The spirit of the people changes after life

Aging in the Bible

It is said that you are always as old as you feel. As frail as Methuselah today, as silly as a teenager tomorrow. The Bible does not have any fixed guidelines as to how a man and woman should be as old people. A short tour through the Bible's images of age, a look at trends such as "doing aging" and the question: Do women and men age differently?

Biblical statements about old age are as varied as old age and older people themselves. Growing old is called a blessing in the Bible because child and infant mortality was very high. In the biblical stories, too, some die old and full of life, others much too early. Some texts describe the hardships of old age, others the beautiful sides. It is noticeable that older women in particular are told more benevolently and appreciatively in the biblical stories than in Greek art and non-biblical literature of the time.

Biblical age

In prehistory, which tells of the beginning of the world on the first pages of the Bible, there are hardly any limits to human life. Adam was 960 years old. Methuselah, the oldest person in the Bible, did not die until 969 (Genesis 5). According to this narrative, even before the flood, God himself limited human life to 120 years on the grounds: "My spirit should not rule in man forever, for man is also flesh." (Genesis 6: 3) Abraham, Sarah, Ishmael, Isaak and the other characters in the history of fathers and mothers reached old ages within this range. Sarah becomes pregnant while still an old woman and gives birth to the long-awaited son.

Psalm 90 mentions a life span that most closely corresponds to our experiences today: "Our life is seventy years, and when it comes up it is eighty years." (Psalm 90:10) These ages shaped the expression of biblical age.

Care and nursing

There were no welfare institutions for the elderly in Israelite society. The families were responsible for caring for the elderly. That is why the fourth of the ten commandments incites: "You shall honor your father and your mother." What is meant are the parents who have become frail. The commandment is linked to a promise: "That you may live long."

Above all the variety of statements about age stands God's promise to accompany people in all phases of life: “I am the same until you are old, and I want to carry you until you turn gray. I did it; I will lift and carry and save. "(Isaiah 46: 3-4)

Lifelong belief and knowledge

The Gospel of Luke tells a story of lifelong faith and trust (Luke 2: 25-39). Two old people lived near the temple all their lives to be close to the Eternal. Although the prophet Hannah and the godly Simeon are old and marked by fate, they live full of expectation every day.

Indeed, God shows himself to them. They recognize God in the infant Jesus that Mary and Joseph bring to the temple. Hannah praises God, and Simeon exults: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace, as you said; for my eyes have seen your Savior. "

Wise women in the Old Testament

In the story of the birth of the Evangelist Luke, a total of four old people play an important role. In addition to Hannah and Simeon, these are Elisabeth and her husband Zacharias. Two old women have such an important role in the story here. Hannah and Elisabeth are thus in the tradition of wise old women in the Old Testament. In the book of the prophets, Joel, it says that God pours out His Spirit on men and women. "Your old people should have dreams." (Joel 3: 1-5)

Complaints are not hidden

Aging is not just a dream. There are numerous texts in the Bible that describe how difficult old age can be. The preacher Solomon relentlessly enumerates the signs of old age: “Think of your Creator while you are still young, before the bad days come and the years that you will not like.

Then the sun, moon and stars darken and after every rain new clouds come again. Then your arms that protected you will tremble and your legs that supported you will become weak.

Your teeth are falling out, one by one; your eyes grow dull and your ears go numb. Your voice becomes thin and shaky. You find it difficult to climb, and with every step you are in danger of falling. Outside the almond tree is in bloom, the grasshopper eats its fill and the caperfruit breaks open; but you are carried to your last apartment. In the street they will sing the mourning for you. "(Ecclesiastes 12: 1-7)

What the preacher Solomon described thousands of years ago is still to be feared today. Many see the end of life as a threat and are afraid of it. Fear of loss of control and passivity.

Freer design options

Much has changed since biblical times. People today can shape their lives much more freely. The socially (largely) accepted life plans are diverse and colorful. I can decide which relationship model I want to live, whether and whom I want to marry. In theory, I can also freely choose which profession I take up. Theoretically, because the access to education and adequately paid work in Germany has not yet been distributed fairly. Old-age poverty is a big issue.

Nevertheless. We are much more free in shaping our lives. A lot has happened for women in particular in the past few decades. This also applies to age. Aging is now understood as a process in which there is room for maneuver. Our body ages. Botox & Co. can only delay this, not stop it. Like youth, aging is also a creative task.

Women and men age differently

From a biological point of view, we are all getting older every day - sociologically speaking, we are all made different ages and make ourselves different ages. The sociologists speak of »doing aging«. What is meant is what society ascribes to the individual in years. And it's about how the respective person deals with this ascription. Aging is an act and no longer a fate.

The journalist Bascha Mika presents in her book “Test of courage. Women and the hellish game with getting older «: The aging of men and women is still very differently negotiated in society. In short: “The man matures. The woman ages. ”Over the years, men are often seen as more interesting. Women, on the other hand, have the experience of becoming invisible and of being viewed less as actors in social processes.

The American journalist Susan Sontag described this observation 40 years ago. She calls it the "Double Standard of Aging". This double standard, with which the age of men and women is assessed, puts women under considerable pressure to this day in the third phase of life.

Many describe it as the experience of not being perceived, of becoming excluded, even of becoming invisible. Bascha Mika calls for a rethink. Because the social ignoring of women over the age of 50 does not only harm women. It impoverishes a society that thinks it can do without their skills.

Being visible

The Bible shows greater ingenuity: “This is how Adonaj speaks, mighty about armies: old men and women will still be sitting in the squares of Jerusalem, walking stick in hand, because they are very old. And the squares of the city will be full of boys and girls playing in their squares. ”(Zechariah 8: 4-5) Old women and men equally visible and children playing around them. This is how the prophet Zechariah sees the future of mankind.

Article and picture courtesy of the »Evangelical Women in Hesse and Nassau«,

[Janine Knoop-Bauer]