The Moving Goal Posts of Retirement

First the good news: you will probably live longer than your grandparents.  Now the bad news: if you are of working age, the Government is requiring you to work for more years before you can have a state pension.  Recent announcements make it clear that teenagers and those in their twenties can expect to work until they are 70, because the state pension age needs to rise to cope with our ageing population and longer lifespans. If you are in your early or mid forties, expect to work until you are 68.   Indeed, further delays to receiving the pension are probable.

Hardly anyone has figured out the implications of these changes. People often tell me that they feel their physical and emotional capacity is dropping by the time they reach 60 years of age, even if general health is good. This suggests that a change of job might well be on the cards for many people entering their ‘fifties’, if they need to work longer than expected before sinking wearily into the delights of receiving that long earned state pension. Some, of course, will be able to retire earlier because they have built up an adequate private or personal pension – but they will be a minority.

The changes underway also presuppose an economy that can readily provide older people with decent jobs that do not require us to work with the same capacities as younger people. It also implies retraining in new skills so that older workers are well motivated and highly productive.

For charities, communities and home life, the implications are distinctly ominous. Less time and energy to serve as volunteers. Less opportunity to play with the kids in the family circle. Relatives who are ill being left alone at home or effectively being forced into a care home.

Churches too will feel the pressure, as the pastoral needs of older people absorb more time and energy, whilst there will be fewer members available to keep congregational life functioning well, never mind the impact on evangelism and mission.

Having painted that picture, I do not want to undervalue the great blessing of living in a society where healthcare is bringing increased life expectancy. It is profoundly sobering to watch our TV screens, and see the pain of refugees and those who live in poverty in so many regions of God's world. We are much blessed here.

Nonetheless, I do find it hard to be enthusiastic about living longer if the 'extra' years are to be characterised by further struggle and our becoming even more 'time poor' as far as relationships are concerned.    

Although written several thousand years ago, words in Psalm 90 do seem extraordinarily relevant. 'Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.' Am I misguided in suggesting that living ever longer is not self evidently a goal to which we should all aspire?

Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton is a retired Presbyterian Minister and former Moderator of the General Assembly.

 Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.

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2 Responses to The Moving Goal Posts of Retirement

  1. John Faris says:

    I see a glass half full where Norman sees it half empty, but that may be because I am in the honeymoon period of retired only 6 months and blessed with reasonable health and a level of pension support which is perhaps small in Western terms but adequate and huge in global terms. I agree with David Montgomery’s comment as I imagine Norman does that we need a theology of retirement and more work on end of life issues. Modern medicine is largely a blessing but there come times when it is right to let go, as Simeon saw in his great prayer Nunc dimittis. We need to critique the secular view of death as the ultimate disaster and also some approaches to divine healing which seem to major on physical restoration as the goal rather than praying that people may depart in peace. The problem for churches as I see it is not so much the care of the elderly as that we significantly lack people under 50 to carry on congregational life and mission.

  2. David Montgomery says:

    Interesting read Norman. But I wonder if anyone has ever done a theology of retirement. Or considered whether the concept of retirement is at all biblical? I remember my old mentor Bruce Waltke writing a short article on a theology of retirement from the perspective of Isaac who grew spiritually weak in his older age. If work is a gift of God and part of what we were created to do, working until we are 70 shouldn’t in and of itself concern us, the questions obviously revolve around working conditions, work/rest balance, safety and health issues etc

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