31 The silver-haired head is a crown of glory,
If it is found in the way of righteousness.
“Get off my lawn.”
This simple phrase is generally associated with the caricature of an old man yelling at pack of rambunctious, trespassing youth. These four words might elicit a laugh and be easily ignored–unless they are uttered in the gravelly voice of Clint Eastwood.
This phrase is a humorous punchline in the very serious 2008 movie Gran Torino. The film is directed and stars Clint Eastwood as Walt Kowalski. Walt is a red-blooded American, a war veteran, retired auto worker, widower, and the last white man in his working class neighborhood in Detroit. Walt spends his days taking care of his house, sitting on his porch, hanging out at the bar of the VFW–and caring for his immaculately maintained 1971 Gran Torino.
The world around Walt has changed over the years. His friends have all died or moved away, his neighborhood is overrun by asian immigrants, gangs rule the streets. He gripes with his veteran buddies, curses at his new asian neighbors, and insults the young priest who seeks to minister to him in the wake of his wife’s passing. Walt is isolated, angry, and tired. He is the last of his breed, and he knows it.
As the film progresses, Walt catches the neighbor’s teen son trying to steal his Gran Torino. A gang of asian youths has targeted the boy with pressure to join the gang. Walt, in his gruff manner, begins to mentor the teen, which includes teaching him to work hard and stand up for himself.
As he reluctantly becomes friends with the family, the gang begins to harass and terrorize them. This puts the gang in the crosshairs of Walt, who runs them off of his lawn, but soon realizes that drastic measures will be needed to run them out of the family’s life. Fear of the gang prevents people in the neighborhood from talking to the police, but Walt knows that unless he does something, the family will never live in peace.
Although Walt is played by an octogenarian Clint Eastwood, he is still Clint Eastwood–and you know that rough justice is about to be served. But Walt does not go in with guns blazing and fists flying in classic Eastwood style. Instead, something unexpected occurs.
Walt goes to the gang’s house, and through swagger and audacity, he tricks them into killing him. Walt has arranged for this to happen in public, and he is uncharacteristically unarmed. As a result, the gang members will go to jail and the boy and his family will finally be free.
Through Walt’s giving of his life, his neighbors–and the boy–will have a new life.
Gran Torino is a well-done film and contains a number of themes that speak to the changing cultural landscape of America. It is easy to see Walt as a sort of “Christ figure” with such obvious parallels to the movie’s ending, but it speaks more to relationships between generations. It asks questions like:
How do you view and treat members of older or younger generations in your life?
What role do older people really play in a culture that idolizes youth?
What is one’s true responsibility to ones neighbor?
These are questions as old as time itself, and Solomon is no stranger to them. In Proverbs 16, he provides wisdom on the splendor of old age:
31 The silver-haired head is a crown of glory,
If it is found in the way of righteousness.–Proverbs 16:31
Does it seem to you, sometimes, that Christianity is a young man’s game? From all of the Old Testament battles, to the footsore apostles following Jesus, and the tireless missionary work to build the early church, it can seem that there is little place for someone who has reached his golden years.
Here Solomon is saying that there is a special honor and place in life for those who have lived to advanced years. The kingdom of God that was instituted though Christ, is for all generations of His people, and especially for the aged.
This proverb is similar to others found in the book, including chapter 20:
29 The glory of young men is their strength,
And the splendor of old men is their gray head.–Proverbs 20:29
Solomon knows that for one to reach old age he has earned a special wisdom that only time and years can give. Or as another old saying goes:
Its not the years, its the mileage.
Because, lets face it, growing old stinks.
Your body breaks down. You get sick. Every song on the radio seems to irritate you and movies and TV are festivals of filth. Your friends and family members pass away, and is difficult to do even the most ordinary things.
You make noise when you get up and sit down, and you are terrified that any day now you will fall and break something and have to become a shut-in. When your church talks about “ministering to shut-ins,” it is never about the young, it is always about the old.
So what is this glory that having gray hair brings?
When you are young, you possess talent, energy, drive, and stamina. You do foolish things, serve in wars, embark on bold careers, raise families on a shoestring budget–and live to tell about it. This gives you a wisdom that only a passing calendar, and the deep abiding Providence of God can give. Tim Keller puts it very well:
The young have a strength and an unwearied ambition that older people cannot muster. The old have a perspective, wisdom, and dignity that younger people have yet to acquire. These are all distinct goods that should be enjoyed in their time.–Timothy Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”
Youth may be “wasted on the young,” as George Barnard Shaw said, but being old is not wasted on God. He makes special provision for your parents and then you in your senior years. First in the Ten Commandments, and then in His law:
32 ‘You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the Lord.–Leviticus 19:32
Despite the brokenness of this world due to sin, and the ravages of death that accompanied it into the garden long ago. God has provided for His people in all stages of life. The old bear the young, and when they are of age, the young care for the old. This ensures that God’s people thrive for generations, but it is also for another reason: God’s own glory.
One of the most curious–and in some respects, disturbing–stories in the Bible is the one found in II Kings 2:23-24. In this story, the aging, balding Elisha, the prophet of God, is mocked by “youths” for his aged appearance…and are promptly mauled by bears sent from God:
23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!”
24 So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the Lord. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.–II Kings 2:23-24
Over the years, this has doubtless been a Sunday school lesson that has come across as a sort of horror story. Children, wide-eyed in terror, listened as mama bears ate up a bunch of little kids and were given the Fifth Commandment moral of the story as “mind your parents.”
The next time mom told the child to clean his room, he was all but sure Winnie the Pooh would eat him if he did not.
However, the Hebrew here for “youths” can mean more than “children.” It can range from “baby” to “servant” to a warrior-aged man. The most likely translation can be that the young blades of the city came out to challenge and mock the prophet. In their disrespecting of God’s servant Elisha, they were disrespecting God–and that’s when the teddy bears had their picnic.
God will not be mocked. His provision for His people through the generations should drive those generations to care for one another no matter what age they are in.
Jesus knew this, and challenged the Pharisees on their own disregard for the elderly in their care. Not just as a sign of mistreatment of their parents–but dishonoring God:
4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7 Hypocrites!–Matthew 15:4-7a
The Pharisees have created a tradition that would keep them from taking care of their parents, in the name of serving God. Instead of giving to their parents, they would vow to (eventually, maybe) give the money to God. Their attempt to trick Jesus about washing hands, earned a holy smackdown as He calls them out.
This infuriates Christ, for as God, He sees His law broken in favor of a tawdry human tradition. It is a good thing for the Pharisees that no bears were handy on that day.
Jesus sees this, as he sees all of the thoughtlessness and struggle between the generations today, and it grieves Him. Only on the final day, when Jesus returns and glorifies us will there be true harmony for all ages:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. –Romans 8:18
So until that wonderful day comes, how can you enjoy every age of your life? Paul lays out some wisdom for how the different generations of God’s people can care for each other in the name of Christ:
4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. 6 Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, 7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, 8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.–Titus 2:4-8
Do the young people in your church exasperate you? Perhaps they do not raise their children exactly as you did, and it seems that they are always calling for volunteers to help in the nursery…so GO. Having young people in your church is a blessing and you can be a blessing to them.
If you are a younger person, do older believers irritate you? They seem to always want the old hymns and traditions, are perhaps quick to criticize, and you cannot tell them anything. Well, Paul has words for you too:
1 Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity.–I Timothy 5:1-2
Age is indeed a splendid crown, and it is an honor that all members of the Body of Christ can share when looked on in a godly way.
Time and years come for us all. In Christ, these things can be seen as a crown of glory, and where outer ability fails, inner strength can shine. Like the words of Tennyson in his poem “Ulysses:”
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.–Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.