The honor that children owe to their parents does not end when children become adults or when parents become grandparents. Nor does this honor consist of mere lip service. As Luther explains in the Large Catechism:
We show them such honor also by works, that is, with our body and possessions, that we serve them, help them, and provide for them when they are old, sick, infirm, or poor, and all that not only gladly, but with humility and reverence, as doing it before God. For [the person] who knows how to regard them in his heart will not allow them to suffer want or hunger, but will place them above him[self] and at his side, and will share with them whatever he has and possesses. (LC I, 111)
In the culture of life, one’s first reaction is not to put Grandma in a nursing home, but to open one’s own home—to meet her needs, to share her burdens, and to celebrate the blessings God places in her life (cf. 2 Samuel 9). The “majesty there hidden” does not fade with age; rather, as the proverb teaches us, “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, If it is found in the way of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31 NKJV). True, “[t]he glory of young men is their strength,” but the Scriptures also teach that “the splendor of old men is their gray head” (Proverbs 20:29 NKJV).
Let us not think lightly of the fact that Jacob blessed his children and his children’s children when he was well advanced in years (Genesis 49). Young King Rehoboam, on the other hand, foolishly neglected the sage advice of his elders in favor of the youthful generation’s short-sighted plans (1 Kings 12:6–15).
The culture of life respects human life at all its stages, recognizing that those who have lived long and well have much to offer those who are just beginning their journeys on this earth. Not only should the young respect the aging, but the elderly should also respect themselves with the honor God says is due them. If Grandpa is too weak to work, he is not too weak to pray. Let us cherish our parents and grandparents as they intercede on our behalf and pass down to their children’s children the wisdom of the Lord.
In the face of grave illness, the culture of life acknowledges that God alone determines the length of our days. He granted King Hezekiah 15 additional years (Isaiah 38:5). “My times,” wrote the psalmist, “are in your hand” (Psalm 31:15a). Christ healed the sick, raised the dead, and proclaimed a living Gospel for this world and the next. Thus we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” which Luther expounds as follows:
We pray in this petition … that our Father in heaven would deliver us from every evil of body and soul … and at last, when the hour of death shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven. (SC, Seventh Petition)
To protect our lives until the day that God chooses to be our last, the LORD has given the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not kill.” The culture of life recognizes that “mercy killing,” despite its friendly name, is murder; genuine mercy comforts the soul with Word and Sacrament and cares for the body as best one can. But to kill is to take away what God has given, to injure what God seeks to protect, to cut short what God has measured more abundantly than we can ask or imagine (cf. Ephesians 3:20).
When, however, God has made clear that someone’s death is imminent, then the culture of life teaches an acceptance of His will. The culture of life does not seek to preserve a life that no longer can be preserved but rather to respect both God’s gift of life and God’s timing for death. Life is ours to protect and cherish, but it is God’s to prolong and God’s to end (Deuteronomy 32:39 and Psalm 31:15).
Amid difficult situations, the culture of life remembers that neither the avoidance of suffering for one’s self nor the avoidance of watching a loved one suffer should be the highest priority. Instead, the culture of life discovers comfort in the face of tragedy by recalling the redemptive purpose of Christ’s suffering (Hebrews 13:12). Suffering is real. Suffering is difficult. Even so, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18 NKJV).
In the culture of life, therefore, we “fear and love God, so that we do no bodily harm to our neighbor, but help and befriend him in every need” (SC, Fifth Commandment). This we do for the sick as much as for the healthy, for the weak as much as for the strong, for the old as much as for the young. The culture of life respects the elderly.
Excerpted from The Culture of Life: Ten Essential Principles for Christian Bioethics, which is available at bulk discount rates for use in Bible studies: www.hausvater.org/books. Ryan C. MacPherson, Ph.D., a member of the LFL Speakers Bureau, teaches at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. He also is the founding president of the Hausvater Project (www.hausvater.org).