Friday, March 13, 2009

Old Men Mess Up

There is a downside to spending most of my days with people who are half (or a third) my age: they often remind me that I am old. I'm not really. My grandmother lived 49 years longer than I have. That's pretty old. Methuselah lived 919 years longer than I have. That's ridiculous. I'm only starting to - maybe - get a little older.

I'm reading through the English Standard Version of the Bible, and now that I am getting used to its sometimes awkward word choices I'm starting to enjoy it. I have been wading through Jewish history for some time now, and a troubling observation has come to my attention:

Old men mess up.

There are some old men who messed up from the beginning and just conveniently continued to do so to the grave. But there are some real heroes in these stories, people we were told to emulate in Sunday school, who also messed up big time in their latter years. Some examples:
  • Noah - There's guy who makes me feel young. Noah was 500 years old when he had his kids (what was he doing all that time?), 600 when the flood came and 601 when the doors were opened and he stepped out on dry land. First thing he does is plant a vineyard, make wine and get drunk, stretched out naked in his tent. Maybe not too serious, but there's something weird with this picture.
  • Abraham - Man of faith, father of God's chosen people. Did some wonderful things, and then developed this habit of straight-out lies to cover his own butt. How Sarah put up with being passed off as his sister - twice - I don't know.
  • David - God called him "a man after my own heart." And perhaps his best quality was the way he came clean with God as soon as he realized how badly he had messed up. But really: adultery and murder all in one shot. Bringing a plague on his people for disobediently counting his army. Big league sin.
  • Solomon - The wisest, the richest, the most powerful king of Israel. How in his wisdom did he think it was okay to take on 700 wives and 300 concubines, mostly from the nations around him? "As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been." Not the best choice for the guy who had everything.
  • Hezekiah - You have to feel sorry for this guy: he tried so hard to be a good king. Today, Sunday school teachers use his name to trick their students during sword drills ("Hezekiah!" and everyone furiously leafs through the Minor Prophets to no avail - he has no book named after him). He finishes off his career by showing his treasury to the officials of Babylon, kinda like counting all your $20 bills on a street corner in Harlem. Whew.
So I'm not putting these guys down for their mess-up's, major and minor. It's just that I saw a pattern here that nags at me. The band Thrice has a song about guys messing up, with the chorus, "Lord, don't I know... I'm just digging my own grave? Can't someone else please save myself from me?" You would think that having reached a ripe old age, we should be allowed to simply coast on our successes to a happy ending. But coasting seems to have a much different result.

Surely our enemy knows this, prowling around like a cougar, seeking whom to take his head in his jaws. Sure, he goes after the young guy to detract him from all he could become. But how much richer a prize is the old guy whom all the young guys look up to. His demise shakes up a whole broad territory of young leadership, destroys the work of a lifetime. Rich game.

Please pray for old men.

Old men, please don't coast. When success becomes effortless, get the heck out of there. If you find yourself drifting where you never went before, jump and swim for all your worth. When someone under you questions your decision, stop and listen instead of arrogantly moving ahead. If you become so full of yourself that there is no need for God, remember that all the king's horses and all the king's men may not be able to put you together again. You are about to fall. Big.

Please pray for old men.

1 comment:

Lois said...

This is great stuff, Jim!! I couldn't agree more! I'm going to share your blog with another 'old'ish man that I know! Keep writing!
Under the same wing!