Justice for Aging Parents

The featured image in this post is my grandmother, Jean Ratcliffe.

My mother and father were excellent children. I say “were,” not because they’re no longer alive, but because their parents (the only people in relation to whom they were “children”) have gone to be with the Lord. Mom and Dad honored their parents, and when my grandparents breathed their last, they did so with honor, dignity, and love; for, they were honored, dignified, and loved by my parents. 

My paternal grandfather and maternal grandmother were both diagnosed with dementia/Alzheimer’s when they were in their sixties. My father and his brothers faithfully cared for Papaw as his condition worsened. Dad nourished Papaw’s heart with his presence and loyalty, and he nourished his body with care and strength, as only someone with my Dad’s physical strength could, lifting him, moving him, etc. Until his death, Papaw was well cared for. 

Mamaw endured Alzheimer’s for well over a decade. During that time, she was cared for by my maternal grandfather at home, and eventually at a local nursing home. During the nearly ten years Mamaw spent at the nursing home, Mom spent an average of three or four hours a day, seven days a week with her. She was a respectful, royal pain to the nursing home staff; she refused to tolerate inadequate care. She ensured Mamaw had everything she needed and was treated with the proper dignity, respect, and gentleness. A few years before Mamaw’s passing, my maternal grandfather joined her at the nursing home. He passed a couple years before she did, but he received the same care from Mom and Dad. 

My parents are exceptional examples, but they shouldn’t be. Within the Church, Abraham’s family, the new humanity, my parents’ diligence should be par for the course. Pure and undefiled religion, as James teaches us, is to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (1:27). The Lord’s eyes are upon the weak and helpless: “For you have been a stronghold to the poor, a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall…. (Isaiah 25:4)

The presence of the Kingdom of God means the blessing of God’s justice in our families. Torah required justice in the way I’ve described by requiring children to honor their parents. But as they did in so many areas, Israel failed (Jesus rebuked disobedient Pharisees for neglecting their parents in Mark 7:11). Now that the Kingdom has come, however, new creation has been launched; the Spirit has been given; Abraham’s children (those who are in Christ by faith) can fulfill the law (including the fifth commandment) by walking in the Spirit (Romans 8:4). 
I once heard Michael Horton say that Christianity is primarily about creeds, not deeds – that the Gospel is for the man on his deathbed. This sort of thing cuts Kingdom work off at the knees. In fact, the Gospel is the announcement that Jesus is King; he bore the curse of the law, was raised from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of God.

Proclaiming this message is a summons to allegiance and obedience to King Jesus. This obedience results in blessing, and the blessings of obedience pile up to produce the kind of thing we see in Isaiah: the nations streaming into the Church, lions lying with lambs, people living to a ripe old age, etc. The Gospel is for deeds founded on creeds – for dying, but for death by living. New Creation has been launched in Jesus’s resurrection. Therefore, the sort of care my parents gave their parents should be commonplace in the Church. 

So, if you enjoy the blessing of living parents, honor and care for them while you still can. If you love your parents the way Scripture requires you to, if you give yourself in their service as they grow weak, your commendation will be from God, but the world will marvel, saying: what people is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law? (Deuteronomy 4:8) Be imitators of Larry and Jo-Ann Cavett, as they are imitators of Christ. 

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