Old(er) People

We are in the age of assertion. Ours is probably not unique in that way, but it is certainly different.  Unlike the near-past, now, upon us are more ways to say what we think than we know what to do with. Got a blog? Post away! What about Facebook? Just update your status or write on a wall! How about Twitter? MySpace? IM? Text? Blackberry chat? Skype?

I’m not sure this is an improvement. I’m positive it’s not (it’s true that all of us – a-l-l may not really have anything worthwhile to say).  Nonetheless, part of what the ubiquity of options presents to us is the tendency to believe that we should say what we think; that we have a moral obligation to make our views known.   This especially plagues the young.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to comment on.  There are problems in the world.  There aren’t any really new problems, of course (Ecclesiastes 1:10), but problems.  My issue is about how they get addressed.  In our day and age, just as there are plenty of problems there’s a plethora of (young) people to provide answers!

Some would say this is a good thing especially in light of the commanding use of media that young people enjoy.  Maybe.

In my mind, there are, however, three main ways to handle problems: young people’s way, old people’s way and a combination way (or a compromise). Now I’m not going to define what makes young or old except to say young is under-40.

So, let’s say there’s a problem (shouldn’t be too hard to imagine).  When I hear young people pontificate wildly in the presence of older folks about problems and solutions, I often wonder at the older folks: what are they thinking about all of this?  Older people, of course, do their own pontificating and I myself wonder at that: what do I think about that?

(There’s a point to all of this and it’s coming.)

I think old people have market share on right answers and young people need to get over themselves and listen.

Yikes.  Notice I said “market share.” You know what that means, right?  (Market Share = not all of it but most of it.)

The problem is, we don’t listen and get over ourselves.  Young people, that is.  Should I?  How should I?

These are valid questions, like it or not.  We’ve got a younger man in the highest office of the land – how should he handle this? Everyone is looking to him for the answers to get us out of this mess – but the man’s barely over the median age of citizens of this county (36.4 years)!

This is relevant because so many young people are addressing issues and many older folks aren’t listening to them (us).  Of course, that chaps the young ones and they try harder usually with a little more vitriol.  Still, some (most?) problems arise when young people get the themselves in a wad because old people won’t listen to them.

What do we do?

I’m a biblical counselor and sit across from many strugglers. I find that, particularly in married couples, it is helpful to encourage people to adopt as their starting point, the following: “I am the biggest problem here.”  Let’s start there…

Next, turn in your Bibles to the 10 Commandments, specifically, the fifth commandment. I’m a Presbyterian and like things written by old dead guys so listen to some of these:

Which is the fifth commandment? The fifth commandment is, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” (Westminster Shorter Catechism [WSC], Q. 63.)

What doth God require in the fifth commandment? That I show all honor, love and fidelity, to my father and mother and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience and also patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities since it pleases God to govern us by their hand. (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 104; see also WSC, Q. 64)

Who are meant by father and mother in the fifth commandment? By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant, not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church or commonwealth. (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 124)

Why are superiors styled Father and Mother? Superiors are styled Father and Mother, both to teach them in all duties towards their inferiors, like natural parents, to express love and tenderness to them, according to their several relations; and to work inferiors to a greater willingness and cheerfulness in performing their duties to their superiors, as to their parents. (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 125.)

What is the honour that inferiors owe to their superiors? The honour which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honour to them and to their government. (WLC, Q. 127)

What is forbidden in the fifth commandment? The fifth commandment forbiddeth the neglecting of, or doing anything against the honour and duty to which belongeth to every one in their several places and relations. (WSC, Q.65)

The 5th Commandment orients our attitude as we interact with older people – many times disagreeing with them.  This matters because, as a young person who wants to make a change in a problem-filled world, if we are wrong in our pursuit of a right goal, we are still wrong.

The most common objection to my characterization of part of the problem came, expectedly, from the young: “I can see problems just like them!” This justifies my line of thinking: if solving problems is what we’re searching for, then perhaps we should begin with a renewal of our commitment to the fifth commandment.  Why?  Because old people have market share on the right answers.

Said differently, when we accuse our elders of not listening to us, I think we are guilty of the same lack of charity that we accuse them of.  They might be wrong for not listening to the young, but the young are definitely wrong for not listening to the old.  That’s the implication of the 5th commandment.

One. Recognize we have fathers and mothers in our midst (family, church) and we’re not them. This is positional humility. We are inheriting this and are not its architects. It is a talent that God is allowing us to invest before we are the fathers and mothers. In our haste to grab this out of their hands, we could be dooming it to ignominy.

Two. Honor our fathers and mothers in our heart, word and behavior. Our lives must reflect an attitude that John the Baptist (Luke 3:16-17) and Paul (1 Timothy 1:15) would’ve found appealing.  Why must we increase?

Three. Submit ourselves to their good scrutiny, instruction and correction. Do our fathers trust us to handle what they have purchased at such great price? Are they explicitly our overseers, counselors, and teachers in our efforts? What would they say?

Four. Recognize our own weaknesses and infirmities. This is where #3 is so important. It is axiomatic that we are blind to our sin and blind to our blindness. Must this point be proved?

Five. Patiently bear with their weaknesses and infirmities as children do to parents. My own senior pastor, Mike Ross, in preaching a sermon regarding different generations in our local church explicitly refused to chastise his fathers and mothers in their weakness. Does that mean they don’t exist? Of course not! Positional humility and regard for the 5th commandment guided him to entrust that generation and their weaknesses to God.

Six. Police our ranks for violators and violations of this commandment. Instead of those who disagree we must turn our renewing / reforming gaze on each other. Not that we would develop or perpetuate a spirit of elitism or divisiveness but that we would act in accord with Hebrews 3:12-13 and Galatians 6:1. This is part of the ethos that we are calling for! Let it begin with each other.

Seven. Let God police the ranks of our fathers and mothers. Nowhere in the Decalogue do we find the right or responsibility to police the sin of our parents. Paul gives us, instead the exhortation to encourage older men as fathers (1 Timothy 5:1) and teach them sound doctrine (Titus 2:2). It is through the decrees of creation and providence that God will continue to shepherd our fathers and mothers.


Our temptation is going to believe that we exemplify these things. And of course we believe that – we’re young! But do we really fail to stumble (James 3:2)? The plague of youth is, in part, zealous blindness (Proverbs 19:2). Could we not also be like blind Israel: Romans 10:2?

Young and old have specific roles in God’s world: family and church.  We do have something to contribute.  But it is as sons and daughters contributing to the work of mothers and fathers.

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