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What God Does With Grumpy, Old Men

As I age further past 70, I notice some differences in my personality. Most of them bother me. Aging is not for beginners.

My memory is getting even poorer and that’s frustrating. America seems to be sinking morally and that’s frustrating. I am even getting physically uncoordinated and that’s REALLY frustrating.

Sometimes I take my frustrations out on inanimate objects. But given all of this, what does God think of my attitude? I feel like at times I’m a grumpy, old man.

However, there’s hope. I take courage in the biblical stories of two grumpy, old men: Moses and Elijah. How did God handle these two frustrated old ministers?

Let’s start with Moses. He killed a man when he was 40, so perhaps he had anger issues before turning old. At age 80 he smashed the Ten Commandments written by the finger of God at Israel’s sin with the golden calf.

I didn’t see where God told him to do that. After his venting upon the backslidden rebels, how did God handle him? He told Moses to return to the mountain for another set of commandments and for a lesson about the beauty of forgiveness and patience.

After the Lord told Moses that He was willing to keep Israel as His own people, Moses was so amazed at God’s character that he asked for a closer experience with God. His wish was granted and he was permitted to behold the un-shielded back of God.

The extended visit with Divinity transformed Moses into a literally radiant man of 80 years. He was the “meekest man on earth,” but he would still have some grump left in him when he smashed the rock with his staff at a later time. That sin cost him a ticket to the promised land. Instead, he died at age 120, probably frustrated with himself for losing patience with Israel again. Perhaps he was tempted to think his ministry was a failure. And before his passing away, he appointed Joshua as his successor.

Now let’s talk about Elijah. We don’t have his age mentioned, but he was clearly a senior near retirement. After the Lord’s victory at Mount Carmel and the slaying of 850 idolatrous priests, we are surprised at the weakness he showed at Jezebel’s threats. He runs to Mount Horeb where God had met with another old man before — Moses. How does God handle His veteran pastor?

On the way, an angel meets him and provides physical food and rest for the journey. When asked why he was running away, Elijah is vocal about his frustration: “God’s people are all dead and they are trying to kill me!” In his depressed state, he further whines, “I’m from a long line of losers. I feel like dying would be a good thing.” Once again on a mountain, the Lord instructs His grumpy prophet about patience.

God’s usual way was not in big displays of power. He worked quietly behind the scenes in still, small voices. “Oh, and your ministry was more successful than you think,” the Lord said. “Seven thousand times more! Go back and anoint Elisha to take over for you.”

What similarities do we find in the stories of these two grumpy, old men? Obviously, they were mostly frustrated with God’s people and their failings, a frustration you could imagine God sharing.

God instructed them to retrace their steps to where they were before their anger episodes, and the Lord personally instructed them to have the kind of patience that God has for His people. Yet at a time when personal failures seemed highest, God took both of them to heaven. That’s where their ministries would continue.

For me, the coolest part of this story was that at a critical time in the ministry of Jesus, God sent these two aged pastors to counsel and encourage His dear Son. Peter, James and John were witnesses of something special on the Mount of Transfiguration: “And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus” (Mark 9:2).

What does God do with grumpy, old men? He saves them! And I guess they never really retire.

(Writer’s note: Sermon idea! Especially if your church has a fair amount of seniors in it.)


Stan Hudson

North Pacific Union Conference creation ministries director