Recently I paid a visit to one of my esteemed elder colleagues who is now in a fine church nursing home. When I entered his room he was sitting ramrod straight in a chair, gently, monotonously tapping his fingers on the tray in front of him, a vacuous grin on his face. I greeted him with little hope that he knew me or could greet me. His once-brilliant thought processes were hopelessly scrambled by the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. I grieve now, for the man he once was and the shell he is now. Why is a man who faithfully and inspiringly taught countless future pastors the intricacies of the Greek New Testament reduced to this?

Not all elders carry such burdens, thank God. Some live in weakness, yes, but remain mentally and spiritually very alert. A friend of ours just celebrated her 101st birthday and still enjoys spirited conversation. But just why is life so arranged that one life should now close with a whimper, while another can still savor the gifts of nature and loving relationships after a century of life? Is there an answer to the riddle?

To claim we know is to claim the impossible, for who can know the mind of God? And that may already be saying too much, for it suggests that in all cases God has ordained old age to be so. And yet, I trust that no matter what the circumstances of our days, we are always in the hands of the Lord (Rom. 14:8).

Still, we struggle for meaning, some sense to it all. If we cannot know the mind of God, we can at least get a picture of how God may be working in all of this.

Most important, we can be sure that he is bearing it with us. In Christ, God on the cross takes our burden, our living in all its rebellion, self-centered gratification, myopic narcissism, and all the consequences ...

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