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Caring for the Aged – A Christian Theology

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Caring for the Aged – A Christian Theology

One of the things I discuss frequently is the topic of Sphere Sovereignty. God has ordained various spheres of authority in society, and given duties, responsibilities and authority to each. These spheres, ordained by God, are forms of governance on the earth, to provide for the needs of people and to maintain cultural stability.

Several of these spheres are: The individual, the family, the church, the corporation and the civil magistrate. Each one has its own domain, and should not endeavor to do the work of the other spheres. It is when we cross these important lines and neglect the faithful attendance to duty in one sphere, expecting a different sphere to cover for us, or when a sphere is encroached by force, that deterioration of the proper moral framework and order ensues.

As Cornelius Van Til said, “The Bible is authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything.”

Increasingly, many people, especially in the West, are becoming lazy and expecting the civil magistrate to handle the duties of every sphere. This leads ultimately to poverty and tyranny. One such sphere that has been abdicated to the civil government is health care, including the care of the aged. Charity (including healthcare, education, welfare, housing, etc.), Biblically speaking, is never the mandate of the civil magistrate. They are to bear the sword, to punish evildoers and protect the citizens (see: Romans 12 and 1 Peter 2).

Instead, the role of caring for the aged, in Christian theology is placed first with the individual and the family.

“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show godliness to their own household and to make some return to their parents, for this is pleasing in the sight of God.” (1 Timothy 5:4)

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

1 Timothy 5 explains that the church will take up responsibility for “widows indeed” (women who meet very narrow and specific criteria), but except for those rare exceptions, the individual and the family are commanded to fulfill this duty.

How Do We Care for the Aged and Dying?

We are so far from the original order of things, that it feels like we are moving to another planet when we endeavor to take on responsibility for our lives that nearly everyone assumed just a few short generations ago.

While I am not currently caring for an elderly parent in my home (thankfully my maternal grandparents are still alive but are both able to live together in their own residence!), I found a great book on this topic that I think will be helpful for anyone who is either in this process, or believes they will be in the future (that’s most of us).

Life Lessons from My PapaLife Lessons from My “Papa”: A Daughter’s Journey Caring for Her Elderly Father, by Elizabeth Hugo, is a personal look into the life of a primary caregiver. She tells the blessings and challenges she faced while caring for her 92-yr-old father who was blind, diabetic and suffered from dementia.

Elizabeth writes this book through the lenses of her Christian faith, and offers rare insights into a topic that unfortunately, is too often ignored within our Christian circles.

One of the benefits of the book is that the author doesn’t give platitudes from a distance, but instead wrote her book while she was walking through the process of caring for her Papa. Because she chronicled her journey, as it was occurring, she was able to offer fresh and raw insights into this topic that may have been otherwise forgotten, or polished by the process of time.

Additionally, her book includes insights and lessons learned by other family members (Elizabeth’s husband, adult children and teenagers). Some chapters include:

  • It’s Okay to Ask for Help
  • Don’t Worry about Tomorrow
  • Learning to Trust
  • He is our Healer
  • Depression
  • Rest and Respite
  • Living in the Moment
  • Caring for Yourself
  • Solitary Confinement
  • …and much more!

There is much to be learned and gained from those who have been through a process where we are headed, and this book is a great part of a conversation that needs to be had within our Christian community. I encourage you to pick up a copy at www.ElizabethHugo.com

Israel Wayne is an Author and Conference Speaker. He is the Director of Family Renewal, LLC and the Site Editor for www.ChristianWorldview.net.

 

4 Responses to “Caring for the Aged – A Christian Theology”

  1. We are honored that you would recommend my book. Truly, caring for my papa was one of the most “spiritual”, meaningful ministries my family has ever been a part of, and we have been involved in ministry for 35 years. It provided a platform to see Jesus in a way we had never seen Him before and to experience His grace and love which we so desperately needed in order to provide that same grace and love to my papa. It transformed my family individually and corporately. Thank you so much, and we pray more families will engage in the privilege and responsibility of caring for the elderly in their homes.

  2. Lori says:

    I struggle with this. My mother did not raise me. She is also a very mean alcoholic. She tells me quite often how she wishes she would have aborted me, calls me terrible names, ect… I am an only child. I honestly do not know what God expects out of me when if comes to her future care. She is 65 and drinks into a drunken stupor daily.

  3. Kimberly says:

    This is a hard one, Israel. In theory I agree with you, but it’s not always so easy. The safety of the children and mental health of the caregiver are more important than holding to traditions.

    My father in law passed away a few weeks ago. I had no part in caring for him. I kept my kids far away for our safety. He had alzheimers, and as a result the last time we were there he threw me into a wall and took a swing at my older daughter (I took the punch on my own body instead). My husband always believed in caring for the elderly at home but eventually he decided he didn’t want me to divorce him over it, so his dad went into care.

    He actually was forced to leave a few nursing homes, having beaten up nurses and even doctors. I’m glad I didn’t stick around longer to be his punching bag, or to allow him to hit my kids. As I told my husband, if he had me caring for him in that situation, he probably would have come home to crime scene tape eventually if dear old dad ever succeeded in striking my kids. He didn’t know who we were and he was convinced we had kidnapped him, so he was fighting us with all he had.

    My own mom didn’t make the same choice. My grandfather had alzheimers, and didn’t remember anything. The kind man he apparently was before he got sick was gone. I say apparently because I have no memory of him other than the sick man who molested me, who hit me, who swore at us kids and my mom, who got me evicted from my bedroom (grandpa needed it, not a struggling teen girl dealing with the shame of being molested and being told to not say such awful things about my grandfather). Just because someone “can’t help it” doesn’t make the consequences any less painful for those dealing with it.

    Before becoming a Christian, I was an active protester in favor of euthanasia. That’s the fruit caring for the elderly bore in my life. I have panic attacks anywhere near nursing homes or dementia patients.

    There is nothing sinful about getting someone professional care. However there is something disgusting and grotesquely sinful about putting a wife and children into harm’s way just to act out someone’s interpretation of honoring your parents. To honor my father in law, we didn’t let the kids ever see him after he got bad, so they’d never have an awful memory of him, other than my oldest seeing him hit me when he was swinging for her.

    Not every elderly person is Grandma and Grandpa from the Waltons, sadly.

  4. Ian says:

    I think maybe your analysis of the situation ignores social and economic factors. We live (by “we,” I mean the 21st century US society) in a fast paced, hypercompetitive post-Industrial capitalist society.

    How *can* most people take care of the aged when economic conditions now mandate 50+ hours of work per week just to maintain a “respectable” lifestyle?

    Also, people routinely live longer now than they did back in the old days (even up to recently, really). The aged present now with complicated problems that often require at least some medical management. The way capitalism works, once you’re no longer any good to the economy, you’re invisible. That goes for the “under-class,” that goes for the elderly, that goes for women who choose family stuff over working.

    No doubt, nursing homes are dreadful places. I hope I never have to put my parents in one. However, I don’t think its fair to call people “lazy” because they don’t/can’t/won’t take care of their ailing parents. A lot of the functions that used to be done in the home are now taken care of by other institutions. We’re even being encouraged to hand over spiritual problems to “experts,” both state-funded and private, for “help” and “counseling.” This even happens within the church.

    Blah blah blah…I guess I’m just saying that you’ve ignored a lot of big forces that shape our lives, choosing instead to call those who put their aged (and often quite sick and difficult) relatives in the care of “experts” lazy. Not to sound like a Marxist hippy or whatever, but…”The personal is political.” A lot of our seemingly personal choices are rooted in socio-economic conditions that are beyond the control of the individual. As a Christian, I think our best bet would be to advocate for those in institutions (jail, prison, mental hospitals, nursing homes) and try to come up with creative solutions, instead of using Bible verses to condemn people who have limited options (and resources).

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