Is retirement a Biblical concept? No says Rodney Macready, an Australian Baptist, in his book Retiring Retirement (Hendrickson, Peabody Massachusetts, 2016). Christians should not retire! To quote from the book:
Retirement (at least as we normally think of it) is not God’s best for your life. Rather I believe God’s purpose for you is to continue work throughout your life (unless infirmity or disability presents this) – that you develop a mind-set that always seeks to serve others for the common good.
If you’re already retired and in the middle of a self-indulgent binge, I want you to repent. You may think you’re entitled to this – that it’s your God-given right after years of hard work. I don’t think you’ll find that in the Bible.
Much of the book is given up to detail biblical exegesis seeking to prove that we have been created to work, and that the biblical ideal for the aged was “much more active, engaged and responsible for the community than the modern practice of retirement encourages us to be”.
I confess that much of the author’s careful engagement with Scripture left me quite cold – it just seemed totally irrelevant. As I read about the Levites in Numbers 8 or the widows in 1 Timothy 5, I said to myself ‘So what?’ Life in the ancient world was so totally different that I am not convinced that the principles which the author seeks to apply to our world today are hermeneutically sound.
True, I agree with Macready that some retired Christians can be amazingly self-indulgent. However, the fact is that, self-indulgence is hard to define. I am not convinced, for instance, that a “enjoying a luxury cruise” or “taking an extended holiday” are good examples of self-indulgence (is that because last the autumn I myself enjoyed a 24 day cruise to the Caribbean?). On the other hand, I do question whether spending day after day playing golf or bridge is the right use of time for a Christian.
I shall never forget the Sunday morning when a former church treasurer, who had just retired at the age of 65, stood up and said that he had done his bit for God and that from now on he would no longer be involved in any form of church work! The fact is that whether or not we are retired God still has a claim on our time. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “Be careful how you live… Make good use of every opportunity you have” (Eph 5.15, 16).
In my own case, I retired at the age of 70 – and if the truth be told, I am delighted that I am retired. Sundays, with just one service to attend, are now a delight. Much as I loved visiting people in their homes, I am not sorry no longer having to be out every evening. This is not a form of self-indulgence, but rather a recognition that my energy levels are no longer what they were. On the other hand, I am still very much serving my Lord. The moment Caroline, my wife, goes out to work, that moment I go up to my library and begin to work at my desk. I still ‘work’ full ‘ days.
For me the great difference between being paid to work and not being paid to work, is that I am now a free agent, free to choose what I do. Instead of constantly being accountable to others, I am now only accountable to God – and that is a wonderfully freeing experience. As Augustine once put it, in God’s service there is perfect freedom.
Ultimately there is more to life than work – and retirement is a mark of this fact. I found it rather sad that in a book about retirement there is no recognition of all the opportunities that that retirement offers for personal growth and development. In this respect let me end with some lines of David Adam:
The Terminus is not where we stay
It is the beginning of a new journey.
It is where we reach out beyond,
Where we experience new adventures.
It is where we get off to enter new territory
To explore new horizons, to extend our whole being.
It is a place touching the future
It opens up new vistas
It is the gateway to eternity.