God Cares for the Elderly
TODAY’S rampant mistreatment of the elderly is not surprising. Long ago, the Bible foretold that during “the last days” of this ungodly system, people would be “lovers of themselves, . . . having no natural affection.” (2 Timothy 3:1-3) The Greek word rendered “natural affection” can include the love that normally exists within families. True to Bible prophecy, that kind of affection is noticeably lacking today.
In stark contrast with those who mistreat the elderly, Jehovah God highly values and cares for those who are advanced in years. Consider how this is shown in the Bible.
“A Judge of Widows”
Jehovah God’s concern for the elderly is evident in the Hebrew Scriptures. At Psalm 68:5, for example, David calls God “a judge of widows,” who are often elderly.a In other Bible translations, the word “judge” is rendered “defender,” “protector,” and “champion.” Clearly, Jehovah cares for widows. In fact, the Bible says that if they are mistreated, his anger blazes. (Exodus 22:22-24) Widows—and all faithful elderly ones—are highly valued by God and by his servants. Proverbs 16:31 expresses the view of Jehovah God and of his people when it states: “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.”
Not surprisingly, respect for older ones was an intrinsic part of the Law that Jehovah gave to Israel. The Israelites were commanded: “Before gray hair you should rise up, and you must show consideration for the person of an old man, and you must be in fear of your God. I am Jehovah.” (Leviticus 19:32) Hence, in Israel regard for older ones was tied in with one’s very relationship with Jehovah God. A person could not say that he loved God if he mistreated the elderly.
Christians are not subject to the Mosaic Law. However, they are under “the law of the Christ,” which has a profound effect on their conduct and attitude, including showing love and concern for parents and the elderly. (Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 6:1-3; 1 Timothy 5:1-3) And Christians show love not simply because they are commanded to do so but because they are moved from the heart. “Love one another intensely from the heart,” urged the apostle Peter.—1 Peter 1:22.
The disciple James provides further reason for us to care for the elderly. He wrote: “The form of worship that is clean and undefiled from the standpoint of our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their tribulation, and to keep oneself without spot from the world.” (James 1:27) James makes a touching point. It calls to our attention how important these dear ones are to Jehovah.
Hence, it is not enough simply to refrain from mistreating the elderly. Instead, we should show active concern for them by performing positive works. (See the box “Love in Action,” on pages 6-7.) James wrote: “Faith without works is dead.”—James 2:26.
Comfort “in Their Tribulation”
There is another point to be drawn from James’ words. Note that James told Christians to look after widows “in their tribulation.” The Greek word rendered “tribulation” basically means the distress, affliction, or suffering that results from the pressures of our circumstances in life. There is no doubt that many among the elderly experience such distress. Some are lonely. Others are depressed over the limitations that come with age. Even those who are quite active in their service to God may be discouraged. Consider John,b a faithful proclaimer of God’s Kingdom for more than four decades, the last three of which he has spent in special full-time service. Now in his 80’s, John admits that at times he feels despondent. He says: “I often look back and remember my mistakes, so many mistakes. I continually think to myself that I could have done better.”
Such ones can be comforted in knowing that Jehovah, while perfect, is not a perfectionist. Though he is aware of our mistakes, the Bible says of him: “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3) Yes, Jehovah looks beyond our mistakes and perceives what is in the heart. How do we know this?
King David—himself no stranger to error and imperfection—was inspired by God to compose the following words, recorded at Psalm 139:1-3: “O Jehovah, you have searched through me, and you know me. You yourself have come to know my sitting down and my rising up. You have considered my thought from far off. My journeying and my lying outstretched you have measured off, and you have become familiar even with all my ways.” Here, the phrase “measured off” literally means to “sift,” much in the same way that a farmer winnows out the chaff to leave behind the grain. Under divine inspiration, David assures us that Jehovah knows how to sift out and preserve in his memory our good works.
Our merciful heavenly Father remembers—and cherishes—our good works as long as we remain faithful to him. Indeed, the Bible says that he would view it as an act of unrighteousness to forget our work and the love we showed for his name.—Hebrews 6:10.
“The Former Things Have Passed Away”
The Bible shows that the problems of old age were not what God purposed for humankind. It was only after our original parents, the first man and woman, rebelled against their Creator that the crippling effects of aging became part of the human experience. (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 5:12) This will not continue indefinitely.
As already noted, many of the bad conditions we are experiencing today—including the mistreatment of the elderly—constitute evidence that we are living in “the last days” of this system of things. (2 Timothy 3:1) God’s purpose is to undo the effects of sin, including the ravages of old age and death. The Bible says: “[God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”—Revelation 21:4.
In God’s new world, the aches and pains of old age will be part of a bygone era. So will mistreatment of the elderly. (Micah 4:4) Even those who have died and are in God’s memory will be brought back to life, so that they too will have the opportunity to live forever on a paradise earth. (John 5:28, 29) At that time, it will be evident as never before that Jehovah God cares not only for the elderly but for all who obey him.
a Of course, some widows are not elderly. The fact that God also cares for younger widows is shown, for instance, at Leviticus 22:13.
b Not his real name.
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Love in Action
Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, congregation elders take the lead in showing regard for the elderly. They take seriously the apostle Peter’s admonition: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care.” (1 Peter 5:2) Caring for the elderly in practical ways is part of taking care of God’s flock. What, though, might this involve?
It takes patience and possibly a number of visits and chats to ascertain the full extent of the needs of an elderly person. Perhaps assistance is needed with shopping and cleaning, with transportation to Christian meetings, with reading the Bible and Christian publications, and with a host of other things. Wherever possible, practical and reliable arrangements should be worked out and implemented.c
What, though, if an older brother or sister in the congregation is in dire straits, perhaps needing financial assistance? First, it would be good to find out if there are children or other relatives who can help. This would be in line with what is stated at 1 Timothy 5:4: “If any widow has children or grandchildren, let these learn first to practice godly devotion in their own household and to keep paying a due compensation to their parents and grandparents, for this is acceptable in God’s sight.”
It may be that the elderly one needs assistance in determining if he or she is eligible for any provisions that the government makes available. Perhaps some in the congregation would be able to help. If none of these avenues are open, the elders could determine if the individual qualifies for assistance from the congregation. In some cases, this was permitted in the first-century congregation, for the apostle Paul wrote to his coworker Timothy: “Let a widow be put on the list who has become not less than sixty years old, a wife of one husband, having a witness borne to her for fine works, if she reared children, if she entertained strangers, if she washed the feet of holy ones, if she relieved those in tribulation, if she diligently followed every good work.”—1 Timothy 5:9, 10.
c For further consideration, see the article “Meeting the Needs of Our Older Ones—A Christian Challenge,” in the July 15, 1988, issue of The Watchtower.
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Dorcas cared for needy widows.—Acts 9:36-39