My grandmother was one of the strongest people I ever knew. Growing up, we were almost inseparable. Right before she died, she clenched my hand as I sat with her—and it reminded me of what the Bible says about the glory of growing old:
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. (Isa. 46:4)
It’s tempting in our technologically rich society to treat old age as a burden and nuisance rather than something to be embraced. Many of us dread going gray and not being able to do the things we did when we were younger. We seek to mask or overcome old age with anti-aging remedies and revolutionary medical breakthroughs. Yet as Proverbs 20:29 tells us, “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.”
God casts a rich vision for growing old—one Christians should champion in a world that fears, fights, and attempts to hide aging.
Generation after generation has sought to overcome aging with elixirs, medicine, and even by chasing the “fountain of youth.” In contemporary times we chase this elusive “fountain of youth” as we clamor to develop anti-aging solutions and to transcend, with technology, humanity’s natural limits.
Tech titans such as Larry Ellison, Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, as well as prominent futurists such as Yuval Noah Harari, are fascinated with these types of life-extending technologies, which in many ways perpetuate the transhumanist goals of upgrading humanity. Utopian dreams of overcoming aging and death have captured the attention of many, who believe old age is something to be avoided at all costs rather than humbly embraced.
Entire segments of medical technology research focus on anti-aging drugs and treatments. Biotech company resTORbio has been conducting clinical trials of a drug called RTB101, which seeks to slow the age-related decline of the immune system. While the drug has successfully extended the lifespan of yeast, worms, and mice, it remains unclear if it will work on humans. The drug’s ultimate goal is to prolong our lives by keeping us healthier for longer.
Others deny that living a long life is worth it. Medical ethicist Ezekiel Emmanuel, who served as a chief architect of Obamacare, argues that life after 75 isn’t worth living, because you become more of a drain on society’s resources. He famously promised to refuse all heroic medical interventions, vaccinations, and antibiotics after the age of 75. Without an active and engaged contribution to society, our lives just aren’t worth living. True and fulfilling life, in his disturbingly arbitrary view, ends at 75 years.
But as dystopian as that idea may sound, the underlying utilitarian premise is widespread: your worth is based on what you can contribute. This worldview––increasingly pervasive in our technological society—is one Christians should completely reject.
A utilitarian basis for the value of human life runs contrary to the vision of dignity found in Scripture—which situates our value on the fact that we are made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27). This means that even if you have nothing to offer society, you are still infinitely valuable, because God crafted you in his image. He alone determines your value and your days.
A utilitarian basis for the value of human life runs contrary to the vision of dignity found in Scripture.
Even Christians can subtly buy into these utilitarian ideas. Too often we clamor for the same life-extending medical treatments and treat older people as burdens to be managed rather than image-bearers to be cherished. We downplay the elderly’s God-given talents and contributions to church life by preferring to highlight the gifts and preferences of the young. We over-prize youth by elevating untested leaders to prominent positions of authority, rather than seasoned leaders who have been tested and refined (1 Tim. 3:6; 5:22).
But Christians shouldn’t follow the world’s pathetically low view of aging. For Scripture calls us to a radically higher view instead (Lev. 19:32; Ps. 71:18).
Pursuing restorative uses of technology, such as artificial organs and limbs, can be a good thing—a way we promote the sanctity of life in a world ravaged by sin. Medical technologies that fight the effects of aging can express God’s common grace if they are developed and deployed in ways consistent with the biblical paradigm that all life is valuable and ultimately points back to our Creator. But as many evangelical leaders recently proclaimed in a statement of principles on artificial intelligence, we must emphatically deny “that death and disease—effects of the fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ.”
If we live as if this life is all there is, we will naturally seek to extend it as long as possible. And if we live as if the value of human life is determined by contributions or strength, then we will seek to end it when their perceived worth to others is gone. But if we instead let Scripture guide life, we will see that old age is not something to avoid but rather to embrace, for to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21).
And what is the gain? It’s better than any utopian, transhumanist dream. We will forever enjoy the One who created us and who himself determines our value and dignity.