With apologies to all senior citizens, (a civilized sobriquet if there ever was one) I am going to ask you a question:
What is the one word in English literature that occurs more frequently than any other directly after the words “crotchety,” “curmudgeonly,” or “cranky”? If you answered “old” you are quite correct. You’ll nearly always read “the crotchety old woman” or “that curmudgeonly old man”. I am certainly not suggesting that all senior citizens are crabby or cantankerous but apparently enough are to have earned the connection.
Apart from being a warning to us all to avoid acquiring those unpleasing characteristics as we age, it also raises a question. What in heaven’s name was in God’s mind with this verse:
You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old;
you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
Other than managing to survive for six (seven, eight, nine? Fill in the number of your choice) decades or more, what exactly has an ill-tempered old man done to deserve such respect? Therein lies an important insight from ancient Jewish wisdom. An old person might indeed be a bit grumpy and grouchy but he or she has seen a bit of life. If nothing else, the elderly have experienced more of life than people in their twenties. Why does that qualify them for such a level of respect?
Through His love for each and every person, God wants us to live happy and fulfilling lives. What makes that so hard is that we all have our own ideas of what constitutes a happy and fulfilling life. If we make bad choices, the appalling results of those bad choices usually only become evident when it is already too late for a do-over. In other words, if we all lived for a thousand years, by the time we reached middle age and had experienced life for five or six hundred years, we’d be quite wise. Unfortunately, our life span is considerably shorter. What is more, most of us make critical life decisions long before we’ve even lived three decades. What chance to we have? The odds aren’t good.
Not surprisingly, many men make bad educational and career decisions based on deceptive data. Many women dissipate crucial years confident that if and when they might possibly desire marriage and children, the necessary matrimonially-minded men will magically appear. Many men and women debase their marriages and disparage their spouses until divorce seems a welcome respite. Many mothers and fathers without a clue about how to acculturate the next generation provide no guidance to the children they bring into the world.
Obviously, few of these disasters would occur if people were able to carefully observe others making their mistakes for a few hundred years. Since that is impossible, in His goodness, God provided us with the next best thing: a Book which teaches the wisdom of the ages. By studying this book, we can find out what works and what doesn’t without having to laboriously gain that knowledge through hundreds of years of life-destroying mistakes.
For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you—declares the Lord—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.
This advice on picking a career isn’t intended to make God happy—it is to make us happy. Ancient Jewish wisdom expounds some of the nuances and details for successful living.
He who finds a wife finds that which is good and receives favor from God.
This is one of several Biblical sources that when understood and absorbed would save young people years of unnecessary sadness in the challenging task of finding a mate.
Train a lad in the way he ought to go;
He will not swerve from it even in old age.
Ancient Jewish wisdom reveals the permanent principles of child rearing by expanding on this and other related verses. If every child born was raised in accordance with these principles by parents who followed them too, we’d be living in a paradise. Instead, a frightening percentage of children are born not knowing their fathers and being raised by a flickering screen. Not surprisingly, we are not living in a paradise.
For happy and fulfilling lives as well as for a peaceful and productive society, this Book provides the principles. This is why on the threshold of the launching of the nation of Israel in their own land, God warns Joshua thus:
Let not this Book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it. Only then will you prosper in your undertakings and only then will you be successful.
Of course there is always the alternative—live for a thousand years and you’ll pick up pretty much every principle presented in the Book. Well, of course that is not possible, but the closer one gets to it, the better off one can be. This is to say that someone who has reached old age has a far greater chance of knowing more about the permanent principles of how God ordered the world than someone who has lived for only twenty or thirty years. In a world filled with billions of people, there are certainly some curmudgeonly old fools, but young and foolish is a more likely pairing.
For that reason alone, the elderly deserve deference.