Friday, July 22, 2016

On Not Voting for Trump: The Consequences for Logic and Conscience

Two recent pieces regarding the implications for not voting for Trump (if one is a Republican and would normally vote for the Republican candidate) are helpful in spelling out the logical consequences and the effects on one's conscience.

James Anderson has written a short but tightly argued piece entitled A Non-Vote Is Not a Vote.

Here is Anderson's post:
One of the reasons put forward by some conservatives for voting for the controversial Republican nominee is that not voting for him would be “a vote for Hillary”. It’s important to understand why this is a really bad argument.

In the first place, the claim itself is inaccurate. If there are only two candidates, A and B, and Oscar doesn’t vote for A, that could mean one of two things:

(1) Oscar votes for B rather than A.

(2) Oscar votes for neither A nor B.

Clearly these aren’t equivalent, because (1) hinders A’s chances of winning more than (2) does.

But it’s worse than that: the reasoning here is incoherent, because if a non-vote for A is a vote for B, then by parity of reasoning a non-vote for B is a vote for A, from which it follows that not voting for either candidate is voting for both candidates. On the most charitable interpretation, that simply means not voting at all would be neutral with respect to the candidates: it wouldn’t favor either of them. On a less charitable interpretation, it’s just a nonsensical conclusion.

Perhaps there are some good reasons for conservatives to cast their vote for the Republican presidential ticket in 2016, but this isn’t one of them.

Addendum: I should add that the same incoherence afflicts another popular argument, namely, that not voting would “allow Hillary to win”. If a non-vote for A would allow B to win, then equally a non-vote for B would allow A to win, in which case not voting for either candidate would allow both candidates to win, which is absurd. (Actually, the conclusion in this case could be interpreted somewhat more charitably: not voting would allow either candidate to win. But again this just highlights the neutrality of a non-vote.)
The second essay comes from Matthew J. Franck--A Vote's Consequences and a Voter's Conscience.

A few selections from Franck's essay:
 Recently, while I was having lunch with some young colleagues at the Witherspoon Institute, one of them asked me a pointed question. “If your vote were the deciding one in the election, with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump becoming president on the basis of your vote alone, for which one would you vote?”

It was an earnest question, and I gave an honest answer. But then I felt obliged to object to the question, and I want to elaborate upon my objections here. I will not repeat my honest answer, for reasons I hope will become plain.

....

But the secrecy and the rough simultaneity of our ballot-casting are just what enable people to frame the question my colleague asked me. The question—“If your vote were decisive, what would you do?”—invites us to think of the civic function of voting as though everything hung on that one vote each of us casts. This invitation, to vote as if the weight of the world were on my shoulders alone, is what I refuse to accept.

The reason I decline the invitation is not just that the weight is not on my shoulders. It is that this is really an invitation to a kind of consequentialism in the ethics of voting. I don’t intend to plunge into the philosophical debate between consequentialist and deontological ethics, which is not in my field anyway. I mean to make a much more informal and homely point: it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.

I have good friends thinking this way right now. Although, as fellow conservatives, we think very alike on nearly everything in political life, the national disaster of the choice between Trump and Clinton has produced diametrically opposed conclusions. One close friend says that the harm Hillary Clinton would do, building on Barack Obama’s eight years, would be so incalculably awful that the risk of an inept, foolish, and thuggish Donald Trump presidency is worth taking in order to prevent Clinton’s victory. Therefore, he is inclined to hold his nose and vote for Trump, believing that abstention or a “thrown away” vote on a third alternative with no chance to win would be morally indistinguishable from a vote for Clinton. (Here is a column exemplifying this friend’s view.)

Another close friend draws the opposite conclusion, recoiling so powerfully from Trump’s politics of arrogance, folly, and contempt for others that this Republican of many years announces he will pull the lever for Clinton, preferring an enemy he can imagine fighting and partly constraining (and even agreeing with on occasion) to a “leader” who may grievously wound the party, the conservative cause, and the country itself. For this friend, any vote not cast for Clinton is “objectively” a vote for Trump and thus a kind of moral calamity. (Here is a column exemplifying this friend’s view.)

My fond regard for these two good and thoughtful friends, lifelong conservatives both, is not diminished by our disagreements. And I do disagree with both of them. For my part, my conscience is more important to me than the outcome of this presidential election. I cannot in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Trump. What matters for me is that I cannot bring myself to intend, to will the victory of either of these ludicrously unacceptable presidential candidates. And that is what a vote for one of them would be—an act of willing that Clinton or Trump be president, carry out her or his stated policy aims, and bring his or her fundamentally bad character to the highest office in the land.
...
 Now, however, we really do have two evils to choose between—or to decline choosing. Neither Trump nor Clinton has a single redeeming characteristic that recommends him or her to the presidency of the United States—at least none that is not decisively outweighed by some other damning characteristic. Clinton’s much vaunted “experience” is a career record of ghastly misjudgments in foreign policy, paired with a consistently authoritarian and illiberal “progressivism” in domestic policy, seemingly intent on unraveling the social fabric that makes a decent society. And there is no need to rehearse her and her husband’s history of dishonesty, corruption, and irresponsibility, capped most recently by her obvious breach of the statutes protecting national security secrets.

As for Trump, was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.

We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.

....
 After a lifetime of studying politics, I have finally, thanks to the electoral annus horribilis of 2016, arrived at an ethic of voting that I can defend against all rival ethics. It is simply this: Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Life, Death & Growing Old (part four): Suicide

* The following is part of a teaching series for a Sunday school class.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three


Life, Death & Growing Old

·      Suicide

Philosophical Considerations

1.     Defining “suicide”:

a.     Standard definition: “A suicidal act involves the intentional termination of one’s own life.”

                                               i.     This definition is too broad

                                              ii.     Does not match our intuitions about various cases

“When an ethical term is being defined, a proposed definition should explain the ordinary language intuitions of people of good will regarding clear and borderline cases of what to count as acts of suicide.”[1]

b.     Which of the following cases are suicides—and why?[2]

                                               i.     An elderly man, despairing of life, leaves a note behind and jumps off a bridge.

                                              ii.     A soldier captured in war takes a capsule in order to avoid a torturous death and to hide secrets from the enemy.

                                            iii.     A truck driver, foreseeing his own death, drives off a bridge in order to avoid hitting children playing in the road.

                                            iv.     A hospitalized cancer patient with six months to live shoots himself in order to save his family from unneeded psychological and financial suffering.

                                              v.     A terminally ill patient, realizing death is imminent, requests that she not be resuscitated again if another heart failure occurs.

                                            vi.     A Jehovah’s Witness refuses a simple blood transfusion for religious reasons and subsequently dies for lack blood.

c.      Key concepts to consider:

                                               i.     Intention: what is a person trying to do?

·      Truck driver example (iii.)

a.    Seeking to sacrificially preserve life

b.     Truck driver did not desire to die but permitted his death to save lives.

                                              ii.     Coercion: the decision to terminate one’s life is done under a coercive duress of another or others.

* Soldier situation above (ii.)—“If the soldier were not under coercion but terminated his life anyway, this would most likely be classified as a suicide.  Thus if an act is coerced, it probably does not count as a suicide.”[3]

                                            iii.     Others-directed: the act of terminating one’s life is not done from a self-directed motive but, rather, from an other’s-directed motivation.

1.     Seems relevant for cases (ii.) and (iii.) above.

2.     What about case (iv.) above?  J. P. Moreland argues:

“Some philosophers add the stipulation that other-directed acts are suicidal if they are done for animals or nonpersonal states of affairs (e.g., wealth).  Thus case four is an act of self-destruction for others (a cancer patient shoots himself to save others economic and psychological distress) and should be classified as a suicide because it is not done to save the lives of others, but to realize a nonpersonal state of affairs.”[4]

3.     The Jehovah’s Witness/blood transfusion case (vi.) could be seen not as a suicide but as a sacrificial act of martyrdom.  Moreland adds:

“An important issue in this case is whether the Jehovah’s Witness interpretation of Scripture is accurate.  Most biblical scholars do not think so and thus would have a factual problem with case six.”[5]
 
                                            iv.     Direct and active means: the person has a direct and active hand in bringing about their death

1.     The cancer patient shooting himself (case iv.) would be considered suicide.

2.     Case (v.)—a terminally ill patient with a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order would not be considered suicide.  Form of “passive euthanasia” which seems ethically allowable.

d.     Moreland’s definition:

“An act is suicide if and only if a person intentionally and/or directly causes his or her own death as an ultimate end in itself or as a means to another and (e.g., pain relief), through acting (e.g., taking a pill) or refraining from acting (e.g., refusing to eat) when that act is not coerced and is not done sacrificially for the lives of other persons or in obedience to God.”[6]

Biblical Considerations

2.     Some general biblical principles[7]

a.     Suicide is sin against God as the Creator and sustainer of life.  It rejects God’s sovereignty and usurps his prerogative in regard to life and death (Job 12.10).

b.     Suicide disregards the image of God and the sanctity of human life (Genesis 1.26-27; 9.5-6).

c.      Suicide is poor stewardship of one’s body (1 Corinthians 6.19-20).

d.     Suicide demonstrates misdirected love and is injurious to others (Matthew 22.36-39; Ephesians 5.29).

3.     Suicide is a violation of the sixth commandment—“ You shall not murder” (Exodus 20.13; Deuteronomy 5.17).

a.     Suicide is a form of homicide.

b.     Scripture does present exceptions to the general prohibition of killing; might suicide fit under these exceptions?

                                               i.     Capital punishment (Genesis 9.6)

                                              ii.     Just war (Genesis 14.1-16)[8]

                                            iii.     Defending one’s own or another’s life (Exodus 22.2-3)

“The common denominator that connects the three exceptional situations—capital punishment, war, and defense of life—is that they all spring directly out of profound respect for the sixth commandment itself.  All of them reflect the positive side of the sixth commandment: the sanctity of human life and the duty to preserve and protect it.”[9]

                                            iv.     Suicide does not advance the good purpose of the sixth commandment.

4.     Biblical examples of suicide:

a.     Abimelech (Judges 9.52-54)

b.     Saul and his armor bearer (1 Samuel 31.3-6; 1 Chronicles 10.3-5)

c.      Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17.23)

d.     Zimri (1 Kings 16.18-19)

e.     Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27.3-5)

f.      Note: Some add Samson to this list (Judges 16.25-31) but others do not.[10]

5.     Scriptural perspectives to consider:

a.     “Scripture does not say explicitly that suicide is wrong, but it places the act in a context of shame and defeat.”[11]

b.     “The stories were meant to be instructive to future generations, portraying biblical suicides not as examples to be followed but rather as cautionary warnings of how not to go.”[12]

c.      Some experienced such frustrations and pain that they asked God to take their lives; Scripture implies that these requests were not godly.  God did not grant these requests.[13]

                                               i.     Moses (Numbers 11.12-15)

                                              ii.     Elijah (1 Kings 19.4)

                                            iii.     Jonah (Jonah 4.1-11)

d.     Job’s extreme adversity made him hate his life but he did not take his life

                                               i.     Job 2.9-10

                                              ii.     Job 3.1-26 (cf. 6.8-9; 10.1-22)—Job laments the day of his birth and wishes for death

Why is light given to him who suffers, and life to the bitter of soul, who long for death, but there is none, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice greatly, and exult when they find the grave.  –Job 3.21-23

                                            iii.     “In his suffering he desired to die at times, yet as a godly man Job refused to bring about death by his own hand.”[14]

6.     Suffering together… not suicide.

a.     Life is going to include suffering: Romans 5.3-5; 8.18-25; 2 Corinthians 4.16-18; 12.7-10; James 1.2-4

b.     We live in community and need to share each other’s suffering: Galatians 6.2; Ephesians 4.28; Colossians 3.12-15; 1 Thessalonians 5.14; Hebrews 13.1-3

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
Galatians 6.2

“We should try to understand the extremes of sadness, confusion, suffering, and defeat that lead people to want to take their own lives.  People who contemplate suicide are in special need of the compassion of the body of Christ and the grace of the cross.  Our first approach should not be to judge, but to point to a better way, as God himself did with his weary prophets.  God never forsakes his children.  He never leads them to a situation where sinful self-destruction is the only option (1 Cor. 10:13).”[15]

7.     Suicide is sin… but not unforgivable!

a.     Objection: “Suicide does not allow one to repent of their sin of self-murder therefore they are lost.”

                                               i.     “Many Christians have died sudden deaths without having repented of all their sins.”  --Dietrich Bonhoeffer[16]

                                              ii.     “Contrary to what Christians have often believed, such rational suicide does not necessarily damn one.  The suicide dies, so to speak, in the moment of sinning, without opportunity to repent.  But then, so may I be killed instantly in a car accident while plotting revenge against an enemy of mine.  God judges persons, not individual deeds, and the moment in one’s life when a sinful deed occurs does not determine one’s fate.”  --Gilbert Meilaender[17]

b.     “Is Suicide the Unpardonable Sin?”  Theologian Sam Storms answers:

“People often answer “yes” to this question because suicide leaves no room for repentance; a person enters eternity with unconfessed and therefore unforgiven sin. But nowhere does the Bible say that suicide is an unforgiveable or unpardonable sin. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that all sin—past, present, and future—is forgiven through faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One’s eternal destiny is sealed and set at the moment of justifying faith. Our depth of intimacy, fellowship, and joy is certainly affected adversely when we fail to confess and repent of daily sin. But our eternal destiny has already and forever been determined. We must recognize the distinction between eternal forgiveness that is ours the moment we embrace Jesus in faith, and that temporal forgiveness we receive on a daily basis that enables us to experience the happiness of intimacy with the Father.”[18]

·      Importance of the doctrine of justification by faith: Romans 5.1-2


     [1] J. P. Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options” Bibliotheca Sacra 148 (April-June 1991), 216.
     [2] The following list comes from Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 216.
     [3] Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 217.
     [4] Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 217—bold-face added.
     [5] Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 217.  For a brief analysis of the Jehovah’s Witness teaching on blood transfusions see Brian J. Wright, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and Blood Transfusions: Their Use of Scripture in Their Blood Doctrine” Christian Research Journal vol. 37, no. 5.  Online: https://www.academia.edu/8728509/Jehovahs_Witnesses_and_Blood_Transfusions_Their_Use_of_Scripture_in_Their_Blood_Doctrine.
     [6] Moreland, “The Morality of Suicide: Issues and Options,” 218.
     [7] These are taken from David W. Jones “Suicide in Christian Perspective” The Southeastern Center for Pastoral Leadership & Preaching—Equip Workshop: Death, Dying, & Funerals (March 25, 2015).  Online: http://www.sebts.edu/files/Funeral_Workshop_Notes_Packet.pdf
     [8] For a brief discussion of Just War Theory see my notes posted at: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2016/04/just-war-theory-notes.html. 
     [9] VanDrunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions, 199.
     [10] Yael Shemesh has Samson on his list of suicides in the Bible (“Suicides in the Bible,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 37[2009], 157) but John Frame places Samson’s death in the larger category of laying down one’s life for others.  “When he pulled down the temple of Dagon, killing many Philistines, he accomplished God’s judgment and empowered the people of God.  In this one case, God answered affirmatively a prayer for death (v. 30).  There was indeed something shameful about Samson’s death, as in the cases of Saul and Judas, for Samson was often disobedient to God’s will.  But his last moments were full of faith.  In a small way, he anticipated Jesus, gaining God’s victory by dying for his friends.”  The Doctrine of the Christian Life (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2008), 739.
     [11] John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 738.
     [12] Albert Y. Hsu, “Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin?” Family and Community Ministries 25 (2012), 5.
     [13] Albert Hsu has a larger list: “Interestingly enough, the Bible also records stories of at least seven people who despaired of life but did not go the way of suicide.  These include Rebekah (Genesis 27:46), Rachel (Genesis 30:1), Moses (Numbers 11:10-15), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), Job (Job 6:8-13; 10:1-22), Jonah (Jonah 4:3, 8) and the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).  These are positive role models for us, in contrast to those who chose death instead of life.  ‘Given the clear example throughout the Bible of men and women who thought about killing themselves and chose not to, we should follow their example.’”  Albert Y. Hsu, “Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin?” Family and Community Ministries 25 (2012), 5 (bold-face added)—Hsu quotes Donal O’Mathuna, “But the Bible Doesn’t Say They Were Wrong Does It?” in Suicide: A Christian Response, ed. Timothy J. Demy and Gary P. Stewart (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1998), 362, 366.
     [14] David VanDrunen, Bioethics and the Christian Life: A Guide to Making Difficult Decisions (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2009), 202.
     [15] John Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 738.
     [16] Quoted in Albert Y. Hsu, “Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin?” Family and Community Ministries 25 (2012), 4. 
     [17] Quoted in Albert Y. Hsu, “Is Suicide the Unforgivable Sin?” Family and Community Ministries 25 (2012), 4.
     [18] Sam Storms, “Is Suicide the Unpardonable Sin?” Gospel Coalition Website (June 17, 2015).  Online: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-suicide-the-unpardonable-sin

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nahum 1.9-2.2: Alternating Judgment and Salvation

I'm currently preaching through the book of Nahum.  The section of 1.9-2.2 can be confusing at a first read since the writer alternates between judgment for Nineveh and salvation for Judah.  Some translations (i.e., NIV) insert the words "Nineveh" and "Judah" to help but these words do not have any basis in the underlying Hebrew text.  In order to facilitate quick understanding and to enable my hearers to follow the sermon I printed up the following which color-codes the text for easy reference.


Nahum 1.9-2.2 (NASB)

(red = judgment against Nineveh; green = salvation for Judah)

1.9Whatever you devise against the Lord, he will make a complete end of it.  Distress will not rise up twice.
10Like tangled thorns, and like those who are drunken with their drink, they are consumed as stubble completely withered.
11From you has gone forth one who plotted evil against the Lord, a wicked counselor.

12Thus says the Lord, “Though they are at full strength and likewise many, even so, they will be cut off and pass away.  Though I have afflicted you, I will afflict you no longer.
13So now, I will break his yoke bar from upon you, and I will tear off your shackles.”

14The Lord has issued a command concerning you: “Your name will no longer be perpetuated.  I will cut off idol and image from the house of your gods.  I will prepare your grave, for you are contemptible.”

15Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace!  Celebrate your feasts, O Judah; pay your vows.  For never again will the wicked one pass through you; he is cut off completely.

2.1The one who scatters has come up against you.  Man the fortress, watch the road; strengthen your back, summon all your strength.

2For the Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob like the splendor of Israel, even though devastators have devastated them and destroyed their vine branches.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

"Riot Porn": The Media and Recent Protest Marches

After the fatal shootings in Dallas last week I ordered Heather Mac Donald's new book The War on Cops: How the New Attack on Law and Order Makes Everyone Less Safe


On Friday night (7/8) there was a protest in down town Phoenix.  This turned tense as the protester organizer Jarret Maupin changed the stated plans for the protest and threatened to lead the protestors on the a major high way to attempt to shut it down.  He changed his mind but the protestors were lead right up to the police line that was holding people from going onto the freeway.  There was some sporadic use of pepper spray by the police and Jarret Maupin soon lost control of the crowd.  The next day my copy of Mac Donald's book arrived and I was able to make my way half-way through it on Saturday afternoon.  The book has a number of interesting perspectives and facts but one especially stood out in light of the previous night's protest.  Chapter eight is entitled "The Riot Show" and she coins the phrase "riot porn" to describe what happens.  Here a few of her comments:
The riots held in the name of Freddie Gray, the drug dealer who died of a spinal injury in police custody, followed the drearily familiar script.  Upon the first outbreak of violence, a crush of reporters flock to the scene with barely suppressed cries of glee.  Surrounded by sound trucks and camera crews, outfitted with cell phones and mircophones, they breathlessly narrate each skirmish between police and looters for the viewing public, thrusting their microphones into the faces of spectators and thugs alike to get a "street" interpretation of the mayhem.  The studio anchors melodramatically caution the reporters to "stay safe," even though the press at times may outnumber looters as well as the police.  Meanwhile, the thieves get to indulge in the pleasures of anarchic annihilation while enjoying the desideratum of every reality-TV cast: a wide and devoted audience.
The performative quality of the live, televised race riot has created a new genre: riot porn, in which every act of thuggery is lasciviously filmed and parsed in real time for the benefit of at-home viewers.... The street scene at these televised riots can be eerily static.  People mill around listlessly like extras on a movie set.  Within the sea of idleness, more energetic thugs, perched on the roofs of police cruisers, stomp out the cars' windshields or throw garbage cans through the rear windows.  The smartphone camera has only magnified the specular nature of the anarchy, as passerby memorialize their own presence at the festival of lawlessness. (pp. 47-48--bold-face added)
The Phoenix protest march was relatively calm in comparison to other more violent protests.  Nevertheless, the media's coverage of the protest was another instance of "riot porn."  

Friday, July 8, 2016

Life, Death, & Growing Old (part three): Aging and Growing Old

* The following is part of a teaching series for a Sunday school class. 
Part One
Part Two

 
Life, Death & Growing Old

Aging and Growing Old

The seven “vanities” mentioned by Qoheleth correspond to the seven worlds which a man
beholds (i.e., the seven stages of life).  At a year old he is like a king seated in a canopied
litter, fondled and kissed by all.  At two and three he is like a pig, sticking his hands in the
gutters.  At ten he skips like a kid.  At twenty he is like a neighing horse, adoring his person
and longing for a wife.  Having married, he is like an ass (working hard for a livelihood).
When he has begotten children, he grows brazen like a dog to supply their food and wants. 
When he has become old he is (bent) like an ape.
Qoheleth Rabbah 1:2

1.     The Bible recognizes a progression in life and the stages of life.

2.     The Bible encourages honor for the elderly

You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged,
and you shall revere your God; I am the Lord.
Leviticus 19.32

a.     1 Timothy 5.1-2—“Do not sharply rebuke and older man, but rather appeal to him as a father… the older women as mothers…”

b.     Philemon 9—“since I am such a person as Paul, the aged,…”

c.      Proverbs 23.22—“Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old.”

d.     Deuteronomy 28.49—judgment by a nation “who will have no respect for the old, nor show favor to the young.”

e.     Isaiah 3.5—judgment in Israel means that “the youth will storm against the elder and the inferior against the honorable.” (cf. Isaiah 47.6; Lamentations 5.12)

3.     Expectation is the aged are wise—they know how to live life and can reason about life well.

a.     Deuteronomy 32.7—“Remember the days of old, consider the years of all generations.  Ask your father, and he will inform you, your elders, and they will tell you.”

b.     Job 12.12—“Wisdom is with the aged men, with long life is understanding.” (cf. Job 15.9-10; 32.7)

c.      Honor to attain old age:

                                               i.     Proverbs 16.31—“A gray head is a crown of glory; it is found in the way of righteousness.”

                                              ii.     Proverbs 20.29—“The glory of young men is their strength, and the honor of old men is their gray hair.”

d.     1 John 2.12-14

                                               i.     Little children, fathers, and young men

                                              ii.     Fathers—“ because you know him who has been from the beginning.”


4.     Not all the aged are wise!

a.     Ecclesiastes 4.13—“A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction.”

b.     “The simple fact that one is old is not enough to guarantee that one will become wise.  There unquestionably are old fools.  But age provides the raw material that is necessary for wisdom—the wisdom that truly knows the difference between that which can be changed and that which cannot.”[1]

c.      The need to understand, meditate, and live by God’s Word is what gives true wisdom.

Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever mine.
I have more insight than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, because I have observed your precepts.
Psalm 119.98-100

5.     Aging in Scripture

a.     Expectation of loss of faculties

                                               i.     Isaac “was old and his eyes were too dim to see” (Genesis 27.1)

                                              ii.     Eli 98 years old; eyes couldn’t see (1 Samuel 3.2; 4.15)

                                            iii.     David could not keep warm even with blankets (1 Kings 1.1)

                                            iv.     Barzillai the Gileadite: “very old, being eighty years old” (2 Samuel 19.32) virtually lost his senses of smell, taste, and hearing (2 Samuel 19.35)

                                              v.     Ahijah “could not see, for his eyes were dim because of his age” (1 Kings 14.4b) but still had prophetic “vision” and used by God!

                                            vi.     Elisha “became sick with the illness of which he was to die” (2 Kings 13.14) yet still used by God (2 Kings 13.14-19)

                                           vii.     Women too old to have children: Sarah (Genesis 17.17; 18.11-12); Naomi (Ruth 1.11-12; 4.15)

                                         viii.     But note that Moses was 120 years old when he died yet “his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.” (Deuteronomy 34.7)

                                            ix.     Also Caleb at 85 years old: “I am still as strong today as I was in the day Moses sent me; as my strength was then, so my strength is now, for war and for going out and coming in.” (Joshua 14.11)
b.       General passages about decay and creational “groaning”

                                               i.     Romans 8.18-23—notice the language used:

1.     “suffering of this present time”

2.     “anxious longing of the creation”

3.     “subjected to futility”

4.     “slavery to corruption”

5.     “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now”

6.     “we ourselves groan within ourselves”

7.     What are we waiting for?  Answer: “the redemption of our body” (resurrection)

                                              ii.     2 Corinthians 4.16-18

1.     “outer man is decaying”

2.     “inner man is being renewed day by day”

·      Spiritual renewal and growth is possible no matter what age you are!

3.     We look forward to the “things which are not seen”—resurrection (see 2 Corinthians 5.1-10)

c.    Ecclesiastes 11.7-12.8—Youth, old age, and death

                                               i.     11.7-10: Youth—the light of the sun[2]

1.     Enjoyment of life (v. 9)

2.     Accountability before God (v. 9)

                                              ii.     12.1-5: Old Age—lights dimmed

1.     Called “the most obscure passage in Ecclesiastes.”[3]

2.     “Most interpret these lines as Qoheleth’s view on old age.”[4]

3.     “Although 12:3-5a has always puzzled readers, most agree that these verses describe the physical deterioration of the body in old age.”[5]

                                            iii.     12.6-8: Death—lights extinguished

·       The following chart is from: Rachel Z. Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” Interpretation (July, 2001), 268.



QOHELETH’S MESSAGE
ALLEGORY AND METAPHOR
12:2
Before the sun and light and moon and stars grow dark, and the clouds come back again after the rain.

The light of life dimmed, never to shine brightly again.
12:3
When the guards of the house become shaky,
And the men of valor are bent,
The maids that grind, grown few, are idle,
And the ladies that peer through the windows grow dim;

Shaky knees, legs (or ribs).
Tottering arms and legs (or thighs).
Few or lost teeth.
Impaired eyesight.
12:4
The doors to the streets are shut—
The noise of the handmill growing fainter,
The song of the bird growing feebler,
All the strains of music dying down;

Week feet.
Dysfunctional appetite and digestion.
Sleepless nights.
Deafness.
12:5a
The almond tree may blossom;
The grasshopper be burdened;

The caper bush may bud again.

White hair.
Stiff joints, bent spine, burdensome weight.
No sexual desire and no stimulant can bring it back again.


d.      Ministry in old age

                                               i.     Ahijah: “could not see, for his eyes were dim because of his age” (1 Kings 14.4b) but still had prophetic “vision” and used by God!

                                              ii.     Elisha: “became sick with the illness of which he was to die” (2 Kings 13.14) yet still used by God (2 Kings 13.14-19)

                                            iii.     Simeon “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and Holy Spirit was upon him” (Luke 2.25)

                                            iv.     Anna a prophetess “She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.  She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.” (Luke 2.36-37)

                                              v.     Older men and older women to teach those younger: Titus 2.2-3

                                            vi.     Psalm 71.17-18—“O God, you have taught me from my youth, and I still declare your wondrous deeds.  And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare your strength to this generation, your power to all who are to come.”

6.     God’s faithfulness to his people in old age

a.     Psalm 71.6-9, 17-18

                                               i.     “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength fails.” (v. 9)

                                              ii.     “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me…” (v. 18)

b.     Isaiah 46.3-4

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel,
you who have been borne by me from birth and have been carried
from the womb; even to your old age I will be the same, and even to
your graying years I will bear you!  I have done it, and I will carry you;
and I will bear you and I will deliver you.

·       Note: Isaiah 46.3-4 is written to the nation of Israel but I believe its message can be personalized for the New Covenant believer.  Briefly: (1) Old Covenant language, commands, and promises are picked up in the NT and used of the church (i.e., 1 Peter 1.12, 16; 2.6, 9-10; 3.14; cf. 1 Corinthians 10.6-11); (2) Paul personalizes the work of Christ as being “for me” (Galatians 2.20); (3) Generic promises for believers are in alignment with this promise (Romans 8.35-39; Hebrews 13.5—which is actually a quotation from Deuteronomy 31.6, 8!).


     [1] David W. Johnson, “Full of Days: Aging Well Spiritually” Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary (Spring, 2016), 7.
     [2] I use this three part outline from Rachel Z. Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” Interpretation (July, 2001), 264.
     [3] D. C. Fredericks as quoted in Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” 266.
     [4] Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” 266.
     [5] Dulin, “’How Sweet is the Light’: Qoheleth’s Age-Centered Teachings,” 267.  Dulin adds: “Inasmuch as Ecclesiastes came out of an ancient Near Eastern literary milieu that employed both realistic and allegorical styles to describe the deterioration of aging, it appears that an allegorical and metaphorical interpretation of Qoheleth’s writing is appropriate.”