The Biblical View of Elder Care

By Alice Trebus

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Recent statistics show that one out of every eight Americans is 65 years of age or older. Advances in medicine, surgery, science, and technology have resulted in an ever-increasing population of the aged. As of 2013, the average life expectancy of a U.S. citizen was 81 years of age for women and 76 for men. Unfortunately, chronic disease is on the rise and many seniors find themselves diagnosed with multiple maladies. Advancing age and declining physical and mental health prohibit them from being able to care for themselves effectively. Consequently, their children must find a way to do it for them.

Many people view old age in terms of the problems associated with it, instead of the blessings. In fact, old age can be a sign of God's favor, a reward for living an upright Christian life, and/or a reward for those who honored their parents. "Follow the whole instruction the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, prosper, and have a long life in the land you will possess" (Deuteronomy 5:33; see also Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1, Proverbs 16:31). Old age is also part of God's plan for a normal life (Genesis 25:8, I Chronicles 29:26, 28, Job 42:17).

In the Bible, the aged are often shown to be resourceful people with valuable gifts to share for the good of everyone. Wisdom is a particular gift associated with age and is promised to those who ask for it and are reliant on God (James 1:5). In fact, giving wise counsel to those who are younger is a duty of those who are older (Proverbs 3:13; 15-16; Joel 1:2-3; Deuteronomy 32:7). One's age does not eliminate his/her moral obligations (Titus 2:2-5).

God is fully aware of the numerous problems   physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual and familial   that confront the aged. He assures them   and therefore their families   of His continuing presence (Isaiah 46:3-4). He gives strength to the elderly to endure suffering and infirmities (1 Peter 4:1-2; 1 Peter 4:19). He also delivers the aged Christian from the fear of death (Romans 8:38-39, Revelation 21:3-4, I Corinthians 15:54-57). Children of believing parents can take comfort in knowing their deceased loved ones are spending eternity with God.

So, how do we decide who cares for our aging parents? The Bible passages that follow give us some background information that will be helpful as we examine what are our responsibilities are.

Biblical Matters

One of the many ways God intended the children of Israel to distinguish themselves from other nations was by the way they treated their parents. Not only does the fourth commandment mandate honoring one's father and mother (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16), but the Levitical laws addressed this issue as well (Leviticus 19:1-3). In Mark 7:5-13, Jesus chastised the Pharisees for fixating on a minor point of ritual law when they were cheating their own parents out of the right to be cared for.

In the above passage in Mark, the Pharisees upbraided the disciples   and by implication, Jesus   for not participating in ceremonial hand-washing. Jesus chastised the former for focusing excessive importance on the rules found in a separate book of instructions called the halakah. This book interpreted and added to the Old Testament Law. In practice the Pharisees gave it greater authority than the law itself. (See also Matthew 15:1-9.)

The Corban tradition (Mark 7:11) was probably a practice in which a man could give or lend his money to the temple. In so doing he could say to his parents that he had no money left over to look after them. It may have been that, when they died, he could redeem this money for his own use. Jesus adamantly condemned this practice. He said that it defeated the purpose of the law and was tantamount to cursing one's parents. At the very least it revealed a selfish lack of appreciation for all they did for their children. Jesus also implied that honoring one's father and mother includes the obligation to provide for them financially if needed.

This passage in Mark also calls us to examine the excuses we or other relatives sometimes make to get out of our family responsibilities. Today's society and culture make it even harder for us to navigate the dichotomy of care at home vs. care in a facility for the aged. Medical and technological advances allow us to prolong the life of a loved one, often artificially. These factors force us to make increasingly difficult decisions regarding end-of-life care. We want to make sure that the choice we make does not clash with Biblical teaching. That said, we'll look next at what the apostle Paul says in I Timothy 5: 1-16. This chapter deals with instructions for the church   and reflexively, the individual   concerning the care of dependent relatives.

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Image credit: Borya; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life  |  Current-Issues  |  Family-Life  |  Personal-Relationships

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Published on 2-26-14