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A lifelong commitment

James Cary

James CaryJapan leads the world in life expectancy, followed by Sweden, Australia and Switzerland (that is if you only count countries bigger than Hyde Park, so we're excluding enclaves and tax-havens like Macau, Andorra and San Marino). Japanese women can expect to live past the age of 85. Ironically, Japan's indestructible greying hordes are giving the younger generations serious heart problems, mainly brought on by a looming pensions catastrophe.

Naturally, we ask 'How do the Japanese do it?' Most answers include the words 'raw', 'fish' and 'sake'. It's an age-old question. How can we enjoy long life? What's the secret? We know it's about a balanced diet, regular exercise, fresh air, work-life balance, and a few laughs. Some Christians might add 'modest living' - as if not enjoying life will in some way prolong the lack of fun. That is, after all, the secret of long life milk. The ingredients that make it worth drinking are removed.

But the answer to long life has, in fact, been staring us in the face all along (like a Hollywood action adventure film where it turns out, 90 minutes and $90 million later, that the thing they were looking for was a picture that had been hanging on their living room wall all along). The secret of long life is in the Ten Commandments. Remember them? That most famous list of basic commands that occurs twice in the Bible - in case you missed it the first time - and adorns the wall of most churches - in case you missed it both times.

Generally, we ignore these commandments in favour of the two pithier laws Jesus gave us, who clearly knew how hopelessly sound-bite-driven our culture would become. Their brevity and vagueness also mean they are open to interpretation, whereas the Big Ten seem very prescriptive. But they contain a promise about living for a long time. It is not attached to the command about not murdering people. 'You shall not kill. Keep this law and you shall live many years etc'. No, the promise of longevity and prosperity is in command number 5. Obedience to, and honour of, parents. Seriously, go and look it up. Exodus 20:12. And then again in Deut 5:16. And it's all over the rest of that chapter. Surprising, isn't it?

According to the Ten Commandments, the best way to live long is to honour your parents. To do what they say, to praise them, not moan about them, and maybe to think twice about letting them rot in an old people's home. Likewise, the best start in life you can give your children is to get them to obey you. I'm not making this up. The Bible says that obedient, believing children can expect to live long and prosper in the land. We find this so hard to believe, but why?

Maybe we, as adults, continue to moan about our own parents, and assume our children already have the same low view of us. So we consider ourselves unworthy of their obedience. Maybe we want our children to be creative and exciting, so their disobedience is somehow vibrant and meaningful - try that one out at a restaurant and see how you get on. Maybe we've so love the idea of egalitarianism that we think that expecting obedience from our children is implying that we're better than them, which, of course, we are not (for more case studies in the above, watch the splendid sitcom Outnumbered on BBC1).

Most likely, we look around the world and we see plenty of good, obedient people dying young, or living in poverty. This is true - war, famine and injustice ruin everything. But they are subversions of the natural order instituted by God, like the seasons, the laws of physics and the dominance of certain football clubs. God decides what leads to what. He says honour your parents brings long life.

I bring up this subject because I am beginning to tackle this subject with my daughter. Like all things baby related, people with older kids always respond to your plans and principles with the traditional, world-weary 'Huh, you just wait,' implying that your prized principles will crumple in a heap of pragmatism faster than New Labour's economic policy. I'm just telling you what other parents will say to you when you have kids. You just wait. And then you'll be saying 'you just wait' when your kids are older. You just wait. And all the time, we'll be assuming that our kids need good grades, nice friends and bassoon lessons rather than the ability to honour their parents. That's a pity.