An Eternal Perspective on the Losses of Aging


Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage

Article ID:



Mar 28, 2024


Mar 20, 2024

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Discovering your first gray hair at age thirty. Watching the baby you once diapered drive off to college. Receiving doctor’s orders for your first colonoscopy. Learning your high school boyfriend has prostate cancer. Being offered the option of early retirement. Noticing your once sharp-witted mother’s cognitive decline. Whether you’re thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, or older, you see the signs — you are aging. Indeed, we are all aging, all the time. Time flies, whether you’re having fun or not, and the losses of aging mount even as new mercies rise with the sun.

How do we engage the inevitable losses aging brings? If we believe this life is all there is, then aging ends in death, and death is the end of the story. But for the Christian, there is a different way of viewing time, an eternal perspective that recognizes we live not on borrowed time but on God’s time. For the believer, God’s time leads to eternal glory. Eternal glory is God’s peaceable kingdom, where wholeness and harmony reign, where worship flows freely from our wonder at God’s beauty, where enjoyment of God and others never ends. When we view the losses of aging with an eternal perspective, we age graciously and wisely.

The Losses of Aging

The losses of aging come at every age and stage, ramping up in the final season of life. We might categorize these losses as relational, existential, and physical. Let’s consider each briefly and then look at what Scripture says about the losses of aging.

Relational Loss. Time’s passing disrupts relationships throughout life — a snuggly toddler becomes a snarling teenager; a first love from high school breaks things off before moving away; a cubicle buddy takes a better job. For those in the final chapter of life, though, relational loss comes steadily and surely, like high tide at the seashore. Neighbors you have known since your children played hide and seek together move away to be closer to family. Your sister shows signs of cognitive decline and within a year rarely remembers your name. Your friend is diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer and is being laid in the dirt less than three months later. We lose friends and family members to downsizing, physical or cognitive decline, and death.

Existential Loss. For many, the passage of time brings existential loss: the loss of identity, the loss of a sense of purpose, and the loss of value in society’s eyes (ageism). The stay-at-home mom whose last child leaves the nest wrestles with the question, “Who am I now that I am not primarily Atashi’s caregiver?” Similarly, a heart surgeon is forced to retire her scalpel after her once-steady hands begin to tremble with age. She may struggle to find her place in a world that no longer reveres her for her life-saving expertise. Others who have once been “busy for the Lord” may find their productivity limited by frailty. They wonder why God no longer allows them to use their God-given gifts for kingdom work. Finally, many older people face ageism, being sidelined because of the birth year listed on their driver’s license.

Physical Loss. To discover the physical losses that come with age, we need only look at ads bombarding us on our screens: we are urged to buy anti-aging serums to prevent wrinkles, hair growth creams to restore lost strands, and medicines to treat the numerous diseases of aging. Everyone tells you that the day you turn forty you will need reading glasses, and by the time you are eighty, your night vision may decline, leaving you unable to drive at night. When we look at what Scripture tells us about aging, we find even more physical losses.

The Bible and the Losses of Aging

As we turn to Scripture to see what it reveals about the losses of aging, we find it to be frank, sometimes brutally so, about these losses. I will examine several passages, beginning with Ecclesiastes 12.

In Ecclesiastes 12:1–7, Qohelet, the Preacher and narrator, shares a comprehensive list of the losses of aging. Addressing the young, he cautions them to remember their Creator in the days of their youth, “before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).1 He goes on to portray the losses of aging, graphically, even dismally. The litany of losses includes and expands beyond the categories of relational, existential, and physical: teeth falling out (v. 3), eyesight dimming (v. 3), fears increasing (v. 5), and mourning and grief multiplying (v. 5). Eventually physical decline leads to failure of desire, landing us in the very dust: a grasshopper who formerly hopped happily now drags along the ground (v. 5). The final string of images seems to refer to the loss of living water, thus representing death: the “silver cord is snapped,” the “golden bowl is broken,” the “pitcher is shattered,” “the wheel broken at the cistern” (v. 6). Indeed, the “dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to the God who gave it” (v. 7). Theologian Tremper Longman III argues that verses 6 and 7 portray a “reversal of creation, the dissolution of human creation.”2 While this litany of losses seems depressing, there may yet be hope. I will consider several more passages regarding loss and then look at the hope offered in the face of such loss.

Many other passages note the losses of aging; I will mention just a few. In Psalm 71, an aged preacher seems to be dealing with ageism, a profound and existential loss of self. He cries out, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent. For my enemies speak concerning me, those who watch for my life consult together” (Psalms 71:9–10). In Psalm 90, Moses states frankly the limitations of life: “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (v. 10). In 2 Samuel 19:35, Barzillai turns down David’s invitation to join him in Jerusalem, speaking honestly, “I am this day eighty years old. Can I discern what is pleasant and what is not? Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?” Barzillai recognizes and accepts the limitations of his age.

The Hope of Eternal Glory

While the Bible bluntly states the losses of aging, it also shows us how to find hope in these losses. In 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10, the apostle Paul offers an eternal perspective which helps us live wisely and graciously as we age. As we look at these verses, let’s consider their context. Paul knows suffering: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (4:8–9). Because of his vast experience with suffering, he knows how to tutor us in the losses of aging: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (4:16). Yes, the outer self, the physical body is deteriorating. And yet, in its deterioration, the inner self shines brighter as each day passes. As theologian Philip E. Hughes remarks, “The light of eternity shines in the Christian’s heart [4:6], a light which no affliction can extinguish.”3

Paul continues to offer hope in the midst of loss, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). While contemporary psychology cautions us against minimizing suffering, Paul urges us to see it as fleeting and insubstantial in comparison with the enduring weight and substance of eternal glory. Imagine a scale. On one side, a handful of pennies represents our earthly suffering for Christ’s sake. On the other side, towering stacks of gold bricks topple off the scale in their sheer abundance, representing eternal glory. Clearly, the pennies of earthly affliction appear tiny in comparison to the massive gold bricks of eternal glory. Now picture a timeline extending from before the dawn of time to beyond its end. Eternal glory spans the entire length of the timeline, into eternity, while our afflictions occupy only brief, intermittent sectors. When we perform these measures, we find the agonizing losses of aging not only light but also purposeful. For “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory” (emphasis added). Paul says that our suffering molds us and refines us to reflect the very nature of our suffering and glorious Christ.

How can affliction work in us? Only when seen through the lens of an eternal perspective: “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). When we encounter the losses of aging that come naturally in this life, we must fix our gaze on the “founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1–2). We must look beyond the light and momentary trials and troubles of this fallen world to the eternal welcome, beauty, and joy of heaven and the new heavens and new earth.

Paul next shifts back to the theme of physical deterioration, calling our bodies “tents.” As a tentmaker, Paul knew well the frailty of tents. They were made by human hands, to be raised and lowered easily. They were subject to the terrors of storms and could not stand in the face of them. Such is the nature of our human body. It is vulnerable. It is wasting away.

And yet, Paul claims, there is reason for hope: “If the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). The day will come when we receive our resurrection bodies, healed and whole. Immediately after death, we will “be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), that is, separated from our earthly body. But when Jesus returns, “we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52–53). As Sam Allberry explains, “We will go from a tent to a building. From a life of groaning and being burdened to fullness. From less clothed to more clothed. All this language points in one unmistakable direction: the life to come is going to be more real than our lives here.”4

Aging Wisely and Graciously

With Paul’s eternal perspective, we can live with the losses of aging wisely and graciously. Let’s revisit the losses mentioned earlier to see what hope we can find.

Relational. Viewing relational losses with an eternal perspective offers hope. When our loved ones die, we grieve, just as Christ grieved when his beloved friend Lazarus died (see John 11:35), though he knew he would soon raise him from the dead. Looking at the loss of our loved ones with an eternal perspective, we remember that while death has won the battle, it has not won the war, for Jesus conquered death on the cross (see 1 Corinthians 15:55–57). When we lose loved ones to cognitive decline or necessary relocations, we find comfort in Christ, who comforts us in our suffering that we might comfort others in theirs (see 2 Corinthians 1:3–7). Not only that, as we grieve lost relationships, we eagerly anticipate the reunion awaiting us in heaven and the new heavens and the new earth. There we will be reunited not only with the Lord but also with believers we knew on earth (see Matthew 8:11, 17:1–3; John 14:2–3; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18).

Existential. Those who age graciously see meaning in their lives to the very end, and through every season. Christians can be confident that we never outlive our meaning to God, for indeed we are made in His image, and He has placed us here for kingdom purposes. As author and spiritual director Alice Fryling notes, “Perhaps God is creating something new in you to help you be green and full of sap even in your old age….When I complain that I run out of energy before I run out of day, I sense God smiling at me and whispering in the Holy Spirit’s silent way, ‘Don’t worry. It’s okay. I love you even when you can’t do all you used to do.’”5 No matter our age, we are always called to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord” (Psalms 78:4). As we become intentional about leaving a practical, spiritual, and emotional legacy, we not only see renewed purpose in our existence, but we also see how God has worked throughout our lives for our good and His glory.

Physical. Similarly, as we consider the physical losses of aging, we see reason for hope. In the face of sickness and dying, we defy the preaching of the prosperity gospel, knowing that suffering is a tool employed by the Spirit to carve us into the shape of Jesus (see 2 Corinthians 4:17), not a punishment for a lack of faith. When we need help carrying the groceries or must give up the car keys, we turn to Christ and to His body for support. As we become more rooted in our reliance on Christ and others, the Spirit continues to bear fruit in us: wisdom, patience, kindness, and the foresight to prepare for glory. We face the reality of our own death, naming our fear of it, but also eagerly anticipating the day we will be released from our earthly tent and “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), for we know that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Further, we look forward to the day we will receive our resurrection bodies and dance and sing in eternal worship in the new heavens and new earth.

As we consider the losses of aging, we must heed Qohelet’s call, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). For it is by fixing our gaze on the eternal glory of the Triune God that we find the courage to move forward in the losses of aging. When we know that our Father’s welcome awaits us in heaven, when we know that the outward wasting away will one day cease, along with all sin, death, mourning, and tears (see Revelation 21:4), we live expectantly. With an eternal perspective, we can, as then eighty-eight-year-old J. I. Packer called us to do, run our “last lap” wisely and graciously: “The final sprint, so I urge, should be a sprint indeed.”6

Elizabeth Reynolds Turnage is a gospel life and legacy coach, author, and speaker. Elizabeth co-founded the Numbering Your Days Network to share gospel encouragement for aging, caregiving, legacy, grief, and end-of-life and wrote Preparing for Glory: Biblical Answers to 40 Questions on Living and Dying in Hope of Heaven (P&R Publishing, 2024).


  1. Bible quotations are from the ESV.
  2. Tremper Longman III, The Book of Ecclesiastes (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 273.
  3. Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962), 154.
  4. Sam Allberry, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies: How the Gospel Is Good News for Our Physical Selves (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 175.
  5. Alice Fryling, Aging Faithfully: The Holy Invitation of Growing Older (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2021), 8.
  6. J. I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 22.
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