Monday, March 14, 2011

On Sin And The Elderly

The longer you live, the more it becomes evident in your life that we are all heading in either one direction or the other. Either we're becoming more like Christ, or we become more like our sin. If we are not regenerate and being sanctified, our sin and its conditions slowly take over until we become nothing but a caricature, a perverse exaggeration of the evil that was in our hearts.

When you get old, whatever it was that you hung your hat on, you become that thing.

As your higher intellectual functions shut down, you lose more and more of your common decency. And that's when your sin emerges. Whatever greed, pride, lust, malice, envy, hatred, discord, jealousy, selfish ambition, or bitterness you had before, you become consumed by it until it becomes all that you are. All that's left of you is that condition.
My landlady told me of an old woman that her daughter (who works in a nursing home) knew. She was so frail that she could not feed herself, yet she was so proud that she wouldn't let others assist her in eating either. It was a pathetic sight, watching her try to spoon food into her mouth and spilling it halfway, all the while angrily refusing to let anyone help. She was so consumed by her pride and independence that in her old age it manifested itself into a grotesque and tragic self-annihilation.
The unsettling part of this is, the spirit that made her seem so pathetic is the same one that we would see in a young person and call noble. Fifty years ago, her pride in herself and independence would have been praised as virtues, but in old age it looks so stupid. It's not that she was stupid to hang onto who she was; it was that time revealed how stupid that attitude was to begin with.

If you're not being sanctified by Jesus, you're not being saved by him either. And whatever emotional or mental damage sin has wrought on you will remain until you become controlled and defined by it.
I knew an old woman once. Month by month, parts of her body and mind would break down and what emerged intact in all of that mess is her jealousy of another old woman. She was so paranoid, so consumed with the completely unreasonable suspicion that people liked the other woman more than her. She thought people stole from her. She thought her son was conspiring to steal the affection of her grandchildren away from her. She thought that she was being neglected when in fact she was being perfectly taken care of.
What I realize is that the hate and insecurity was always there. The only difference between that old woman now and ten years ago was that a decade ago she had the mental faculty to hide it and keep it under control. We humans are so clever with our sin and deceit. Perhaps because of the nature of the fall, sin is always elementally something done in secret. But it comes out when you're tired, when you're deeply provoked, and when you're old.

What consumes your life? What sins or effects of sins aren't you allowing Christ to deal with? At the end of your life, what will you look like? Will you look like someone whose body is outwardly wasting away, but whose soul is deeply satisfied in Christ? Or will you look like someone who's perpetually miserable, an ugly, deplorable version of yourself, everything about you crumbling away but your rotten core?
What little sins live in your heart now that you refuse to deal with? What little things do you think are acceptable or inconsequential? What do you think that will look like when you're finally too old to pretend that it wasn't defining your entire existence?
What kind of things do you hang your hat on? That you went to a prestigious college? That you went to Stuyvesant? Do you know how awful of a feeling it is to try to tell people about something you think is a feat, but have them not care? Do you think your grandchildren are going to care all that much about what you did or who you were back in the day? Do you know how painful and miserable it is to be nothing left but a bunch of bygone achievements?
What kind of things do you hang your hat on? That you're a good speller and have impeccable grammar? Do you know how big of a jackass you're going to sound like when that's all you brag about and all that comes out of your mouth are corrections? Actually, some people, in their youth, already seem like this.
What kind of things do you hang your hat on? That you're really good at Starcraft 2? That you're a geek or a nerd? That you love Glee? That you appreciate classical music? That you can recite every line from Star Wars? That you succeeded despite the odds? That you're a triathlete? That you know your cars? That you've got an iron will and determination? That you make playing the flute look cool? That you're you? That you're a sarcastic, but funny person? That you love beer? That you love coffee? That you're a Steelers fan? That you're from New York? That you can turn a phrase? Are you prepared for that to be all that you are?

What's going to be the last thing you're conscious of before you draw your last breath? When everything else fades away, your liver function, your kidney function, your lungs and heart, your memories, your logic, your coherence, what will be the last thought to go? It is said that on his dying bed John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”, said:

My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great savior.

I earnestly pray to God that my identity will be so bound up in Christ that in my heart will be nothing but joy and anticipation in meeting my Lord. I pray that, starting today, God will reveal to me those sins that, if I don't fight now, will blossom into something so overwhelmingly ugly that I become nothing but that sin. I pray that each day I will more and more reflect the Lord's glory, being transformed into his likeness in holiness and beauty. I pray that even as my mind goes, to my dying breath I will remember that I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great savior.


  1. Totally true Dan - we become what consumes us, what we hold to be our highest treasure and what fills our lives today. GK Beale - new book on a theology of idolatry - saw it today, but didn't buy it - "We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology Of Idolatry"

  2. I have that book - just started reading it !