12042516_sDad passed away in 2003. I miss him. I especially miss him during Lunar New Year eve family reunion dinners. That was when he would regale us with the stories of his life. And he was a consummate story teller. A particular favourite of his was the story of the time he almost died during World War Two. He was a young man in Japanese-occupied Penang. One day the building where he was working was bombed by Allied bombers. He was buried under rubble, waiting for certain death.

A Japanese rescue team dug him out in the nick of time. When his rescuers saw that he was a Chinese, they cursed him. They were looking for Japanese survivors. But dad was saved. At this point of the story, dad would bare his chest and show us his scar. He had been trapped in the rubble with a beam lying across his chest pinning him down, pressing his life away. The scar was a reminder of where the beam had pressed on him. All I saw was an area of skin a little redder than the surrounding skin. But in my mind, and in my heart, I saw the scar.

I must have heard this story, and seen the scar, countless times. Did I get bored? Did I finish dad’s sentences for him when he told the story? No. I had learnt along the way that when dad told his stories, he wasn’t communicating data and information. He was telling me afresh the stories that defined him. He was telling me who he was. He was sharing with me the sources of his significance. I was privileged to hear his stories. I miss them.

When you are young, your life lies ahead of you. You are obsessed with the future. Your significance lies in the battles you are presently fighting and the battles you anticipate. Therefore you have a lot of new stories to tell. Not so the old. When you reach a certain stage of life, you have fewer new stories to tell. (I am told that it is politically incorrect to say that someone is old. People are not old. They just get older.) There is less that lies ahead. Therefore people look backwards to find the stories that define them. They retell old stories because more and more, these are the only stories they have.

We shouldn’t be surprised then that those who are older tend to repeat their stories. When they do so they are not assuming that you have not heard the stories before. They saying, “This is who I am.” “I am significant.” And if their lives had been tough, retelling their stories also brings some degree of healing and closure. Therefore, if we truly love the older among us, if we truly honour them, we will give them the gift of listening.

The bible is clear as to the honour due the old. Leviticus 19:32 tells us:

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD. (TNIV)

Not only are we told to respect the elderly, God seems to see such an attitude as one expression of our reverence towards Him. In other words people who truly revere God will be people who show respect to the elderly. Therefore the lack of respect for the elderly is one of the signs of a nation that has turned away from God. Hence the prophet Isaiah’s indictment on Jerusalem and Judah includes this judgement:

People will oppress each other — one against another, neighbour against neighbour. The young will rise up against the old, the nobody against the honoured. (Isaiah 3:5 TNIV)

And one of the signs that the Babylonians were a people who did not know the true God was that they showed no mercy to the aged (2 Chronicles 36:17). Paul would later say that those who did not care for their aged dependants were worse than unbelievers (1 Timothy 5:3-8).

When the people of God show respect for their elders, they are clearly counter cultural. We live in a very utilitarian age. People are valued only when they are “productive.” Often, the elderly are seen as beyond their productive years and no longer important. The problem is compounded by the fact that we are living in perhaps the only time in history when the young know more than the old. The advent of the internet now means that often it is the young that know better how to function in the connected world. And instead of the old teaching the young, we often have the old needing to learn from then young. (I would still maintain that the old should have more life wisdom than the young.)

Therefore any call to show the elderly proper respect must be rooted in God and His Word. The elderly, indeed all people, have value and are to be respected because they bear the image of their Maker. There are also clear instructions in the Word as to how we are to treat the elderly, instructions we are to obey.

I am not suggesting for a moment that respecting the elderly and caring for them will be easy. The Bible is honest and knows that old age need not necessarily bring wisdom (Ecclesiastes 4:13). Proper health care means many of us should be fitter and sharper long into our senior years. Still, there will be some deterioration of mental and physical faculties. For some of us this deterioration may be more severe and care will be a challenge. But God expects that we will do what we can.

Recently, I have been repeating myself and not realizing it. Once in a while one of my sons will point out that I was telling him something that I had told him before. What is scarey is that I have no recollection of having done that. The slow deterioration of short term memory is one of the signs of aging. In my fifties now, I recognise that I am that stage of life called “middle-age.” And we know what comes after that! So please bear with me if I begin to repeat some of my stories. I assure you that it is not my intention to bore you. I just want to connect.