Here’s a little quiz for you. Read the following of song excerpts and see if you can identify what they all have in common:
Forever young, I want to be forever young. (Alphaville, 1984)
I don’t wanna grow up. (The Ramones, 1995)
I wanna live while we’re young
We wanna live while we’re young. (One Direction, 2012)
Tonight we are young
So let’s set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun. (Fun, 2012)
I don’t think it takes too much studious reflection to figure out the common theme here. These songs may span various genres (and eras!), but they each joyously celebrate one of our most beloved idols: youth. And, perhaps more importantly, they each defiantly scorn one of our most dreaded fears: old age.
Songs like these are shaped by a cultural narrative that incessantly tells us, “Younger is better”—a narrative that many of us unthinkingly adopt. We naturally associate youthfulness with health, beauty, freedom, and fun, while at the same time thinking of old age in terms of decline, limitation, senility, and boredom. Given such an outlook, is it any wonder that we’re all in such a hurry to “live while we’re young”? After all, the clock is ticking, and our best years will soon be behind us. We might as well do what we can while we can.
But what if this cultural narrative didn’t tell the whole story? What if our pessimism at the prospect of growing older turned out to be unfounded?
In Psalm 92, we find some song lyrics that strike an entirely different note than the ones above. And they call into question our default assumption that old age is something to despise:
The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
To declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Let’s be clear here: any way you slice it, aging is a decline—a slow and steady march toward the inevitable fate that awaits us all. You can try to postpone it, and you can try to hide it. But eventually the wrinkles will prevail and the creaky joints will be too loud to be ignored.
But according to Psalm 92, the quality of your life and the significance of your contribution are not measured solely by the health of your body or the sharpness of your mind. Even when the candles on your birthday cake are multiplying, your spiritual fruitfulness can be multiplied, as well. This is what a lifestyle of righteousness does: it allows you to stay green, even when you’re turning gray.
In a culture that tells us to stay young as long as we can, the church should be a community where we sing a different song. Physically, our best years may be past. But spiritually, there is still much to look forward to. As the proverb says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (Prov. 16:31).
Maybe you’re still fairly young, and old age feels a long way off. Maybe you thought you were young, but you looked in the mirror recently, and the evidence suggested otherwise. Or maybe you’re someone who crossed the old age threshold years ago, and your AARP card is already well worn. Regardless of where you are in your journey, if you pursue righteousness, a few bad knees won’t be able to slow you down. Your old age will simply provide you with new opportunities to enjoy and declare God’s goodness.