The World Grows to Middle-Age

As I grow older I find it is more than a matter of my hair and beard whitening or my knees stiffening. In the forty-second year of my life I feel my certitude about many things shrinking.

The words of Michael Fishbane, in Sacred Attunement, lulled me into a meditation of this certitude-slippage. I’ve not read enough to be sure I even know what Fishbane is talking about, but my middle-aged mind resonated with his opening words:

This work is an attempt to “do” theology in a dark and disorienting time–a time sunk in the mire of modernity. Naivete is out of the question. The mirror of the world reflects back to us our willful epistemologies, our suspicion of values, and the rank perversity of the human heart. Like Kafka we prowl around the debris of old Sinais, in a wasteland of thought. The tablets of despair are strewn everywhere.

I am certainly experiencing something like this while my beard grows hoary. Are you?

No, please don’t write me emails and letters asking if I am having a faith struggle. I don’t think that is it. I think my faith enlarges as my certitude contracts. Should the devil, God forbid, drag me now to his terrible lair to torment and confuse me, I would have a greater chance than before of defeating him.

No, I don’t think my positiveness of conviction in so many areas is reducing because faith is failing me faster than my stiffening knees. I think instead I am more open than ever to paradigm changes, to confessing ignorance, to the willful resistance to answers too easily obtained.

And I do not believe it is just me. I believe people collectively go through periods of thought as well. We influence one another and the culture that pervades all things links us, even those of us who resist it.

It seems to me the world is middle-aged, not yet venerable and able to wisely and with dignity stand against peril and doubt. But rather, the world is immature in a middle-aged sort of way while leaving behind naivete, as Fishbane said, as out of the question. I hope I am not reading my own middle-age “crisis” into my view of the world, but I don’t think this is an exercise in narcissism. I believe middle-age crisis may be a good definition of our post-modern existence. We will only achieve venerable status, perhaps, when Messiah comes.

I think I see now why I went through such a period of illusory confidence in finished answers and unquestioning reason. I think it was not more faith, but less faith that led me to be closed to options, to close off discussion, and negotiate a unilateral treaty with truth.

But my mind is opened if only because the longer I experience God the larger he grows in my perception and the thicker grows the cloud of unknowing. I am not disturbed because I know that a cloud atop Mt. Sinai grows more opaque the nearer I draw to it. My openness to uncertainty is not a sign of withdrawal, but of coming home.

I suspect the world is drawing nearer, by distance if not by relation, to God. The middle-aged world may soon be in a crisis which makes all before seem like the worries of youth. Even as I think such dread thoughts as arthritis and knee-surgery, the world faces upheavals in late middle-age that take away all the breath of adolescent imperviousness.

“Where shall wisdom be found?” asks Job (28:12).

“Man does not know the way to it,” he replies to his own question, “it is hid from the eyes of all living” (28:13, 21).

He was not troubled beyond perseverance by his lack of certitude. “Behold, the fear of Adonai, that is wisdom” (28:28).


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Faith, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The World Grows to Middle-Age

  1. peterygwendyta says:

    I am 29, so I may not be what some would call middle aged, but I think I know what you are talking about. I do not believe that my faith is weak, but many thing that I was once certain of have either changed or I am not sure of any more. I am not talking about what I call the fundamentals of my faith but rather other issues which while important are not Salvation issues. While I was at Bible College I though I knew it all but actually since I left I have probably learnt more and become more uncertain of certain issues than I was before. Also when I would have got into discussions back then over certain issues for example the rapture, I would have really defended my view and sait that all other views where where totally wrong and unbiblical. Now even though my view of the rapture have changed I am now a lot more understanding of other of other views. This may sound wrong to some people but as I grow older I am becoming more comfortable in being uncertain of certain things. As somone said the more you learn the more you find out you don’t actually know.

  2. graspingmashiach says:

    I too am in my middle-years, though I have a few on you. Being a lady I will not divulge how many. The contemplations you have shared are familiar to me also; in this you are not alone. I recently read a quote by the Rambam in which he states that Gentiles who follow the Noachide laws merely because they make good sense or fit into one’s personal philosophy are not considered righteous. Righteousness means following G-d’s commands and ways because they are from G-d.

    I’m not attempting to make a statement about Noachidism here, but found in these words a truth I believe one arrives at only through the process of maturation. Here-in lies the midlife crisis of following G-d out of a sheer desire to follow him. A maturity that is willing to enter the cloudy world of uncertainty with oneself or one’s thinking out of a desire to draw near instead of the demand to be “correct”.

    The 40’s have been a time of greatest personal challenges as well as greatest spiritual awakening for me. I wouldn’t go back to my 20’s for all the money in the world. This is an amazing time of life that makes one’s knees weak indeed, but strengthens the heart.



    “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.”
    (Psalm16:31 KJV)

  3. judahgabriel says:

    Derek, do you think that your uncertainty about things stems from your years of engagement with others of varying and contrary beliefs?

    I’ve always wondered how this works out. What is the end result of engaging with others who have beliefs very different than our own, with full intelligence and articulation behind them? Will it affect our beliefs in some way? Negatively?

    When you’re surrounded by such people, and you’re engaged with them more than like-minded folks, it will likely cause uncertainty, whether or not it’s warranted.

    Just my thoughts.
    Take care my friend.

  4. Judah:

    I think my engagement with others is a big part of it, but I see that as a plus. In early days I was afraid to be open to different ideas. I imagined myself an independent thinker, but too often I closed my mind to possibilities because they might shake my faith. I also thought simple arguments could prove in black and white all I believe. Now I think that wisdom is more elusive and God is more real than ever.

    I do not regret having community with people from other POV’s as well as having community with like-minded people. Both are necessary.

    BTW, I am just middle-aged, not venerable. So, until Messiah comes, I make no claim to have arrived.


  5. judahgabriel says:

    Ok. I see engagement as a plus as well. I only wonder whether all the “shakings” it causes are warranted. I imagine it causes some shaking where there should be none.

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. I’ll probably find myself in your position in about 20 years. :-)

    Take care, Derek.

  6. peterygwendyta says:

    Judah, I understand what you are saying about engagement with other views, but in my experience if it hadn’t been for this engagement many of my views would be very different different today. It was only through some of this engagement that I came accross hebraic roots, messianic issues etc which have broadened my faith but on the other hand it was some of this engagement which nearly made me give up my faith when some messianics told me that unless I practised polygamy I was not saved. So egagement works both ways. It depends on the individual how much engagement they can actually have.

  7. judahgabriel says:


    I hope I made it clear that engagement with others of varying and contrary beliefs is overall a good thing.

  8. peterygwendyta says:

    Hi Judah,

    Yes you did make yourself clear. While this is a great method of communication it is hard to tell what someone means all the time without seeing their face or hearing their voice. I was just makeing a couple of point. I enjoy also reading your comments on the issues which Derek brings up. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s