Missing the Obvious
- Written by: Ralph Bowles
Hidden in the current revisionist approach to gender, sexuality and marriage is a view of human nature that is deeply problematic for society and for the Church.
The issue of blessing same-sex unions is on the agenda of the Anglican Church of Australia. This step has been approaching us in the Anglican Church of Australia for years, and we know that it will not be the final point on the forward march of normalizing active homosexuality in our church. Australian society generally has moved on and younger generations wonder why the church is still arguing about this matter. We look like bigots if we are against blessing these relationships.
Arguments about the meaning and application of Biblical texts have dominated in these discussions about sexuality, and have not decided the matter, particularly for those Anglicans who believe that the biblical views on these issues have been relativised by modern understandings of gender and sexuality. A new ground for endorsing homosexual partnerships has now come to the fore with the application of ‘gender fluidity’. Traditional and biblical concepts of maleness and femaleness are regarded as outmoded by new views of the nature of gender and sexuality. Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane Diocese expressed this position recently: “today . . . there appears to be significant evidence that a small proportion of people are not unambiguously and exclusively either male or female. And there appears to be evidence that a small proportion of people is innately same-sex attracted. In other words, advancing knowledge and discovery seem to indicate that creation, as we observe it today, is more diverse and nuanced than the biblical authors allowed: ‘Everyone is ether male or female’ and ‘everyone is heterosexual’ doesn’t do justice to the world as we know it today.”
I question whether the biblical texts about male and female been shown up as out of date and simplistic. Alongside the texts that assert that God made them male and female (Gen. 1:27), there was also awareness of those few individuals not born able to marry, without adequate sexual organs. Jesus is quoted in Matt. 19:12 as stating that there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb, which is likely to be a reference to the small number of people who were unable physically to enter into the one flesh union of marriage. It would be reasonable to assume that the biblical writers were aware, like modern people, of that small number of people who are born with ‘Disorders of Sexual Development’. These anomalies from the natural order do not nullify that order. They are the exceptions that prove the rule. In the same section of Matthew 19 where Jesus refers to those by birth unable to enter into the marital union, he also cites the fundamental principle that God made them male and female (Mt. 19:4-6). Both the general truth and the rare exceptions are acknowledged.
The other ground for normalizing same-sex unions is based on the innate same-sex attraction of some men and women. Biblical writers, it is alleged, did not acknowledge this ‘nature’ of homosexuals, but instead simplistically regarded all people as heterosexual.
I am not convinced that writers like St Paul were unaware of this reality of same-sex attracted people when he maintained that they acting unnaturally in engaging in sexual acts (Rom. 1:26-27). It is at this point that the proponents of same-sex blessings make an undeclared move from defining male and female according to their physical embodiment for reproduction, and shifting into definitions of maleness and femaleness according to inner psychological states.
When Genesis states that God made them male and female, the next verse gives the contextual meaning: Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). It is completely correct of the Scriptures to assert that all human beings are heterosexual, since this is how we are by nature – by our embodied nature. When St Paul views same-sex sexual activity as unnatural, he is simply stating the obvious. It is a use of the body that is contrary to the design of the body – the ‘nuptial’ meaning of the body to use Pope John Paul’s description. The male body sexually for reproduction is shaped for the female body and the female likewise to the male. The two together are designed for creating community through reproduction and family. John Kleinig describes the sexual polarity embodiment of humans in similar terms: “. . .the bodies of all men and women are essentially spousal”. It is in this sexual complementarity that we understand our own selves, as the foundation narrative in Genesis 2 shows: “The man sees the woman as both same and other: as she stands before him, he also sees himself for the first time.”
It is a curious fact about recent discussions of sexuality and gender, that this whole discussion ignores the most obvious aspect of the issue, that we are embodied selves ordered to reproduction as male and female. Secular society seems to have completely lost this tethering of male and female in embodied sexual nature oriented for reproduction. Having lost sight of the obvious sexual complementarity, many cannot understand the withholding of agreement to same-sex activity as anything other than nasty bigotry. It is sad that many in the Church appear to have lost sight of this creaturely reality as well. Owen Barfield’s observation comes to mind: “The obvious is the hardest thing of all to point out to anyone who has genuinely lost sight of it.”
Sexual Identity as Internal Psychology
What happens if we disconnect the definition of maleness and femaleness from the heterosexual embodiment of our created state? What happens if we decide that maleness and femaleness can be decided by inner states of mind and feelings? The door is opened to a revolution in gender identity perceptions that is now surging in full strength in our contemporary culture. Western societies have increasingly decided to preference the inner feeling states of the person over their physical sexual embodiment as the key definer of gender.
The phenomenon of gender dysphoria has become a key issue in this current revisioning of gender identity. A small percentage of people have a genuine dissonance between their mind and their sexual body, just as a small percentage of people have disorders of their sexual development (inter-sex). We can sympathize with how difficult this must be for the person with a deep inner conflict between their sexual body and their mind’s perception.
There is an ideology of transgenderism pushing our society to disconnect gendered identity from physical sexual embodiment. This transgender ideology has gone way past genuine cases of gender dysphoria and has become a social phenomenon, recasting human identity. The numbers of young people now reporting confusion about their gender identity is much larger than the usual rates of gender dysphoria. A new idea of human sexuality is spreading contagiously and with active promotion.
If our bodies do not tell us who we really are, but our mind does, then it is very possible that a person can somehow be born into the wrong body. In a short cultural timeframe we now find that defining a ‘woman’ and a ‘man’ has become problematic for many. Once the definition of being a male and being a female was untethered from biological sexual complementarity and sexual physiological embodiment, the foundations for a transgendered identity were set in place.
Endorsing Same-sex Unions and the Body/Mind Split
This new understanding of gender and self-hood did not come from nowhere, although it seems to have burst forth fully grown. This new self-concept has been long in gestation within the West. Carl Trueman has chronicled the history of how this view of personhood has emerged.
“Expressive individualism” is the new self. The true self now is regarded as the inner thinking and feeling self. With expressive individualism as the reigning concept of the self in the West, it is not surprising that the same-sex movement succeeded. The obvious corollary involved in endorsing same-sex unions has been missed by most observers. It entailed a split in sexual embodiment and the mind or feeling self. When it was accepted as good, normal, and acceptable for a person to act sexually contrary to the design of their body, even being considered as marriage, the new self was institutionalized in law. Marriage was no longer earthed in sexual complementarity ordered for reproduction. It was now about romance and relationship. The embodied self was sidelined by the feeling, thinking self.
Before the Commonwealth Parliament voted on the bill to change the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples, I made a personal submission in which I warned the legislators that it would open the door to a wider confusion about gender and sexuality. This has now come to pass.
Thus, we face a social imaginary in which the real self is fundamentally separate from the material body. For example, recently the Senior Medical Officer of the Commonwealth would not define in public what is a woman and took the question on notice, later submitting a long, qualified answer that include the transgender concept of sexuality. In one area of life after another, from sport to relationships, there is a new blurring of the embodied sexual binary.
Sexual identity is now a personal choice, and the options are multiplying. We now speak of ‘pregnant people’ and ‘woman can have penises’, ‘men can have babies’. Young teenagers in school are asking themselves: ‘am I really a boy inside? Was I born in the wrong body?’ What if I am really a girl, though I have the body of a boy? I understand from local school chaplains that there is a real phenomenon of gender uncertainty among many school children.
This transgender phenomenon is increasing as more young people identify as a gender different to their sexual body. Responsible adults, including the church, are no help. They have capitulated to the new ideology or are promoting it themselves. Now this new view of the self is set to be blessed in our Church.
An Old heresy in a New Guise
This new ideology of gender fluidity carries a much bigger theological and spiritual problem than the application of the Bible, or understanding marriage, sexuality, or gender. Hidden in the current revisionist approach to sexuality and marriage is a view of human nature that is deeply problematic for society and for the Church.
Implicit in this new approach to sexuality and gender is a false view of human nature. It is the re-emergence, from a different direction (expressive individualism combined with the sexual revolution), of the old Gnostic heresy of body/mind dualism. Robert Jenson noted its perennial re-emergence of this body/mind split:
“The gnostic temptation, to see persons as of one order and bodies as another, is constant in human history and by no accident afflicts especially our sexual lives. For sexuality is the point where God has made our persons and our bodies one.”
In this new version of the Gnostic heresy, the true self is the inner feeling and thinking mind, and the body is a secondary and essentially irrelevant indicator of identity. It is easy to see the evidence of this shift away from the body to the inner self. If someone is confused by their feelings, any counselling to help them think differently is censured even outlawed, while radical surgery and chemical interventions to alter the body are endorsed and promoted. This shows where the true self is thought to be located.
This is a profound philosophical shift about the nature of human identity, with deep historical roots but accelerating in cultural takeover. It is an essentially gnostic view of how the mind and body should be related.
I am not aware that our Church has abandoned the Biblical and traditional theology of the human being as a union of body and soul, an embodied self. E.L. Mascall summed up the theological understanding of human nature:
“Christian theology has consistently maintained that a human being is not a pure spirit, temporarily enclosed in a physical structure with which he has no real affinity, but is a psychophysical unity of an extremely complicated and mysterious type, and that on the physical side of his twofold nature he is organically integrated with the world of matter and in particular with that part of it which is the concern of biological science, including molecular biology and genetics”.
Jesus said about marriage: what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mt. 19:6). This saying could apply also to the nature of our humanity as embodied selves. God has joined our bodies and souls (minds) together. Our bodies, as well as our minds, tells us who we are.
Each person is a composite of body and mind. We have a twofold nature that is a “psychophysical unity” of a mysterious type. (Mascall). We are not souls inhabiting a body. We are a hypostatic union of body and soul (mind). When the sexual body of the person is sidelined for the thinking, feeling self, the unity of the person as an embodied self is split.
There is no doubt that the Biblical concept of humanity as created in God’s image is clear on the fact that “their creation as male and female is not secondary to their humanity; it is essential to their nature and vocation as human beings”, notes John Kleinig. “We Christians cannot separate the sexual mind from the sexual body, nor can we separate our gender identity from the actual sexual construction of our bodies.” Our bodies have a sexual design that defines our identity physically. The male sexual body and its functions are for the female and the female for the male. “A Christian ethic respects the teleology of nature and the body.”
The Incarnation and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ reinforce the nature of our humanity as body-mind/soul unities. Christ came in the flesh to redeem our human natures. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead in Christ also reinforces this abiding identity that God has given us as embodied selves. We will not leave our bodies behind in the new creation.
The biblical view of human beings is based on a created essentialism which is directly opposed to the current trend of extreme gender nominalism. “Grace co-operates with nature and builds upon it; the Church’s task is to sanctify the natural order, not to repudiate it.” On this issue, it is the secular culture that has become more ‘spiritual’ (ethereal, ungrounded) than the Church. The body has become separated from the person. There are inner conflicts, certainly, but the mind does not overthrow objective embodied reality. In the quest of personal identity and fulfilment we are not free to ignore or dismiss our given, embodied nature.
The cultural shift in the West towards the expressive individual self has contributed to the acceptance and endorsement of the body-mind split inherent in same-sex sexual activity. Once same-sex relationships were officially accepted, it was inevitable that the transgender moment would follow. You could say that according to the progressive viewpoint, we are all transgender now. Gender is fluid and has been untethered from our bodies.
What faces us now is more than an error about sexuality and marriage; it is a philosophical and theological error about what constitutes a human being. If each age has its favourite heresy (false ideology), then our own era is making a mistake currently about the nature of human nature. There is a new Gnosticism in the ascendant.
Our task as a Church is to confront the confusions of our culture about human nature, not to bring confusion into the Church and thus join the confusion of the world. We need to speak to our culture from a coherent and wholistic vision of human nature and flourishing.
For Biblical, theological, philosophical, pastoral, and missional reasons, it is crucial that our Church not cross this Rubicon of baptising this new body/mind dualism by endorsing same-sex unions, and the other confusions that come along with it. Gender fluidity is built on a bad theology of human nature and identity.
Bad theology will lead to bad pastoral effects, beginning with sexual and gender confusion but not likely ending there. It will compel church members and clergy who disagree with the new Gnosticism to argue against its corrupting influence within our Church. It will strain church unity. It will gain some popularity with the world that endorses the expressive individualism of the inner self, but we will not be able to lead people back to wholeness of body and soul.
“The obvious is the hardest thing of all to point out to anyone who has genuinely lost sight of it” observed Owen Barfield. Let us therefore call attention to the most obvious thing of all about our human identity: our specific embodied selves as created by God. Let us invite people back to earth and reality. The path to truth about life cannot be found elsewhere. We must be able to care for people who struggle with their sense of identity by pointing them to the truth about human nature and the healing grace of God.
Ralph G. Bowles is Priest-in-charge at Nambour Anglican Parish on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland.
 Address by The Most Reverend Dr Phillip Aspinall AC Archbishop of Brisbane to the Second Session of the 80th Synod of the Diocese of Brisbane, Saturday 25th June 2022, (pp.24-25).
 This group has also been called ‘Intersex’.
 I am aware of the revisionist interpretations that Paul was censuring pederastic relationships and other ways of viewing his words, but they fail to deal with the most obvious problem of this activity – the wrong use of our bodies sexually.
 There is of course no homosexual body. We are all heterosexually embodied, with the exceptions noted above.
 The Book of Common Prayer and later Anglican Marriage Services such as the First Form AAPB (1977) correctly list the first purpose of marriage as “the procreation of children and that they might be brought up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord . . .”. An Australian Prayer Book, A Service for Marriage, First Form, (A.I.O. Press, 1978), 548.
 John W. Kleinig, Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body, (Lexham Press, WA, 2021), 182.
 Leon Kass, “Man and Woman: An Old Story”, First Things, November 1991.
 This is part of the shift to a new sexual morality which assumes that sexual acts do not relate to an intrinsic natural order but are the vehicles for subjective self-identity, as long as free consent is involved.
 Owen Barfield, Worlds Apart, (1963).
 There are other forms of body-mind dysphoria, but our society presently regards gender dysphoria as an identity issue, and people tend to respond differently to those whose inner conflict focusses on their weight or other issues.
 “It is no secret that there has been a staggering increase in gender dysphoria among young people (especially girls) that has experts questioning the role of social media in what appears to be, at least in part, a social fad. . . This is borne out by a study conducted by the Gender Service at Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney (accessed at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/26344041211010777).
The study’s authors conclude that ‘the children and families who came to the clinic had clear, preformed expectations: most often, children and families wanted a diagnosis of gender dysphoria to be provided or confirmed, together with referral to endocrinology services to pursue medical treatment of gender dysphoria … It was our impression that these expectations had been shaped by the dominant socio-political discourse’. Harriet Connor, Should parents object to school rainbow days, www.spectator.com.au 2022.
 See Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2020) and its shorter version, Strange New World (Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois, 2022).
 Robert W. Jenson, Song of Songs, Interpretation (Louisville,: John Knox Press), 62.
 E.L. Mascall, Whatever Happened to the Human Mind?, (London, SPCK, 1980), 133.
 A hypostatic being is the specific nature of that being. In this case, our human hypostasis is our specific bodily, psychological and spiritual identity. While men and women share a general human nature, we are specifically (hypostatically) either male or female as embodied selves.
 John W. Kleinig, Wonderfully Made: A Protestant Theology of the Body, (Lexham Press, WA,, 198.
 Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body, (Baker Books, Michigan, 2018), 23.
 Gender essentialism asserts that there are real physical givens in our biological sexuality that tell us who we are. Gender nominalism denies these givens and asserts that the person can choose their sexual gender apart from their biology.
 E.L. Mascall, 143.
Retirement, when I can’t keep doing as much
- Written by: Peter Brain
Having recently celebrated my 75th birthday means I have been retired from full-time ministry for five years. When I retired from Armidale in 2012 I joked, ‘rooster today, feather duster tomorrow’! Thankfully, someone said to me, ‘Peter, don’t forget that feather dusters are still useful!’ I value that comment because I have not found retirement an easy gig, even though it has been very fulfilling. I have had to work hard at reminding myself of truths which I have always believed – truths such as my worth not in being a pastor but as one justified by faith and adopted by God, and of the priesthood and ministry of all believers. I am also thankful to God for the example of many older believers and must be content, like them, to take a back seat and look for opportunities to minister in different ways. Retiring from stipendiary ministry does not mean retiring from ministry.
It is actually a great relief not to have all the institutional and local-church leadership responsibilities. Locum stints have reminded me of this, as I have once again felt the great pressures upon those who are serving as Rectors and Vicars. I have a growing appreciation of the demands of local-church pastoring, especially during the pandemic.
I have resolved not to fall into that most debilitating sin of being a grumpy old minister, which Hebrews 12:15 calls ‘bitterness’. The antidote that I am learning to employ is thankfulness to God for what I can do rather than moaning about what I can no longer do, for the younger pastors under whose ministry I am privileged to sit and the people in the congregations who are there because of God’s sovereign work of grace in them as in me.
Hebrews’ exhortation in 10:24-25 has reminded me that church is not about me – I am to intentionally consider how to help others to love and good deeds. It is a team game, where we run and train together, professing Christ (10:23) by turning up every week to spur each other on. Could we ever imagine Pat Cummins going fishing or water skiing when a Test is on?
We are conscripts in Christ’s service. Where did the (mistaken) concept of believers being volunteers come from? I do know that it is the source of much discouragement to local church pastors and leaders, and a danger to those who have fallen into its seductive arms. The alternative? To recognise that the greatest gift we can give our brothers and sisters in Christ is to turn up every week (planning trips away or catch-ups with friends mid-week rather than on Sundays), with an expectant and considerate heart.
Healthy congregations cannot be built on faithful preaching alone but on the backs of disciples who encourage each other with thoughtful words (Ephesians 4:29) and selfless actions (Galatians 5:13).
Many retired people have been a great blessing to me. One was Jean, whom I met in Wee Waa as she and the music team were tuning up. ‘Bishop,’ she asked, ‘what do you think of all these new tunes to the old hymns?’ I replied, ‘Jean, there are many young people around the Diocese who are singing these old hymns because of the new tunes.’ I was much encouraged when she replied, ‘Well that’s good enough for me!’
She gave up her ‘druthers’ because she was glad younger believers were benefitting from those older hymns. The second was Billy, who moved into an Armidale nursing home to be with his wife. The icing on the cake of that selflessness was his asking me to buy $100 worth of gospels and tracts so he could share Christ with the old people! I want to be like them. Retirement means I now need to consciously look for these opportunities, but they are there. Retirement gives me more time to pray for these opportunities to share, and for the people God has led me to.
I am learning to know my limits (the heart is willing but the boy is weak – oops I just noticed the typo – the body and the boy are weak) and I need to examine my motives. Mind you, if I had waited for my motives to be faultless in ministry I probably would not have done anything! So I tell Satan to get lost, whilst asking our Lord for forgiveness and grace (Hebrews 4:14-16 is so realistically encouraging). Selfcare is vital so we can work and pray well until He takes us home. The line from Morning Prayer, ‘whose service is perfect freedom’, has been on my heart for 55 years; I thank God for it and for those who have exemplified its truth to me.
W H Griffith-Thomas’s words remain true.
What I have, He claims;
What He claims, I yield;
What I yield, He takes;
What He takes, He fills;
What he fills, He uses;
What he uses, He keeps;
What he keeps, He satisfies.
Bishop Peter Brain is the former Bishop Of Armidale who these days has a great ministry as a locum. He is married to Christine and they have four adult children and multiple grandchildren. Peter published Going the Distance in 2004. Somewhat appropriately the sub title is ‘How to stay fit for a lifetime of service'.
- Written by: Stephen Hale
Stephen Hale and Greg Hammond OAM
Moving into a new phase of life has been challenging for those of us who are recently retired from working for one organisation full time. Whatever we had planned or anticipated has been changed or put on hold by unforeseen circumstances or, more recently, thrown into chaos by the pandemic. It has been both an interesting and yet frustrating time.
In the early phase of retirement, the following is a random selection of observations.
1. Be open to God's leading
In this new season of one's life (even in the midst of the pandemic) it is critical to be open to God's leading and to being a part of what he would have one do. It is tempting to want to have a plan about the future before retirement occurs, but "letting go" is important and often requires time to reflect, listen and discern how you can best use your God-given gifts in fruitful ways.
When you have spent all or most of your career working for one organisation, it can be hard to think outside the lens or prism of that organisation. Shortly before "early retirement", I received some good advice – trust God and let go of the future, so you can think about it through a new lens, not the old lens of your first career (Greg).
This has always been tricky, but particularly so in the last two years for those entering this new phase of life, as lots of things have been on hold. Strengthening one's prayer and personal devotion is key to reflecting, listening and discerning.
2. A change in identity
Most of us get part (frequently a large part) of our sense of identity from our work and the offices or roles we occupy. It has been hard to get used to the idea that you no longer have a seemingly key role, place, influence or profile.
I think I'm still sorting this through and that includes moving in and out of locum roles (Stephen). In grappling with this issue, I have found Brian Rosner's work on being made in the image of God, being known by God and being in Christ as the Biblical keys to personal identity particularly helpful (Greg).1
3. Flying solo
One area we both find the hardest is working from home and having to do most stuff for oneself. We both miss the workplace and connecting with people, the informal chats over tea or coffee and the asking of questions of colleagues which can open up new solutions to problems. Juggling multiple involvements with no back up has been a challenge.
During the many lockdowns I lined up walks with different people most days in order to attend to my need to connect and be with others (Stephen). Before, during and after lockdown, I have needed to purposefully arrange time to meet with others for conversation and mutual encouragement (Greg).
4. Consider volunteering
It is unlikely in this new phase of life, that you will need to have a full-time paid role, not that a labourer should not be rewarded for their work. There are many charities and other "for purpose" organisations that rely on volunteers to make the vital difference in the delivery of services.
Even if you do not "get outside the church bubble" as suggested below, consider giving some of your time to a local charity or other "for purpose" organisation. For example, could you volunteer in an aged care residential home to enhance the lives of residents through a skill you have, or simply spend time talking to residents to help relieve the scourge of loneliness.
5. Exercise more
During lockdowns there wasn't much else one could do, but it did have its rewards and is a key thing to build into one's life when it's not as dominated by paid work. It builds resilience and guards against the creep of inertia! (Stephen)
In working from home, and using public transport less (especially since the pandemic began), I have found myself walking less and missing the quiet thinking time that came with short walks to the rail station, between meetings etc. It is important to not only find time for exercise, but also find new ways to quietly think about the challenges of the day or week.
6. Keep reading and engaging
Coaching or mentoring younger leaders and professionals is a great way of keeping in the loop as well as listening to the many podcasts that are out there. They'll help you know which books to consider reading and you'll at least be aware of the ones that are out there.
7. Re-establish old friendships
Most of us have long term friends who we may not have kept up regular contact with due to demands of work and family. Reach out and reconnect. Chances are they were thinking the same thing!
8. Get outside the church bubble
This was important for me (Stephen) and something I've wanted to do for years. I'm volunteering with an organisation that cooks meals for those in need using food that would otherwise be thrown out. The level of professionalism and sheer hard work is amazing.
9. Be more available for your family
With more flexibility there is more of a chance to be a part of your parents' and children's lives and (if you have them) especially the grandchildren. If one isn't tied down every weekday or every weekend this is quite a new thing!
10. Learn to relax
It may seem strange, but it has taken a bit of getting used to having the occasional afternoon or day when you have nothing more to do than clear a few emails! Learn to relax and enjoy these moments. I still find this difficult at times (Greg).
Greg Hammond is a former partner of King & Wood Mallesons and since "early retirement" has served on the boards of several not-for-profit organisations - a second career. Among other roles, he is Chair of Anglican Community Services (t/as Anglicare Sydney) and a director of the Australian College of Theology, G&C Mutual Bank and Opportunity International Australia.
Stephen Hale is the former Lead Minister of the St Hilary's Network and a Regional Bishop in the Diocese of Melbourne. Stephen is the Victorian Director of Overseas Council Australia and Chair of EFAC Global and EFAC Australia. He doesn't really think he is retired as such, he's just not working for an organisation full time
1. Brian Rosner, Known By God: A Biblical Theology of Personal Identity (Zondervan 2018).
- Written by: Paul Arnott
Our 21st century world values youth above all else. It lauds the merits of the young in a myriad of ways. Just watch the ads on TV tonight. Youth is good and to be desired. Old age, not so much. In fact, not at all. Old age is seen as bad. In our ageist society older people are often portrayed as doddery, frail, and not really with it. Growing older is feared. It's seen as a time of decrepitude. Even those of us who seek to follow Christ can be seduced into seeing ageing as bad. Why was I so pleased when someone told me after I preached recently that I looked 61 not 71? Because I don't like the thought of growing older. To some degree I've imbibed the spirit of the age. I fear losing control, although if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it's that much of life is beyond our control.
Robert Banks reminds us that ageing is normal. The ageing process, being biologically determined, is part of God's providence and is to be accepted with grace.1 However, that's easier said than done when the world constantly tells us that growing old is bad. And we observe firsthand, the effects of ageing on people we love. Ultimately, we have a choice to accept growing older, with all that process may bring or to live in denial. T.S. Eliot famously wrote in his poem, The Wasteland, that human beings cannot bear too much reality.2 The preacher in Ecclesiastes provides "a beautiful and poetic description of progressive fading and failing in each of the several faculties of the body. It is a picture of sad and ineluctable deterioration and decay."3
Death and Disease in the Fourth Quarter
- Written by: Moyra Dale
Here in hospital, nurses taking observations mark the passing of the hours: they issue medicines, meal trays are brought and removed: pigeons flutter outside the window.
Disease and death, if they haven’t visited us earlier, come calling on all of us in the fourth quarter of our lives. For me it came earlier than I’d been anticipating.
At fifty-seven years, a non-smoker, my prolonged cough was diagnosed as Stage 4 lung cancer, with probably just months to live. My oncologist suggested that with new targeted therapy I could see two years. Nearly six years on, I’m surprised to find myself still alive, albeit with reduced health and energy. Tumours which have grown in my bones, brain and liver, as well as the base growth in my lungs, have been contained or removed by different forms of treatment (targeted chemotherapy, radiotherapy, brain surgery, immunotherapy). As one treatment stops working, my doctors offer another one – until they run out. Diagnosis came at a time when career and work opportunities were expanding. A masters intensive I was to be teaching in the USA had to be cancelled, together with my part in a major international conference. I’d just accepted the role of leading an annual six-week international intensive course, and had to let that go, with other plans for wider travel and work. There wasn’t much time to grieve – I was focused on the prospect of imminent death and preparing for that with my family.