Hendrickson is pleased to share with you an exclusive interview that we conducted with Rodney Macready, the author of Retiring Retirement. Rodney’s aim in this book is to achieve a paradigm shift—to get us thinking that retirement does not need to mean the end of productivity completely. He challenges us to evaluate our current concept of “retirement” by exploring in detail what the Bible says about it.
1. What inspired you to write about the subject of retirement? What have you seen in your own Australian culture that made you want to speak out? How should the church have a different mind-set? What is the “paradigm shift” you discuss?
Some years ago, I read an article that questioned whether it’s acceptable for Christians to receive “passive” income from investments. It struck me that this was part of my culture that I’d simply adopted without investigation. Whether or not I agreed with the article, I’d never sought to discover a Biblical approach to that particular subject. I’d simply agreed with my culture’s perspective. As I pondered that, my mind turned to the subject of retirement. I don’t remember the exact link anymore – my guess is that I leaped from investments to superannuation [pension for retired people] to retirement. Whatever the link, I realized that retirement was another cultural concept that I’d never scrutinised from a Biblical perspective. And as I began to investigate that subject further, I discovered a distinct lack of material to help me with that process. I found several books encouraging me to use my retirement opportunities for God’s glory. But I found nothing that asked the prior question: namely, is retirement itself a Biblical concept and is it consistent with Biblical values?
There is much in my Australian culture that encourages me to enjoy my retirement years in a fairly self-centred way. Basically, my culture gives me a licence to indulge myself. For me, that attitude opposes the gospel. By both His example and His teaching, Jesus encourages His followers to adopt the attitude of serving others rather than serving self. This is the antithesis of my culture’s approach to retirement. Yet, I’ve seen my culture’s approach infiltrate the way many Christians seem to approach their retirement years. Indeed, I find that my culture’s approach has great appeal to my own self-centred nature. Thus, even if the concept of retirement is consistent with Biblical values, the direction my culture takes this is not. I believe this needs to be challenged.
2. Why do you think “retirement” is not a biblical concept? Can you give us some biblical examples to support this?
Work is one of God’s good gifts to humanity. The Biblical presumption from Genesis 1 onwards is that God expects us to exercise this gift in completing the tasks He’s given us. Thus, it seems to me that the burden of proof lies with those who wish to claim that there are good reasons to justify not working. [Please note: “working” is broader than simply “having a job” or “being employed”.] I fail to find any such reasons within the Bible. It seems to me that God expects us to keep exercising this good gift throughout our lives.
The problem with providing Biblical examples in relation to this topic is that the topic itself is a modern invention. The concept of retirement didn’t exist in Biblical times and thus we should not be surprised when the Bible fails to address it directly. There are a couple of examples of people continuing in their work beyond what we would consider normal retirement age – Moses and Joshua. Most of the kings continued in office until their death. But these Biblical examples are very selective in that they relate to those in leadership. We’re not given such details about the ordinary Israelite. Most of them eked out their existence as subsistence farmers and, if they stopped working, they’d also stop eating. Further, most of them died well before reaching what we identify as retirement age.
3. Since you don’t think retirement is a biblical concept, what do you think people should do who want or need to transition out of their normal work life?
I’d suggest that most Westerners would read certain assumptions into the description “normal work life”. For example, we tend to think that “work life” begins after a period of education (for many, this is becoming increasingly lengthy) and concludes upon reaching retirement age. We tend to compartmenalise “work life” as what happens “at work” and think of that separately from what we do in other areas of our lives. Do people living in the majority world share those assumptions? For many of them, their “normal work life” begins far earlier and stops only with their death and extends to a far greater portion of their lives. Further, do those assumptions devalue a significant amount of work that’s done within our own culture but which we don’t normally include in the “employment” situation (for example, those involved in “home duties”)?
But to come back to the question itself, if people “want” to transition out of their “normal work life”, I’d suggest they seriously think through their theology of work. Do they wish to forsake God’s gift of work? Why do they want to do that? Are they simply following their cultural conditioning? Is the underlying desire basically self-centred? Or do they truly believe this is what God wants for them? Is this a decision that will glorify God and continue to achieve His purposes within His world?
For those who “need” to transition out of their “normal work life”, I’d suggest they seriously think through the reasons why they need to do that. There are good reasons why some people have to stop some forms of employment. But then I’d encourage them to ask themselves: “Just because I have to stop this job, does that mean I have to stop working altogether?” One particular form of employment may now be closed to them, but usually that doesn’t mean that all forms of using their God-given abilities to work for the benefit of others are closed to them. The final chapter indicates some options that may be considered – but that’s only a starting-point.
I should hasten to add that there are some people who can’t work or can only work with very limited capacity. People can find themselves in that situation at any age – but it does happen more often to people in their more senior years. That is a separate issue from the concept of retirement.
4. In your book, you provide an eye-opening history of this concept of retirement, which surprisingly is quite modern. Tell us a bit about this.
The concept of retirement is usually credited to the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck around 1880. He set the retirement age at 65. Since few people reached that age in Germany at that time, he anticipated the cost to the state would be insignificant. Australia and America introduced similar policies early in the 20th century. Yet it wasn’t until the 1950s that retirement became “popular” in Western cultures. By that time, life expectancy had increased. People were more affluent. Leisure industries mushroomed. Entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to begin “retirement” industries. There were a range of factors that resulted in retirement losing its stigma and becoming both an accepted and expected part of the economy in which I was raised. It became a “normal” part of life in the West – something to be greatly anticipated and for which careful planning should be made (especially in the financial area).
5. Why do you think the idea of “work” is something we look forward to finishing at a certain age? Do we have the wrong view of “work”? If so, how can we change our attitude toward it?
The simple (and generalized) answer is that people look forward to finishing work at their “retirement age” (or before) because they’re culturally conditioned to do so. The more complex answer is that this cultural conditioning builds on various sinful attitudes towards work – especially the attitude that sees work as an obstacle that hinders me from being free to do what I really want to do (usually some form of leisure). Many people have lost the concept that work is one of God’s gifts to humanity. As with all of God’s gifts, work is to be received and enjoyed with thankfulness to God.
Work was one of God’s purposes for humanity within the Garden – that is, before humanity sinned. Certainly, humanity’s choice to ignore God’s instructions and to declare our independence from God in Genesis has negatively impacted our attitude to work in all sorts of ways – including a tendency to resent work and to find work a burden. Yet, that doesn’t change the essential goodness of God’s gift.
As with all areas of our lives where our cultural conditioning is opposed to God’s purposes, we begin to have our attitudes changed by having our minds renewed by God’s word. That begins with recognising and affirming that work is indeed one of God’s good gifts to us.
6. You say you believe the work will remain “part of the new creation.” What do you mean by that?
Again, work is one of God’s good gifts to us. It’s part of God’s purposes for humanity before human rebellion entered our world. It’s part of how humanity reflects the fact that we’re made in God’s image. And so, when God renews creation to His original purposes, why would we think that He would take this good gift from us? Work is not a negative thing. Any negative attitudes we currently have towards it flow from the human declaration of autonomy in Genesis 3 – and those negative attitudes won’t be part of the new creation.
Now, we do need to admit that the Bible does not provide many details about the new creation. It may be that God replaces work with a better gift. Jesus’ comments about the resurrection (Mark 12:18-27) suggest this will be the case in relation to human marriage. But there is no comparable statement in relation to work. And there are hints that work will still be part of our role within eternity (for example, the parable of the talents, Matthew 25:19-23).
7. What about the concept of rest? When do we “get a break”? Is it so wrong to want to enjoy our “golden years”?
I deal with the concept of rest at some length in the book. It’s a complex subject and it’s not really possible for me to reproduce that argument in a few short sentences. So, with that warning, I’ll list a few brief “teasers”.
- First, there is a rich Biblical concept of rest that is broader than simply “stopping work”.
- Second, we are finite creatures and part of our finiteness is that we need rest.
- Third, rest is not the equivalent of leisure.
- Fourth, we need to work at the idea of learning to rest in our work.
- Fifth, God does want us to enjoy life under His rule – both our work and our rest.
- Sixth, I think we need to be careful about the phrase “golden years” – it implies that the concepts associated with these years are more valuable (and reinforces the idea that work is less desirable).
- Seventh, the question we should ask ourselves of these “golden years” is this: Do I have a God-given mandate to use them in a self-indulgent manner?
8. How should people under the age of fifty view retirement age? What about those over fifty who are seriously considering retiring?
My aim in the book is to produce a paradigm shift in the reader’s thinking. In our Western culture, it’s easy to idolise retirement and to treat it as the goal of life – at least, life in the present age. But that’s a seriously sub-standard goal for a Christian. God gives us lifelong goals to pursue – including the goal of using our God-given abilities to serve others. Such service involves work – both paid and unpaid. Because of government pensions, superannuation schemes [a related issue is to consider whether this a form of “storing up treasure on earth”] and the like, it may be that some people no longer need paid work once they reach “retirement age”. Does that mean that God releases them from the privilege of serving others? I think not. And when we truly understand what a privilege that is and how it fits with the overall values of God’s kingdom, why would we want such a release anyway?
Raised in a Christian home and an active church, Rodney Macready has pastored several Australian churches. He has also taught in theological colleges in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Tanzania and dabbled in short-term missions in the Philippines and Indonesia. He now expands his ministry through writing.
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