This week is national save for retirement week which is dedicated to bringing more awareness to retirement savings for American workers. I thought it would be interesting to get the perspective of a certified financial planner about retirement, so I reached out to my friend, John Gay and asked him if he would be interested in guest posting this week. Fortunately, John said yes and provided a wonderful post that privides his thoughts around what is a common view of retirement as well as a Biblical perspective on the subject. Enjoy!
A common view of retirement
“Save for retirement week” is a fairly telling commentary on the consumer mentality in this country. It reminds me of “the Great American Smokeout” in which smokers refrain from lighting up for a day in the hopes of encouraging them to quit the habit forever. I appreciate the effort and I hope it will raise awareness and change some of the bad habits many Americans have.
As with so many efforts, though, such a movement tends to address the symptoms rather than the cause of the disease. I think it’s useful to look at the heart of the issue, namely, retirement. What is it, and more importantly, what does God’s word have to say about it?
Our society’s definition of retirement typically involves leaving behind paid employment forever in exchange for a life of leisure, or “the good life” (notably, prior to the passage of the Social Security Act, people typically worked as long and as late in their life as their health allowed. Social Security, in fact, began as a program designed to provide “longevity insurance,” not a government-provided pension potentially spanning decades).
Biblical view of retirement
When we look to scripture for God’s definition of retirement, we find… almost nothing. There is only one reference to giving up work. It occurs in Numbers 8:25 and it refers to the Levites retiring from their work because of the exacting physical toll it takes on them. It goes on to say that the Levites “may assist their brothers in performing their duties.”
Interestingly, if we go back to Numbers 4:47, it refers to the same subject with the following language: ”upward even to fifty years.” The implication is that work is the rule, not the exception, until one’s physical or mental condition won’t allow for it.
There is never the mention or even a hint that work is something to be engaged in only until your financial status allows you to withdraw from it (or the preposterous idea that almost half of one’s life should be spent idle).
Biblical view of work & a solution to the retirement crisis
If we look to scripture for the concept of “work,” however, we find verse after verse (e.g. Gen 2:15, Col 3:23, 1 Thes 4:11-12, 2 Tim 2:6, among others) supporting the idea that work is good and that it is by God’s design and that we are to engage in work throughout our lifetimes as long as we are physically and mentally capable of doing so.
Does it mean that we never slow down? Of course not. Does it mean that we shouldn’t relax, take vacations, or enjoy leisure activities? No. We are called to lifelong service to God and others. In virtually every study ever done on the subject of early retirement, the results overwhelmingly point to unhappiness, dissatisfaction, depression, and even premature death. On the other hand, everyone has a story of someone they know who “worked until the day they died and did it with a smile on their face.”
The societal implications for the biblical view of work and retirement are profound. A main reason we have such a retirement crisis in our country (perhaps closely behind the “spend everything you make” mentality) is that we have a definition of retirement that for the majority of Americans just isn’t feasible.
As a financial planner, I help people plan for retirement and the numbers generally don’t work out for a person to retire at an early age. On the other hand, I’ve seen some people that are behind the eight ball when it comes to saving and investing but if they push their retirement date out far enough, the numbers often work.
If retirement is like landing a plane, what is the best retirement plan? Don’t land the plane (just let it run out of gas).
John Gay CFP® is a financial planner and Registered Investment Adviser in Frisco, Texas. He has over fifteen years experience helping Christians and non-Christians alike plan for their financial future. John is the Dallas area director of Kingdom Advisors, a professional association of Christian financial advisers. John’s website can be found here.