Haven’t you thought the words in the title of this article? Perhaps we all have – especially if we’re older. Unfortunately, when we start out in life we know very little. Life, as it unfolds before us, is a prolonged experiment. We plunge out into the unknown full of hope and optimism. Periodically, we are brought up short by what life throws at us.
In the process of coping, we learn lessons, we grow and mature. As we become increasingly sage, we think about better ways to do things. We attempt to pass these lessons on to our children – or anyone who’ll listen for that matter. Much of the time our sagacity falls on deaf ears. Once in a while, something sticks. Hindsight carries little credibility.
The words of Qoheleth – “One who addresses an assembly” – or “Preacher” – have come down to us as the Book of Ecclesiastes. These words are wisdom from one who has “been there, done that, got the ephod.” Every year the Jews read from this book at the Feast of Succoth (Tabernacles). It is part of the Bible’s wisdom literature, along with “books” like Proverbs and Psalms. Every Christian ought to read and internalize these wise sayings. Then we could better apply them to real life. The wise writer said, “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good,” (Ecclesiastes 11:6). We have to do something to give God something to bless.
It is not just the Biblical sages who accumulated wisdom through living. We all do so. Old age often brings us a clarity we didn’t have in our youth. We see life through less idealistic, more realistic, lenses. In this article, I want to share with you some of my own learning’s in the hope that they will stimulate you to think about what you’d write under the title of this article. Let’s look at a few categories:
On Being a Christian
The center of my life is my Christian faith. If I’d known what I now know about being a Christian, I’d have redesigned the whole megillah from scratch. I would reject the subjective, emotional, authoritarian, cult-of-personality approach to faith in favor of a more intellectually sound methodology. No one man today can be the sole dispenser of spiritual truth. That role is reserved for the Lord himself. I have little confidence in the exegetical skills of preachers these days.
I would devote more of my intellectual energy to apologetics (the defense of the faith) with the greatest emphasis on epistemological issues. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that is concerned with the ground, or basis, for knowing. For me, many spiritual issues are epistemological in nature. How do I know God exists? How do I know the Bible is authoritative when it comes to learning how to be a Christian? How does intelligent design point to the existence of a Creator? Is Christian belief really warranted?
Certainly the most important part of being a Christian or a Jew is relationship with God. That means being God-conscious at all times – like Tevya in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Tevya had an ongoing conversation with God. He knew he could hide nothing from God so he expressed himself openly and frankly. To be real, relationship with God must be a two-way street. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.” Do we? Really? Maybe we need to learn how to hear from God. Study John 10.
I’d study in depth every passage in the Bible that discusses prayer and relationship with God – and I’d study those passages in the original languages. On that basis, I’d start to build relationship with the Lord. There are also many passages on worship. Those too would be a priority.
If I could begin studying the Bible again, properly, from scratch, I’d learn to read the available texts in their original languages – Hebrew and Greek. Everything starts with the text – not with translations and certainly not with denominations. I’d then learn the rules of exegesis and hermeneutics. I’d know how to “work with” the texts. I’d fully embrace the findings (as I have) the Jerusalem School for the study of the Synoptic Gospels – upon confirming the validity of them (see www.JerusalemPerspective.com).
At the same time, I’d acknowledge that there are no original autographs of Biblical texts in existence. All we have is copies, written centuries after the fact, most of them flawed.
Consequently, I would not adopt an “evangelical” view of the Bible. Rather, I’d accept it for what it is – a collection of flawed, oft-copied, edited, documents. At the same time I’d realize that they are my only authoritative source for determining what it means to be an authentic Christian.
The Problem of Pain
I’d try to think about, address, and find my own answers to the greatest theological problem of all – the problem of pain. It is usually stated as follows: If God is all loving and all powerful, why does he allow pain and suffering on such a grand scale? Why holocausts, torture, dehumanization, genocides, democides and destructive human wars? Why massive earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes? How can I maintain faith in the face of such enormities? I don’t think one can be religious without honestly addressing such painful issues.
I’d begin saving money toward retirement the minute I got my first paycheck. I had no idea how much it would cost to retire! We’ve already spent tens of thousands of dollars on dental bills and chiropractors alone – not to mention on nutritional supplements. There is no meaningful insurance available for any of these things. Note the word “meaningful.” The most expensive dental procedures – and the natural ones such as the removal of mercury amalgam fillings – are either not covered at all, or not well covered. You pay through the nose for all these things and they are horrendously expensive.
Of course the best solution is prevention. It’s a good idea for young people to be a bit fanatical about the care of their teeth. Don’t eat refined sugar or flour at all. Floss, floss, floss! Get regular dental cleanings and exams. Strive to have the most pristine mouth on your block.
When thinking about retirement, you also have to consider the impact of inflation, ever-rising utility costs, and escalating property taxes. A friend recently told me that while his home is steadily declining in value, his property taxes are being increased at 2% per year. We know of some retirees who lost their paid-for home because they could no longer afford the property taxes.
Obtaining enough insurance to cover all exigencies can leave you “insurance-poor.” Many independent business owners carry hugely expensive life insurance policies in order to protect against the death tax. This protects the business, and its jobs, from a rapacious government in the event of the owner’s death. Otherwise the heirs might have to sell the business to pay the death tax. (I know they dignify it with the name “estate tax,” but I prefer the more accurate term – it is a tax payable upon dying.)
Then there’s the issue of assisted living or nursing homes. Another friend of ours had to bring home her dementia-ridden husband because she could not afford the $4600/month cost of the nursing home he was in. Insurance to cover this kind of care is horrendously expensive.
We all know that Der Gov’mint has mismanaged its “safety net” funds such as Social Security and Medicare. At best, the future of Medicare, Medicaid, SS, and Obamacare are all “iffy.” The tax burden to fund them is, and will continue to be, enormous. In time, the current welfare state mentality will probably bankrupt the country (my opinion). Euthanasia may become more popular – perhaps even mandated by government. (Remember the frightening, perhaps prescient, movie: Soylent Green?) But perhaps that’s just my paranoia speaking. I hope so.
The point is retirement is an expensive proposition. Companies are forcing employees – especially if they’re older white males – into early retirement, or at least retirement at age 65. This makes room for younger, lower-paid, entry-level employees. Then what? Some people use up their retirement savings just surviving until they reach retirement age.
Tip: Your value to a company is directly related to your connection to its bottom line. If you make significant money for the company, they’ll keep you around. If you are a considerable cost to the company, you’re expendable. That’s “life in the Big City” (as my boss used to remind me).
On the other hand, there is a move afoot to up the age of retirement to 70 or beyond. That too has implications.
Every person entering the work force for the first time ought to seriously consider starting immediately some sort of retirement fund that is untouchable until retirement. The more you can sink into it, the better. Remember, as with the government, there will be many temptations to get into that money before hand. Don’t yield to them. It is almost certain that you will not have enough for retirement, even if you do this.
When you retire, if you have a little pile of money saved up, everyone will seek ways of getting into it: governments at all levels; impoverished family members; marketers; money managers; insurers – everybody. As you get older, you may begin to think you hear the sounds of the theme from “Jaws” getting ever closer. Once you reach the right demographic, you’ll be inundated with a barrage of marketing materials: osteoporosis and arthritis supplements; impotence pills and devices; heart supplements; ads for prosthetic devices and scooter chairs; medical procedures; cataract drops (that don’t work); nursing or retirement homes, villas and golfing communities; cruises; and funeral arrangements. It’s downright depressing!
Once you pass into the next life, the Gov’mint administers, as we said earlier, the final insult (if you have enough money left): the death tax. The last thing Washington wants is for your heirs to inherit what’s left of your money. Though it’s been taxed many times before, they’ll hit you one last time in a posthumous strike. Like a rapacious vacuum cleaner, the statists are out to suck up every dime they can. Plan for it! It’s not going to get better.
I’d Stress Education
If I had it to do over again, as I said, I’d get the best possible education in two areas: my chosen profession and for my Christian life. Not only that, I would insist that my children go to the best schools and get the best grades. Of course all this takes money and lots of it.
I’d never choose to be a professional clergyman again. That job is too fraught with church politics, financial uncertainty, and unrelenting stress. Rather, I would obtain a good quality theological education, and volunteer “ministerial” services while working at my profession. I would fight to maintain my spiritual independence from any hidebound denomination. I would be a “generic” follower of Yeshua and his disciples (Acts 2:42). I would follow my conscience wherever it led.
The people who are doing well in our current culture are the best educated. That idea was once typified by doctors and lawyers. Today, the medical profession is less attractive for a large number of reasons: Obamacare; low payments from governments and health insurers; malpractice insurance and suits etc. etc. Lawyers, on the other hand, seem to doing very well. One talk show host described them as the “most dangerous” class of professionals in the country.
I wouldn’t want to be a lawyer or a doctor. I’d rather be an artist, a non-fiction writer, an academic, a theologian, a clinical or research nutritionist, a herbologist, or perhaps even an organic farmer. Maybe all of the above!
Time has almost run out for me – but not for my progeny – a small army of children (6), grandchildren (13) and great grandchildren (5). All of them have their futures before them. All of them will make choices that will affect the quality of their lives so long as they live. I hope they will make wiser choices about education, religion, health and profession than I did.
There are many other things I could write here, but I’ll spare you. One motive was to stimulate you to think about what things you’d write under the title of this article. Let’s hear from you. What would you do differently?