“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall begin to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting; and from the age of fifty years they shall retire from the duty of the service and serve no more. They may assist their brothers in the tent of meeting in carrying out their duties, but they shall perform no service. Thus you shall do with the Levites in assigning their duties.”
— NUMBERS 8:23-26 (NRSV)
Speaking to the man who led me to the Lord and baptised me after a 22-year period out of contact, the conversation took a different turn when I said, “So, what are you doing ministry-wise these days, Barry?”
“I’m looking after the over 60s – helping them plan for retirement... it takes twenty years to plan for such a transition... some people laugh at me when I tell them they need a twenty-year plan... they soon see the benefit.”
“Everyone who retires needs a theology of retirement.”
What? – A ‘theology of retirement’. What’s that? In determining what that looks like we need firstly to understand the theology of work. Secondly, we also need to know the intrinsic benefit in doing such ‘work’ in planning for retirement. Finally, we need to understand this theology of retirement so we can believe in it.
Theology is beneficial only if we can believe; believe that it’s of God.
A Theology of Work
God obviously needs, and therefore desires, workers. Nothing of God’s will for this world would be done without people working. There are blessings for working and there are curses [without getting hung-up on the word] for not working. We need to work – paid or unpaid. Work is a thing done, always, for the Kingdom.
The Theology of Retirement
God, being fair, faithful and just, does not will it for those struggling to continue struggling when there are others who should do what they are doing.
In Moses’ time, the older men were not only growing weak physically, but they were also weakened spiritually for doing what was becoming younger men’s work.
At 50 they were given tasks more befitting men of older stature – keeping guard, mentoring, assisting, equipping, encouraging, empowering work.
God wants older men and women to be deployed using their experience to help younger men and women – not doing their work for them.
Benefits of Planning
There are numerous benefits in planning. There are the practical issues of the steps we take to ensure we’re ready and well prepared. But there is also the grand lattice of expectations and vision for what is to come that needs our attention.
Nobody is ever disadvantaged for planning. Planning reveals its own blessings.
Why this Theology for Retirement Works
We need to believe that retirement is from God.
Ninety-nine percent of people believe in resting from their work, anyway. But, what if, when we get there, we don’t like what we see? We may doubt God.
God knows we need retirement, but he also knows we need to do our work of preparation in order that we would fulfil our need.
Not planning for retirement is planning to fail in a thing coming to all of us – older age. God ordained retirement and we need to believe it came from him. God wills that everyone will receive the gift of retirement, and so we all need to do the work to prepare for such a blessing from God in order that we fulfil all he has for us in it.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: my sincere gratitude to Pastor Barry Thygesen.