Preaching We Need: John Piper on Aging for God's Glory
I want to take a few days this week and highlight a few messages that contain important truths, truths that the American church very much needs to hear. The first deals with a topic I occasionally bring up on this site: aging for God's glory.
Piper's message was given at the 2007 National Pastor's Conference sponsored by the parachurch imprint of Bethlehem Baptist, Desiring God Ministries. The conference's theme was the perseverance of the saints, and Piper himself preached a powerful message about how Christians should persevere in the faith as they grow old in a world that despises old age and views it as a season of life in which to focus almost entirely on oneself. I enjoyed the message, and I encourage you to listen to it in order that your desire to persevere in the faith would grow.
I was a bit disappointed that Piper did not do more cultural exegesis. His textual appeal and his materials from church history spoke powerfully to his point, but the message would have benefited from a lengthy section outlining the contemporary secular response to aging. Young Christians are saturated with culture, and preachers who reference the culture and situate their preaching in the cultural context do much to connect with their hearers and make their preaching more applicable and beneficial. With that said, a major shift has occurred in American life such that many people, including both men and women, invest much money and time in fighting the effects of aging. For example, my wife was watching ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" for a few moments last night and observed two older women who are currently competing on the show. One of these women, Bethany noted, has had numerous plastic surgeries, such that she looks much younger than she is. In general, most everyone looked about as young as possible. Does anyone else think it absolutely absurd that most every woman on tv (at least live tv) these days looks like she's been color-blasted bronze? I picture it like a car wash. A woman of normal skin color walks into a car wash-like facility, presses a button, and thirty seconds later walks out dripping gold from her toes. The effect is not appealing--it is ridiculous.
That aside, it is important that we Christians not do what this female star did. Where we might be tempted to hide the effects of aging, we should embrace them. Where we might deplore them, we should celebrate them, even as we recognize that these effects are the result of the fall. The Bible invests the aging process with dignity and grace, and we should do the same. But it is all well and good to talk about things on a theoretical level; many of us do well at that. But we must not stop there. Theology is meant to penetrate everyday life. So, let's close with some application for men and women. Men, as Carl Trueman has recently noted in a pithy piece, go bald to the glory of God. Do not be ashamed to bear the effects of aging. Strange though it may seem, balding is a sign of dignity, a mark of a life long-lived. Don't be ashamed of a receding hairline; don't fret over a perceived loss of attractiveness. Accept the processes of aging with grace. Women, think hard about not dying your hair as you grow older. Most dyed hair is pretty clearly fake. I understand that it's not easy to lose the trappings of youth, but remember, the signs of age are the marks of dignity. God has written aging into the codes of our bodies. Why should we fight him in this? Why should you buy into the culture's view of beauty, which sees gray hair as ugly and wrinkles as unappealing? Such thinking is a lie--and a much-believed one at that.
I encourage you, women, as I encourage the men (myself among them) to present the lost among us with a powerful countercultural witness. The way one deals with hair or wrinkles may seem inconsequential, but I assure you it is not, especially in a society like ours, frenzied as it is to appear as young as possible. In an age when Mom shops in the same stores as her daughters, and boasts a hair color just like her daughter's, and has a face as wrinkle-free as her daughter's, and pays a ton of money to achieve all this, go the easy (and cheaper) and graceful route. In a time when Dad dresses in the same jeans-and-t-shirt outfit that his son does, and sweats every time he passes a billboard boasting Rogaine treatment, it is right to show the world that true physical beauty does not buck against the aging process. Instead, it embraces it, and in so doing, embraces the God who is behind it.