The Bible’s Viewpoint
How Should We Treat the Elderly?
DURING the summer of 2003, thousands died all across Europe as a result of one of the worst heat waves to hit the Continent in 60 years. Most of the dead were elderly. Some had been left alone by relatives who went away on vacation. Still others reportedly were neglected or overlooked by overworked hospital and nursing home staff. The newspaper Le Parisien reported that in Paris alone, 450 corpses were left unclaimed. “In what kind of conditions are we living that we forget about our fathers, mothers, grandparents?” asked the paper about the situation of those who died alone and anonymous.
In a world where the over-65 population is growing by an unprecedented 795,000 people every month, caring for the needs of the elderly has become one of today’s greatest concerns. “Global aging is occurring at a rate never seen before and we will need to pay close attention to how countries respond to the challenges and opportunities of growing older,” said Nancy Gordon, associate director of demographic programs for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Our Creator also has an interest in the elderly. In fact, his Word, the Bible, gives us direction on how they are to be treated.
Respect for the Elderly
God’s Law, given to Moses, promoted respect for the elderly. The Law stated: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man.” (Leviticus 19:32) Obedient worshipers of God were expected to “rise up” before the elderly (1) as a sign of respect for an older person and (2) as evidence of the worshipers’ reverential fear of God. The aged were thus to occupy a position of honor and were to be looked upon as valuable assets.—Proverbs 16:31; 23:22.
Although Christians today are not under the Mosaic Law, its principles reveal the thoughts and priorities of Jehovah, leaving no doubt that he holds the elderly in high regard. These principles were understood by members of the first-century Christian congregation. Early evidence of that is reported in the Bible book of Acts. Among the Christians in Jerusalem at that time were some needy widows. No doubt a number of them were elderly. The apostles appointed seven “certified men” to make sure that these women received daily food supplies in an orderly way, considering such special care to be “necessary business” of the congregation.—Acts 6:1-7.
The apostle Paul applied the principle of ‘rising up before gray hair’ to the Christian congregation. He told the younger Christian overseer Timothy: “Do not severely criticize an older man. To the contrary, entreat him as a father, . . . older women as mothers.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) While young Timothy had a measure of authority over elderly Christians, he was told not to disparage an older man. Rather, he was to entreat him respectfully as a father. And he was to show similar honor to older women in the congregation. In effect, the apostle Paul was admonishing Timothy—and by extension all members of the Christian congregation—to ‘rise up before gray hair.’
Of course, godly people need no legislation to treat older ones with dignity and respect. Consider the Bible example of Joseph, who spared no expense in bringing his elderly father to Egypt, saving the 130-year-old Jacob from a widespread famine. On catching sight of his father for the first time in more than two decades, Joseph “at once fell upon his neck and gave way to tears upon his neck again and again.” (Genesis 46:29) Long before treating the elderly with compassion and deep respect became the law among the Israelites, Joseph reflected God’s view by doing so.
During his ministry Jesus himself showed concern for elderly ones. He strongly condemned religious leaders who felt justified in neglecting their aged parents on account of their religious traditions. (Matthew 15:3-9) Jesus also lovingly cared for his own mother. While suffering excruciating pain on the torture stake, he made sure that his aging mother would be cared for by his beloved apostle John.—John 19:26, 27.
God Does Not Abandon His Loyal Ones
The psalmist prayed: “Do not throw me away in the time of old age; just when my power is failing, do not leave me.” (Psalm 71:9) God does not ‘throw away’ his faithful servants even when they themselves may feel that they have outlived their time of usefulness. The psalmist did not feel abandoned by Jehovah; rather, he recognized his own need to rely on his Maker even more as he grew older. Jehovah responds to such loyalty by providing support throughout one’s life. (Psalm 18:25) Often such support comes by means of fellow Christians.
In view of the above, it is clear that all those who want to honor God must also honor the elderly. Older ones are indeed precious in the eyes of our Creator. As creatures made in his image, may we always manifest a godly view of “gray-headedness.”—Psalm 71:18.
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Christians treat older ones with honor and respect