The Gospel’s Remedy for Aging

 

blog - aging 1

(This article was originally posted at TimeofGrace.org)

Cindy Crawford is arguably the most recognizable supermodel in the world. Or was. I’m not exactly sure how “supermodel” status works, but I think it’s lifelong, like SCOTUS. You never actually lose your super-modeling powers.

Anyway, what I do know is that Crawford turns 50 years old next year, which makes her like an antique in modeling years.

In fact, the most buzz surrounding Crawford in recent years was a viral photo leak of a purportedly untouched picture taken during a relatively recent photo shoot (which was later found out to be a hoax). The picture apparently indicated that Crawford had wrinkles, cellulite, stretch marks, and all of the other effects of aging that you would assume any normal human would/should encounter in this life.

But this was important to us as Americans. Seeing a fashion icon as less than perfect was perhaps refreshing to some, probably hurtful to Crawford herself, but strangely appealing to people nonetheless. We’re obsessed with appearances. We’re obsessed with getting old.

This isn’t merely a supermodel issue either. We all have an inner Cindy Crawford that is a little horrified at the thought of others laughing at our deterioration, our faults, our aging.

Maybe none of this should be surprising. After all, the signs of aging are not merely a blow to vanity, but they are subconscious pointers to a more grave reality—my clock is winding down. I will NOT stay here forever; in some respects, not even much longer.

One of the residual effects of the Western world’s paradigm shift from a supernaturalistic to naturalistic worldview is our idolization of “appearances” and our idolization of “the present.” Since, as a society, we believe that the only thing that matters is what we process through our senses and that this life is the only one we have so we’d better make it good (i.e., YOLO!), a higher premium has been placed on the way we look right now. Yes, humans have always liked physical attractiveness throughout history. But, humans haven’t often, for instance, been intentionally starving themselves in order to achieve “beauty” as an identity. Humans haven’t always been injecting proteins to paralyze facial muscles in hopes of avoiding wrinkles. Such behavior would seem to indicate a disproportionate cultural priority, more so than previous generations.

What could cure this?

Well, maybe we could find a Fountain of Youth? Ponce de León went looking for that. No luck. Since then a bunch of aging people have followed him to Florida, but that might be unrelated. The bottom line is that there seems to be no magic pill, magic diet, or magic fountain to address aging.

There have been movements in the past few decades that have promoted the “Big Is Beautiful” or “Wrinkles Are Beautiful” ideas. While these thoughts may be helpful for curbing our vanity, some health experts have cautioned against not taking the health risks of obesity or sun overexposure seriously. I’ve written about this before. Point being, suggesting that appearances don’t matter at all or that our bodies are ours to do with as we please is probably not the healthiest route either.

Last week outspoken presidential candidate Donald Trump was quoted in Rolling Stone as suggesting that fellow Republican candidate Carly Fiorina’s face makes her unelectable. Fiorina responded by suggesting that at 61 years old, she’s proud of every year and every wrinkle. Certainly Fiorina’s physical appearance, whatever you, me, or Trump thinks about it, would seemingly factor little into her ability to govern the nation and you’d like to think wouldn’t factor into her electability.

That said, I’m not sure if “proud of every wrinkle” isn’t a bit of hyperbole. Granted, some might very well be unbothered by wrinkles in contrast to those who obsess over such things. But proud? Again, do wrinkles, to some extent, not suggest that we are dying? Isn’t that something of a sobering realization?

My point is this—the world, experiencing some despair over the aging process, has attempted to address health, age, and impending death in a variety of ways: magic, defiance, pride, et al.

Allow me to propose what I believe is a better remedy though: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

According to the Bible, the reason we wrinkle, decay, age, and ultimately die is because of sin (Romans 6:23). Back in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and were banished from the Garden, including access to the tree of life (see Genesis chapters 2 and 3). At first glance, some might see this merely as God punishing mankind in anger. That, however, would be an incomplete way to understand the situation. Certainly God was disappointed by their disobedience, but a loving God didn’t destroy them, didn’t give up on them, but instead devised a plan to rescue his fallen children (Genesis 3:15).

Consistent with that same love, God didn’t want Adam and Eve or any subsequent children to have to live forever in a world that was less than the paradise he’d intended. Consequently, in love, he allows death. Certainly the process is generally a misery and the uncertainty of the unknown makes us a bit uneasy, but death itself—separation from a sinful world and a sinful nature—is a loving gift from God.

Not only that, but the grace God showed in taking the sting out of death for us is beyond comprehension. In the person of Jesus, God entered into human time and space and skin. He didn’t start out beautiful in this life (Isaiah 53:2), and it only got worse. He died full of ugly wounds and blemishes, scars of love.

Because the one beautiful person in history died for the ugliness of our sin, we who are increasingly accumulating blemishes, both physically and spiritually, will one day share in his glory (Romans 8:17).

And that glory won’t just be a little better. In his great resurrection chapter, the apostle Paul compares our current bodies with the ones to come by saying, “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (1 Corinthians 15:42,43). In other words, whatever our bodies/appearances may be in their current state, no matter how good or bad, they simply do not compare to what we will one day be in our resurrected selves. Paul makes the analogy of an unimpressive seed from a dead plant, which gets placed under the earth and then eventually blooms into beauty and usefulness (1 Corinthians 15:36-38). Similarly, our bodies, when dead and placed in the earth, will be raised to a glory not yet fathomed (1 Corinthians 2:9).

What a tremendous resource! This is the reason Paul was also able to virtually laugh at the problems his mortal body faced, because “though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Paul knew that what we one day will be is so much more beautiful and breathtaking that, by comparison, what we are now is hardly worth fussing too much about.

There is no miracle cream per se. Only the blood of Jesus Christ. This alone is the antidote to aging that makes us forever young and perpetually beautiful . . . that we may share in his glory.

 

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