I recently spent quite a bit of time watching an 18-month-old with a penchant for climbing. He attempted to do incredibly foolish things. There was no explaining to him that the chair was likely to tip over, the fall from the staircase bannister would be unpleasant, and that the curtain was not mountain climbing gear. At the same time as I celebrated his delight in his body’s abilities, my job was to remove as many danger points as possible and direct his attention to safer activities. As the adult in the room, letting him do whatever he wanted to do was not an option.
When the twenty-sixth amendment to the Constitution in the U.S. reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 was ratified in 1971, eighteen seemed grown up to me. That time marker was still in my future. The argument that if these young adults were old enough to die for their country (in Vietnam) then they were old enough to vote, seemed unassailable logic.
How differently things look from another perspective.
Hand-in-hand with lowering the voting age has been raising the age of responsibility. Thirty-year-olds who are unmarried and have never drawn a paycheck are common. Think of how many changes in laws and cultural norms over the past sixty years have been led by youth. Not surprisingly, sexual mores are often targeted. Universities that once viewed themselves as being responsible for students in lieu of parents evolved into bizarre palaces of the absurd led by petulant, childish students while administrators and professors timidly cower in obeisance. Legislators and government officials make disastrous decisions – and get re-elected largely due to the enthusiasm and votes of those who have no experience in reality.
One of the Hebrew words for community is KaHaL. As we explain in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, that word is composed of three Hebrew letters with the respective numerical values of 100, 5, and 30. One definition of community is a place where the very young (represented by 5-year-olds), the very old (represented by 100-year-olds), and those in their prime (represented by 30-year-olds) live together.
Here is my question for today: Surely, human beings are more likely to be in their physical prime in their late teens and early twenties rather than in their thirties? Many medal-winning athletes are heading to retirement by their thirties. A woman’s fertility starts decreasing in her late twenties. Why is thirty given as the epitome of strength? The answer is that a healthy community needs more than strong workers. It needs a core group that is in both its physical and emotional prime. By thirty, in a faithful Bible community, most adults will be working, married, and raising a family. Now their still hearty physical bodies combine with mature minds and seasoned hearts. They are the core group that actively labors to make a society that has room for the future and a respect for the past.
It is true that eighteen-year-olds do go to war in Scripture. Despite that, they are not granted the privilege of directing society. Their parents, those who love them, and mature leaders are trusted to treasure these young people’s lives. True, these adults sometimes mess up. We live in a real world where people’s decisions are often wrong, and their motivations are sometimes corrupt.
Nonetheless, putting children in charge hasn’t worked out well for us. While an unguided 18-month-old risks his own life and limb, unguided 18-year-olds put entire societies at risk.
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