This is the fifth contribution to His Grace’s emergency team ministry during the coronavirus pestilence. The author has a 30-year itinerant preaching and teaching ministry. He leads a large public sector organisation and wishes to remain anonymous, “for unprofessional reasons…”
Those unfortunate to suffer with epilepsy report that before an attack there is often a moment of startling insight and clarity. When a tsunami is about to strike, the sea recedes well beyond its normal bounds, revealing much that has been hidden for long ages. So it is with our current situation. As disaster looms, truth is revealed. In the eerie quietness of the streets, shops and schools, we may, for a few short days, gain a clarity which has long been lost to society’s view.
My aim is simply to delineate a few of the truths which are revealing themselves.
First among these are the beauties and the glories of age.
‘With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding‘, says Job.
When Moses began to lead Israel at the age of 80, he still benefited greatly from the advice of his even more elderly father-in-law (Ex 18). It is God’s way that elders are esteemed for their wisdom, hearkened to and honoured. They point us upward to Him whose goings forth have been from everlasting.
In our society, the elderly are those whose childhood consisted of terrified nights in the air-raid shelter, emerging in the morning to pull corpses from ruined houses and bury their neighbours. They grew up with rationing, took turns to go to school, shared a pair of shoes with their brother or sister, perhaps tasted their first orange at 10 years old. Their fourscore years had been labour and sorrow; lives of self-sacrifice. Now, they babysit the toddlers so that generation Y can buy an iPhone X. Or they are farmed out to care homes by their self-centred children and grandchildren. Because, of course, the young are entitled to achieve self-fulfilment ‘and I don’t make no apologies for that’. Or for anything else, it seems.
And so the had-nothing generation exists now only to serve the insatiable appetite of the want-it-all generation. Our elders are marginalised, undervalued, exploited. And the dust of indifference lies thick on that scripture: ‘Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever‘ (1Tim 5:8).
But in these last days, the Babel tower which we call 21st-century civilisation has come tumbling down around us, for it turns out it was made of cards, after all.
‘I will ascend into heaven… I will be like the Most High‘, said man.
“Possibly not,” murmured the Ancient of Days.
And where are the elderly when we need them? No longer available. Not self-sacrificing? No, they’re self-isolating. “But… but… who is going to babysit?” cries the generation that has never grown up. Especially now there are no schools to babysit. And then the awful reality dawns: I am going to have to raise my own children.
The elderly, when they’re suddenly not available, we realise what we are missing. They’re ballast in the ship of society. They seem to weigh it down; a burden, wasting space in the hold. But in the storm they are stability. They are wisdom. ‘Their tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.’
Yes, alright, they hold on the end of each line of the hymn until after everyone else has begun the next one. They sleep through the sermon and they put on a tie when they’re going nowhere, and then spill their breakfast down it. But theirs is the voice of calm on our sea of troubles saying: “Peace, be still.” They have passed this way before and they know the paths. Deep within them are the last remnants of our Christian heritage. The last souls left who know the meaning of these words: ‘I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound… I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
Be grateful that this crisis came upon us before their generation had passed away.
What else might be revealed, reclaimed or restored?
Well, perhaps motherhood. Today is Mother’s Day. Or what the elderly used to call ‘Mothering Sunday’. But mothering is now a sullied word, of course. All reeking of underachievement and patriarchy and the oppression of a woman’s right to optimise her personal wellbeing by leaving her child with a stranger and getting her nails done. But motherhood is a beautiful, commendable and blessed occupation. Now it is being forced onto countless recalcitrant mothers, and perhaps fathers too. Is it too much to hope that they will rediscover its joys and its benefits? That the emotional and mental health of our children will be restored? That families will rediscover value of the things money cannot buy? Perhaps mornings of joy will be given “for evenings of tearfulness, trust for our trembling and hope for our fear”.
And lastly, here is a thing of joy which is being reclaimed. Across the country, rainbows are appearing in windows of homes. Children’s bedroom windows, no less. (Calm down, Inspector, it’s not what you think.) These rainbows stand for optimism and comfort: God gave us this beautiful sign when the horror of the flood was over. A day will come when this current turmoil also passes. Yes, the tsunami will thunder in. It will consume, it will destroy, but it will pass.
I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done… And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh (Gen 8:21, 9:15f).
Age, motherhood and the rainbow. God restores that which He took not away.