “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 11:9a). He goes so far as to say, “The glory of young men is their strength” (Proverbs 20:29).
But that strength does not last long, does it? There are a few years of growth followed by many years of decline, a few years of strength followed by many years of weakness. For men and women alike, physical strength peaks in their 20s or 30s before settling into a long decline. Muscle mass, bone density, metabolism, and even the senses begin to deteriorate. Most athletes retire by 37 or 38 years old, when they still have more than half their lives to live. They simply can’t keep up anymore.
One of the most sorrowful passages in all of the Bible talks about the sorrow of weakness.
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which 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 after the rain, in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, and the doors on the street are shut—when 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—they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails… (Ecclesiastes 12:1-5a)
This is a poetic description of the body weakening and failing. Eyes dimming, hands shaking, feet shuffling, back bending, teeth missing, voice trembling. It is a pathetic contrast with the strength and vigor of youth. And the decline of our bodies only grows steeper with age. There is sorrow in seeing our bodies weaken and decay.
The Sorrow of Weariness
Added to the sorrow of weakness is the sorrow of weariness. Old Solomon knew this sorrow as well, for in Ecclesiastes 1:8 he exclaims: “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” A long hike brings deep fatigue; a long life brings deep weariness. How could it do anything else in a world so stained by sin and its consequences? The longer we live, the more of this weariness we experience, and this weariness presses down on our bodies, our minds, our souls.
A pastor once visited our church and told of the trials he and his congregation had been enduring. Most recently and most painfully, his dear friends had lost their unborn child. They had just one opportunity to carry a child and for eight-and-a-half months, the pregnancy had progressed normally. The day was fast approaching! Then, only two weeks from full-term, the child had died and been stillborn. What tragedy. What sorrow. Standing before us that day he said, “I hate this world right now. All it has done is break my heart. None of us want to stay here. All this world does is fool you and fail you. It over-promises and under-delivers.”