by Paul Tripp
One of the interpretive problems that gets us into trouble in midlife is that our typical cultural categories for organizing human life are woefully inadequate. We tend to organize the full range of human development into only four categories: child (0-12), youth (13-20), adult (21-65), elderly (65+). When you examine these categories it doesn’t take long to uncover their inadequacy. The categories of child, youth, and elderly are relatively brief spans of time, while the category of adult encompasses forty-five years! Consider for a moment the massive differences between a man twenty-one and a man who is sixty-four. Or, let’s narrow the scope. Consider the remarkable difference in maturity between a person who is twenty-two and a person who is thirty-five. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally, economically, and socially these two people are in very different places. To say that a person is an adult is to make an observation of such wide generality that it almost means nothing.
The overgeneralized category of adult tends to ignore the fact that as human beings we are always in some kind of process of change. One of the stark differences between the Creator and the creation is that everything on this side of the line is always in some state of change while God is constant in his unchangeableness. The Bible presents all of life as ever changing. Rulers rise up and are cast down. The grass fades and the flowers wither. People grow and mature. Young men become old men. People spiritually pass from death into life. Generations give way to generations. Fools become wise. All that has been created will be different in some way tomorrow. Anticipating change and committing to change is an essential part of a productive Christian life. But we get caught up short. Parents are continually surprised that their baby has suddenly become a teenager. Sons and daughters seem shocked that mom and dad have suddenly become old. Mom can’t believe that somehow she woke up to a new title, grandmother. We seem unwilling to accept the fact that we can’t do things that we were once capable of doing—a dynamic that keeps emergency rooms busy on the weekends!
We need more robust ways of thinking about human life, growth, and change than broad, age-oriented categories. Although the Bible does think of people in terms of their age, it has much richer ways of locating and understanding human beings. Let me suggest just one.
It’s All about Relationships.
Scripture in a very natural way understands people by locating them in four fundamental relationships. The first and most foundational relationship is my relationship to God. Everything I am and everything I do is shaped by the health and vitality of this relationship. No matter where you are (location), what is going on around you (situation), and how you are responding to it (behavior), the most important way of understanding yourself is to examine your relationship with God. For example, Adam and Eve were quite unified as husband and wife when they consumed the prohibited fruit. But they were in rebellion against God. In the same way, like every other period of life, midlife powerfully exposes the true condition of our relationship with God.
Lost in the Middle