Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Theology of Middle Age

Richard P. Olson, Mid-life: A Time to Discover, A Time to Decide: A Christian Perspective on Middle Age. Judson Press, 1980. 160 pages. ISBN: 0-8170-0859-4

I came across this book while browsing the shelf. At the time Olson wrote the book he was Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Racine, Wisconsin. He wrote Mid-Life: A Time to Discover, A Time to Decide because he personally experienced a mild mid-life struggle and taught a men's group on the Mid-life crisis. I found this book to be quite helpful in dealing with my own mid-life adjustments. The author has chapters on the seasons of life, health, life planning, being single, married, or remarried, being a parent and a child, the inward journey, the outward journey, and a theology of middle age. I will summarize his chapter on a theology of middle age.

First, a theology of middle age is a theology of providence and finitude. During middle age we have a growing awareness of our own death. In addition, we know we have limited time to fulfill goals not completed. We understand that we have a limited time on this earth, so we want to make the best of it. We can view middle age from the perspective of faith. As believers we have the promise of eternal life. We also know that our times are in God's hands and we know what we do is not futile because God can make it endure into eternity. AS Ecclesiastes says, there is a time for everything under heaven. A time to be born, a time to die. . .

Second, a theology of middle age is a theology of pilgrimage. Our prime example is Abraham who obeyed God when he called him to leave his home to travel to a place he did not know where. Olson states that pilgrimage "implies two subimages, the journey and the destination." At one time when one talked of the Christian pilgrimage they thought of the destination.  This is death in this world and life with God. The author asserts, "We are moving through life, from God, with God, to God, within God's purposes." There is a destination to our journey. On the other hand, we must not forget that the Christian pilgrimage is also a journey. The author states that though there are "jars, shocks, surprises, sudden turns, all of the journey is to be treasured." I have always been attracted to this idea that life is a journey. It is also prominent in our literature-- the Odyssey, the Pilgrim Progress, The Divine Comedy, and others. This idea of journey also implies that there are seasons to a life. God will guide us through all the stages of life.

Third, a theology of middle age is a theology of managership. This is a term middle-agers should understand since so many of them are managers in one way or another. We manage both ourselves and others. Adults have many responsibilities during middle age. The Bible's word for manager is steward. We tend to think of stewardship as only dealing with money, but it is a much more richer concept. Jesus spoke of the parable of talents. This could be gifts, talents, opportunities, skills and many more. WE are to be faithful stewards of all God entrusts to us.

Fourth, a theology of middle age is a theology of new birth and becoming. The poet Anne Sexton said that women are born twice. They experience a rebirth when the kids leave the home. Jeus spoke of a new birth in the Gospel of John. Barclay asserts, "To be born again is to undergo such a radical change that it is like a new birth; it is to have something happen to the soul which can only be described as being born all over again." Many people experience something similar in middle age. Some lives are completely transformed during middle age. I can attest to this idea from my own life. The last three years I have undergone major changes, even a complete transformation and it is not over yet.

Fifth, a theology of middle age is a theology of grace. Ken Mitchell states, "The theology appropriate to a middle-aged-person is a theology which recognizes plainly and with considerable joy the freedom that comes in knowing that whatever we do will not save us. I am convinced that childhood and adolescence and young adulthood are all deeply touched by works righteousness, as if we could, by using our gifts, buy time and save ourselves and defer any thought of there being a limit." Mitchell is correct in what he says. In middle age we began to let go some of the myths that we carried around. Olson believes we can began to experience the "paradox of grace" in middle age. He writes, if you accomplish something worthwhile, you sense it is because of God's grace working in you. If you fail, you have more peace, sensing that your justification by God depends on grace, not achievement." It does seem in middle age we are more realistic about what we can and cannot do. In addition, we realize we are completely dependent on God's grace. In addition, we are more self-accepting.

Sixth, a theology of middle age is a theology of fellowship. The author thinks that some of us during middle age are more able of entering and maintaining "human community with each other." It is that this time we are more likely to prize human relationships. In middle age we all need the support of caring friends. It is important to cultivate close friendships during middle age.

Seventh, a theology of middle age is a theology of hope. The Bible teaches that God's pan will ultimately work out. We can trust in His providence. As related to the middle-ager's journey, hope is displayed in two ways. First, we have the hope to face our own death. The comfort that God has been with me during my journey and He will welcome me at the end. Whatever my current situation, "I hope to know times of celebration, rejoicing, peace, and creativity again in my life. And the God of hope holds before me that possibility as well." It is good to know that God will walk with us all the way. He is our God even till the end. He is also the living God. Because He lives, we shall live also.

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