Personality and theologies of aging

A few days ago I posted on Facebook a link to a post from six years ago: Does Jesus make me whole? As a result, I was challenged again to reflect more on the theology of aging. By this I do not mean, how younger people can cope with the older ones, nor how the old can cope with their state. rather I am concerned with the fact that: “As far as I can see no work has been done on the part the process of aging and decay plays in the divine economy.

My central question starts from a recognition that God has designed human life, and indeed the universe, to age. Entropy is as basic a “fact of life” as birth and death. We talk a lot about theological understandings of the ends of life but we take little if any notice that between (as well as the excitement of childhood and youth with their growth and development, and the fulfillment of seeing the next generations begin their journeys) we all (unless we die young) face a significant period of decay!

Bill Black’s post that I linked to has since moved homes here: I’m Sorry But Jesus Doesn’t Make Anybody ‘Whole‘ now as then you should read it. He finds meaning in this life under entropy: “Rather we are made alive and empowered to love – God intends all of our relationships to experience this transformation…

I’m sure he is right.

Immediately following my repost Barbara and I headed up to Auckland to spend time with our granddaughters (just 5 and 2). I love looking after and spending time with young children. Their lives are so vivid, they are continually (every wakeful minute of the day) learning. I also enjoy it because (being an INFP on the Myers-Briggs personality scale – sometimes called “nurturers’) I get deep satisfaction from being needed and from being able to care for others. It why (apart from the following pleasure of eating) I enjoy cooking. Aging, though, gradually shifts the balance. we are less and less able to care for or nurture others, and more and more have to depend on them to care for us.

The opposite of my personality the ESTJs are sometimes called “Executives”. They have a powerful sense of right and wrong, dedication and dignity, they are valued for their advice and common sense. For them, hell is “An incredibly impractical person is put in charge of all of your major life decisions. You have to do whatever they say and are powerless to argue or reason with them.” (at least according to Thought Catalog).  Guess what, for most ESTJs this is just what happens to their world as they age. (Of course, the rest of us do not think of ourselves as
“incredibly impractical”, but that is how most of us seem to the incredibly practical ESTJ!)

Perhaps, this learning of a new and different sort of dependency (undoing or remaking the independence learned in youth) is a significant part of aging. Perhaps, also the nature of the growth is different for different people….

I will leave another comment on this (about people with Alzheimer’s/dementia) for another post.

2 comments on “Personality and theologies of aging

  1. Heather

    I’m not very old, but I do have many of the restrictions of the elderly – cognitive issues, mobility issues, needing help for many of life’s basic functions etc. In terms of your question of how decay fits into the divine economy, two things that I have seen this bring to my community (if not to me, as such!) is:
    1. The gift of being needed. So long as I ask the right people to help with the right things, I have come to see that asking people for help often is received by them as a gift.
    2. I’m non-threatening, so can be a listening ear. Especially when I’ve been at my worst, health-wise (needing to be spoon-fed etc.) people tell me the most amazing things. Intimate things about what they’re struggling with etc. I think we often think of ‘good Christians’ as really capable people. Being with someone really incapacitated seems to give people permission to say things they’re not sure ‘good Christians’ should say/think.

    For myself, as someone who used to be extremely capable (still getting straight As at masters level etc.), it functions as a reminder that my worth is not in my capacity/achievements etc. but is in God and in what Christ has done on the cross and what the Holy Spirit is working in me. A reminder I seem to need repeatedly, as I easily slip into feeling worthless because I’m often achievement-less.

    Also, are you sure that decay/entropy is part of God’s original design? Like, without eating the fruit, would Adam and Eve ever have gotten old? I’m vastly unsure how the Adam and Eve stories fit with evolution etc. (something I very much take to also be true) but, taking the stories at face value, they seem to me to suggest Adam and Eve wouldn’t have aged (and, perhaps, would thus also not have reproduced – their children coming after they were forced from the garden, after all).

  2. tim

    On your first comments, yes!

    On Adam and Eve and aging/entropy as a consequence of the fall, indeed, but presumably if that is so it is a God ordained and planned part of the fallen world, and is not presented as a punishment….